Summer has finally arrived to Western NY. And for me a burst of energy and new articles.
Here are some of the articles I wrote (or in the case of LocalU or StreetFight co-wrote) around the web:
Making Sense of Posts in Google’s SMB Product Portfolio – With David Mihmn at Streetfight. I have been following the development of posts since it first showed up for a local merchant early last year. I am bullish (or at least as bullish as any rational person can be with a new Google product) while David Mihm is more skeptical of its longevity. Read our thoughts.
How Willing Are Consumers to Leave Reviews? – Consumers attitudes towards writing reviews, at least in the US, are changing. I have been surveying their attitudes as to their willingness to actual read reviews instead of just write them and this piece looks at the almost linear decrease in “never write reviews” and the simultaneous increase amongst those that do.
Video: Last Week in Local June 19, 2017 – With Mary Bowling. It was a busy week in local. We look at the implications of the Whole Foods buyout, the outcomes of using link building services and ways to more easily implement AMP on a wordpress site. Available as a post and podcast. Or if you want the links delivered to your inbox, via email subscription. Give us 15 minutes and we will give you the world of local.
Today Google is announcing the worldwide release of their small business web builder, Websites. First spotted in January, it is a simple, single page web builder that allows a business to create a basic webpage in 5 minutes (or less if really simple).
It is accessible either via the Google My Business dashboard. The Website Help files are here. In India, signup has its own page and the product warranted an official Google India blog post. So far the announcment in the US has been decidedly muted and shy of details.
If there is a verified listing in the GMB, the data for hours, driving directions & business name as well as photos will be automatically inserted into the web page. Any changes to the GMB will also auto-flow to the web page.
As I have noted previously, the product is not really a replacement for a full blown multi page website that many businesses have already in the United States but for the business just coming on line in the developing world. It is also a reasonable play for a business in the US that has a Facebook only presence but wants to start increasing their exposure in local search.
The product lacks a number of obvious features like social sharing buttons, structured data, control over title tags & meta-descriptions and an easy way to create a call to action button.
It does however allow a small business operator to produce an attractive mobile ready site in 5 minutes. And it is well suited to a first time website for a business with no or very little web presence.
The web site produced resides at business.site and while it creates a default url (yourbusinessname.business.site) there is an option to easily change the default url or to buy your own domain for the site directly from Google.
Obviously the product is confronted with all of the standard issues that Google has in the local space:
Will Google bother to spend any money promoting the product or will it languish in the backwaters? All too often Google has lacked the commitment to make their local products work.
Will the product, which is one of several current web builder products at Google, be a long term stable feature or will Google give it the axe in 18 months? For a business to build a strategic asset like a website takes faith in Google that I am not sure that they have earned.
Will the product continue to evolve feature wise? This is a very nice 1.0 rollout but it is clearly not yet feature rich enough. Will it suffer from Google ADD that we have so frequently seen in the past where they build something and then forget it?
How will Google handle the obvious problem of a business thinking that they immediately deserve higher web visibility without any of the standard web prominence activities? It seems that the gap between producing the website and appearing regularly in search is large and without significant educational resources Google will continue to experience an expectation gap amongst their users.
When viewed together with the other tests that are still active, Google Posts and Google My Business Chat, we are starting to see a picture of Google’s plans for the Google My Business Dashboard as a place where a business needs to go regularly. These three products are attempting to overcome the set and forget it problem that Google has always had with the business dashboards of the past.
These are clearly also products that are direct competitors to Facebook’s ready ease of use and enticing engagement for the small business operator.
Google really needs this website building product to take off in the developing world or they run the risk of small business irrelevancy. The business web did not develop in much of Asia as it did in the US. And alternatively texting as a b-c interface and smartphone apps did develop and Google does not have anywhere near as strong of a presence in those arenas.
This has given WeChat in China and Facebook elsewhere a huge advantage over Google in the SMB market. Much of that information about small businesses is thus not visible to Google’s bots.
This product and the others I mentioned were needed by Google in 2013. Unfortunately Google was mired in the need to extricate local from Plus and both time and focus was lost. It has also taken a number of foundational GMB developments in both their product and thinking to get to this point.
The product isn’t an obvious knockout win. While it may be of value in developing countries, it is not at all clear what value it will provide in the US were web sties are the norm and can be had inexpensively. However when paired with the previous efforts in developing the Google My Business Dashboard and the current products in testing, it seems to even the playing field with Facebook and give Google a fighting chance to hang onto their lead in small business discovery.
And if Google properly promotes the product and its benefits then the chances of success would increase.
Google needs this product for two foundational reasons; as a source for getting and updating small business data and keeping the “open” web relevant for small business marketing.
Do you think that Google will succeed with this product in developing countries? In the US? In the other industrialized nations?
Google Posts, a simple blogging like tool for the Google My Business Dashboard that posts directly to the Knowledge Panel, is still in beta and is, as yet, unannounced as a product1. But it now has several Help Pages.
Given that the product allows direct posting of content by a business to that business’s Knowledge Panel in the main search results, the Content Policy for the product is of particular interest. The problem with spammy, inappropriate content is likely to be a huge issue for Google with Posts.
Google, in crafting the rules very broadly, has left themselves a ton of latitude as to which posts can be pulled down. While it isn’t clear which types or frequency of inappropriate posts would lead to a suspension of the feature, it seems obvious from the content that suspension is a possibility.
And while broad in scope there are a number of specific scenarios, practices and business types that are called out. The obvious like child porn, phishing, bait & switch and escort services are obviously prohibited. But “content related to regulated products and services, including alcohol, gambling, financial services, pharmaceuticals and unapproved supplements or health/medical devices” is excluded as well.
Another interesting restriction, very broad in intent, is the prohibition of “Images, videos or links that negatively distracts user attention”. Isn’t that what this product was designed to do?
While it is not yet clear whether and how abusive content will be taken down, I would presume that one reason for the long beta (this product was first seen early in 2016) was the need to automate this process.
What are your thoughts on the Posts product in general?
Will it make it out of Beta and will it be successful? What is success in this context? Will giving small business a simple, direct post to search gain mindshare vis a vis Facebook?
And more to the point, will Google be able to control the inevitable spam that will spew from the product with the rules promulgated in this policy? Will Google be able to staunch the tide of Pay Day Loan and drug offers?
Google Website, their single page website builder, is becoming more widely available. The product is still in beta but the increasing user reports of its availability (h/t to Thibault Adda, the local seo at Darden Restaurants for his Tweet) and the increasing number of sites at the domain suggests that the product is moving toward release.
Growth of sites at the domain business.site (the new location for the sites) has moved from 5680 sites on April 17th to 39,3000 today. Growth at the original domain, business.google.com/website, has stopped and still shows 269,000 sites.
I first reported on the product in January of this year. The web builder, a single page, easy to create, mobile optimized page, is well designed to capture usage in the developing countries where a web presence has not been a required business marketing activity.
Its usefulness in the US is limited although I suppose it makes sense for companies that have chosen a Facebook only approach that want greater search presence. It might also make sense as a quick tool to test Adwords Express landing pages.
In all of the above scenarios Google has their work cut out for them persuading businesses to create a web presence in countries where none has been required or to supplement a Facebook only web presence with another tool.
And I know that he is a Level 5 Local Guide and that if he didn’t die, he should, at least virtually. To recognize his extraordinary efforts, he will be posthumously awarded entrance into the Google Spam Hall of Shame.
Clearly Mark is a spewer2.He and several other high volume spewers (aka review spammer persona) were brought to my attention by a reader who recognized my affinity for these sorts of things3.
Several very interesting things about this particular spewer.
Two weeks prior he made a cross country jaunt to review Chick-fil-As from California to the New York Island4.
He has written over 3000 reviews, almost exclusively about Starbucks & Chick-fil-A.
He is not alone in his predilection for chain chicken and too much caffeine. He has at least two partners in crime, Jack Mitchel and Joe Mittler.
Between them they have written over 6000 reviews of Starbucks, Chick-fil-A and other chains, including Olive Garden, Quiznos, Pizza Hut, Jersey Mike’s Subs and others.
And the kicker, virtually every review written was previously posted at TripAdvisor circa 2012.
For me this is interesting on several fronts.
If it isn’t obvious TripAdvisor has as many issues as Google vis a vis fake reviews (duh5).
It certainly leaves one thinking that major chains could be involved in buying reviews along with the rest of American businesses. My spewer tracking software didn’t throw up huge flags but it is a possibility.
The other possibility is that these are test bots, posting in an effort to ascertain the limits of Google’s review filter.
What do you think?
1 – Who knew that you could in fact induce a fatal heart arythmia from too much caffeine? Apparently some poor teenager did just that in April after he consumed a Latte, Mountain Dew and an energy drink within 2 hours.
2- Review spammer is a mouth full so my wife suggested “spewer” as an alternative
3 – He wanted to remain anonymous but I am more than willing to throw a link out to anyone that provides a lead on a story that I publish.
4- Most of you are familiar with This Land is Your Land. But as children growing up, we never heard that Woody Guthrie was a fierce anti-fascist socialist and we often only heard the first few verses of this song. This one that was frequently left out seems relevant today:
There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me A sign was painted said: Private Property But on the back side it didn’t say nothing This land was made for you and me
5- When my children were little they said “duh” (with dripping sarcasm unbecoming of an 8 year old) so frequently and annoyingly that we “banned” the use of the word in our house by executive fiat. Amazingly my children were of such an age that they actually believed that a word could be banned. That didn’t last long but at least we didn’t have to listen to “duh” every 30 seconds.
New Feature: Tag Testimonial Widgets At GetFiveStars we have been busy. I love customer generated feedback as it can help with both search results conversion AND as social proof on your “selling” pages on your site. Now we offer the ability to easily use this feedback on the service, product or locale pages of your site.
Which categories of businesses on Google are most likely to buy reviews? You will find many of the usual suspects and a few surprises as well.
I have been exploring review spam networks, review spammers (aka spewers) and the businesses that buy these fake reviews. In April I wrote about a particular review spam network that seemed very pervasive and reported it to Google.
Google took down the spewers that I reported directly but left the network intact. I have continued exploring it (although with better tools).
I analyzed 634 active spewers that had left 3 or more reviews each. Together these review spammers reviewed a total of 5048 businesses across 4 continents.
Here are the 25 specific Google categories with the highest amount of review spam:
Internet Marketing Service
Pest Control Service
Carpet Cleaning Service
Garage Door Supplier
Moving and Storage Service
Used Car Dealer
Water Damage Restoration Service
Real Estate Agency
Property Management Company
Personal Injury Attorney
House Cleaning Service
Lawn Care Service
Movers, garage door openers & numerous home care services dominate the list. But there are a number of professionals including PI Lawyers, Insurance Agents, Real Estate and Dentists. I suppose it is no surprise to find Website Designers.
If you go through the complete list (available here) and aggregate dental and legal categories you will see that they are both in the top 5 although neither can hold a candle to the Moving industry.
As David Mihm noted, when looking at these categories, they primarily occur in service related industries where review acquisition is not a “natural occurrence”. And that applies regardless of whether they are blue or white collar industries.
You do find a few restaurants and used car dealers but those are the exceptions that prove the rule. Although I suspect in both cases, the reason for buying reviews has more to do with covering up an already bad reputation.
The visibility of lawyers, dentists, chiropractors and insurance agencies, unreported as culprits in Google’s local spam study, validates my previous claim that Google is in many ways currently looking the other way when it comes to abuses by these professions.
What should you do if you are playing in these categories and want to play by the rules?
Run a great business and don’t forget to ask for reviews.
Yelp is attempting to fix their lack of accurate hours by encouraging the input of special hours for Holidays.
Yelp, for all of their consumer strengths in reviews, has been woefully behind in getting accurate business hours from their restaurants. More than once I have selected a restaurant that was stated as opened in Yelp to learn that they were not. In the end I have resorted to finding a restaurant on Yelp and then double checking hours on Google.
Yelp is attempting to rectify this. In December, to little fanfare1, they rolled out the ability to enter special hours. Today, with the coming of Memorial Day, they are sending out reminders to add them.
Setting Special Hours at Yelp is trivial and I would recommend any business that is active on Yelp to do so.
Whether this push will help them clean up the general decrepit state of hours at Yelp is not clear. I would be curious whether the condition of hours on Yelp reflects a lack of communication on the part of Yelp or perhaps a very real indication of the lack of business engagement with Yelp.
1 – When I say little fanfare, that might be an understatement. It wasn’t widely covered in the industry press. Since I don’t regularly read their blog I missed it.
2 – At least at the restaurants I have attempted to visit they have consistently let me down and I came away with the distinct feeling that I could not trust them.