All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Unannounced Google Posts Beta Gets Help Files & Content Policy

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.

The Post Help section has 3 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?

Here is the Post’s Content Policy reproduced in full:.  Continue reading Unannounced Google Posts Beta Gets Help Files & Content Policy

Google My Business Website Appearing More Broadly – Release Imminent?

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 (the new location for the sites) has moved from 5680 sites on April 17th to 39,3000 today. Growth at the original domain,, 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.

Continue reading Google My Business Website Appearing More Broadly – Release Imminent?

Google Level 5 Local Guide Dies of Caffeine Poisoning While Reviewing Thousands of Starbucks Last Week

Spewer Dude

Ok. I admit I don’t know if Mark Henderson, Google Local Guide Level 5 really did die from caffeine1 but I do know that he reviewed thousands of Starbucks across the Midwest, the Eastern Seaboard and the South last week.

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.

Click to view in all of its glorious detail

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. 

Mike B Around the Local Web

Video Deep Dive: Sponsorships as an opportunity in Local Marketing – an educational interview with Megan Hannay of Zipsprout about ideas for leveraging a business’s relationship with local NFP agencies to enhance their digital marketing. (Now also available as a podcast).

Video: Last Week in Local May 30, 2017 – Join Mary B and me and guest host Joel Headley as we discuss last week’s news and interesting articles in Local. (Now available as an email newsletter or as a podcast).

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.

Understanding Facebook’s Place as a Small Business Marketing Vehicle Another biweekly discussion with David Mihm where we discuss some of the interesting contradictions for small businesses as they attempt to integrate Facebook into their top of funnel activities.


Review Spam – Which Google Categories Are Worst?

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:

Primary Category






HVAC Contractor


Internet Marketing Service


Pest Control Service


Insurance Agency


Taxi Service


Carpet Cleaning Service


Roofing Contractor


Garage Door Supplier


Moving and Storage Service




Website Designer


Used Car Dealer


Dental Clinic


Water Damage Restoration Service


Limousine Service


Window Supplier




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 Encouraging Use of Special Holiday Hours

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.

When Will Google Fix My StreetView Image?

This falls into the “learn something new everyday in local” category…. fellow Top Contributor Treebles (a more knowledgeable Google Mapping/MyBusiness expert you will not find) advised me that Google publishes their Streetview update schedule for the year and it includes details as to which countries, states and cities they will be visiting.

Who knew? You probably did, but I didn’t.

This question comes up frequently in the GMB forums and elsewhere so its good to know that there is a published schedule.

Although one wonders how does Google decide what the schedule is? Is it based on volume of user reports or date of last visit? Or some algo that just spits out the locations? Probably the latter. 🙂

Update on Google’s SMB Website Builder

Phil Barnhart, Director of Marketing at NehMedia, reported out a new test version of Google’s Website Builder. The product appears to have a few upgrades from the previous version I reviewed in January.

As Phil noted in his post, it still is limited in many ways: It’s not ready for prime-time – there are no analytics for the business user, no tie-in to your social media account, etc. And obviously the photo management issue.. So while it doesn’t appear to have fixed the many photo , content issues or page limits that I found, it does now support the ability to add links.

Here is the site that Phillip developed:  Moments of the Heart Photography based in Austin.

Of greater interest to me is that Google has now placed the sites at a new domain: The domain was created April 17, 2017 and currently is showing 5680 sites indexed.

This compares to the earlier Url, which is hosted in a subfolder of their domain: It currently is showing 269,000 results returned in the index.

This 269,000 sites/pages compares to the 122,000 returned in January of this year1.

Some (ok more than some) thoughts. Continue reading Update on Google’s SMB Website Builder

Should You Add City to Your Business Name at Google My Business?

Should you add city to your business name at Google? This question recently came in from John Simonson from Webstream Dynamics at the Local U forum (paywall):

A (small) multi-location retailer who just starting using Yext was told by a Yext rep to append to their business name their city so to distinguish between their various locations.

[Business Name] + [City]
[Business Name] + [City]
[Business Name] + [City]

Note: Addresses and phone number are different for each location.

Do you agree or disagree with that local seo strategy?

My answer:
Currently it is against Google’s GMB guidelines.

And currently Google is not in any way shape or form enforcing those guidelines. It is an active discussion on the Google GMB private forum but Google has not yet responded with clarification.

What do you do as a Local SEO? How do you counsel the client?

The question confronting a client is, given the lack of enforcement, will Google punish the business in some way if they decide to enforce this? If you think that Google will not punish the business then its fine to do this. If you think that they will punish the business for rule violation, then it should be assessed on a risk reward basis. I have no idea which way Google will land on this.

From where I sit, the obligation of the Local SEO in this situation is to inform the client of the facts, the possible downside risks and let them decide as to the course of action.

Here are the Google guidelines as they currently are written in reference to adding City name to a listing:

Including unnecessary information in your business name is not permitted, and could result in your listing being suspended. Refer to the specific examples below to determine what you can and can’t include in your business name.

Throughout the examples below, names or parts of names in italics would not be permitted.

Your name must not include:

  • Service or product information about your business, unless this information is part of its real world representation or this information is needed to identify a department within a business (see “Departments”). Service information is best represented by categories (see “Categories”).
    • Not acceptable: “Verizon Wireless 4G LTE”, “Midas Auto Service Experts”
    • Acceptable: “Verizon Wireless”, “Midas”, “Best Buy Mobile”, “Advance Auto Parts”, “JCPenney Portrait Studios”
  • Location information, such as neighborhood, city, or street name, unless it is part of your business’s consistently-used and recognized real-world representation. Your name must not include street address or direction information.
    • Not acceptable: “Holiday Inn (I-93 at Exit 2)”, “U.S. Bank ATM – 7th & Pike – Parking Garage Lobby near Elevator”, “Equinox near SOHO”
    • Acceptable: “Holiday Inn Salem”, “U.S. Bank ATM”, “Equinox SOHO”, “University of California Berkeley”

As you can see the current written guidelines explicitly prohibit the practice and suggest suspension as the penalty.

Current Google practice in this situation, when the name violation is reported by the public or a local guide, is to change it back to the normal name and do so without any penalties.

Unfortunately this is leading to a whack a mole situation with smaller, spammier players who then go and change it back. And so the snake chases his tail.

Google has generally looked the other way with larger players and has also often rejected edits to smaller businesses.

Google’s stated goal is to create a map product that conforms to the real world. Thus the initial and clearly stated reason for the ban on using city in the name if it isn’t normally there.

BUT the real world is a bit messier than that.

And when you view a list of locations under a brand search for a multilocaion business, it might be helpful to the searcher to see more clearly where each of the stores is located. That same argument however does not really apply to plumbers who are looking to manipulate for their personal gain.

And to a large extent these folks are, in my opinion, creating a situation that Google is likely to respond to with increased enforcement. Whether they, in that scenario, ignore or make an exception to large brands is another question.

Obviously the problem is much larger than just whether a business should add a city to a business name. All too often businesses also include everything in their business name including the kitchen sink. And all too often, as Joy Hawkin’s has recently pointed out, it’s a quick way to success at Google.

This case though interested me as even large scale providers, like Yext, are encouraging the practice. And on the Google side, this has been going on, in one form or another since its inception (see my 2006 post on the topic).

What do you tell your clients?

What do you think Google should do?

This is cross posted here and at Localu.

Google Local Restaurant Tests: Reservation Answer Box & Visual Attributes

Google Local has been on a tear lately with tests being reported on a regular, almost daily basis. Two that really caught my eye were local restaurant results found by Sergey Alakov and the other by Kevin Indig (h/t Megan Hannay).

These many tests are a testament to Google’s continual effort to gain audience and more importantly, keep that audience at Google long enough to complete a transaction. From Google’s POV,  the transaction will hopefully be monetized but if not then one that further leverages Google resources to gather data and user time like a click to call or driving directions.

Google has been actively collecting and collating attributes about all sorts of businesses but particularly restaurants. These have largely been buried in the depths of the Knowledge Panel and few clicks away from the front page.

These new visual attribute representations are front and center and colorful. According to Sergey he has seen as many as eight showing at once in the Knowledge Panel.

More transactional but equally interesting is Google showing a “reservation answerbox” on the desktip that allows for a table booking directly with OpenTable.