All posts by Mike Blumenthal

One Additonal Reason the Google Knowledge Graph Sucks More

Last summer, I wrote wrote a post 10 Reasons that the Google Knowledge Graph Sucks More than the Local Graph. Thankfully some of the problems noted in that post have been fixed. Not all of them by any means and the lack of consistency, support and feedback is still a huge bugaboo. That being said I have found one more reason that the Google Knowledge graph sucks more.

This is not a problem that is likely to strike the mom and pop local listing or even the local listing for major brands. But if you are a highly prominent “entity” and have a local presence, it could happen to you. It can totally hose a brand’s image with its quirky bugs:

(click to view larger… all of the funky, Google images are for properties owned by Seaworld)

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 3.15.50 PM

The various and sundry Seaworld theme parks (Busch Gardens, Aquatica, Seaworld etc) fall into this category of business that has both a local listing and a knowledge graph. This is similar to museums, famous art galleries and colleges which are local businesses but also can show knowledge graph results. Some searches bring up their knowledge panel and some bring up their local panel. As best as I can figure out the Knowledge panel has some sort of pipeline that feeds it photos added via the new dashboard. The problem is that if one of these famous local businesses upgrades their listing from local to social, that pipeline seems to break resulting in the display you see above. No warnings, no documentation. Its fun for me to discover a bug, not so much for the business.

The answer when you call local support: “They system will get the photos straightened out…. in about a month”.

So far, it’s been 20 days.

I am not even sure how to refer to Google’s “default” image. Perhaps you could suggest a name.

Google: Reviews, How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

If one stops and counts how many times the word review or the star ratings show on the front page of Google one can only conclude that Google not only thinks they are important but that they are of tantamount importance in local searches.

These screen shots of local searches show the screen real estate above the fold on a 1366 by 768 pixel screen. On larger screens the number of mentions of reviews and ratings would be even greater.
Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 11.15.55 AM

 

On the Local Carousel search, the word review was used 15 times and the rich snippet rating stars showed 7 times. Additionally 8 of the links take readers to more reviews. Given that this is some of the most valuable internet real estate in the world, one has to assume that Google tests these results aggressively and has given a fair bit of thought to this. If not a “tell“, certainly a very clear expression of Google’s thinking.

The count is less on a branded search or a 7-pack but still amazingly high.  Continue reading

Step by Step Guide to Enhancing Multi-lingual Listings on Google MapMaker

Google has never fully supported multi-lingual listings in Places very well. At one point Google was suggesting that you create a separate listing in a different dashboard in the alternative language. Unfortunately Google was unable to keep those listings from merging and the practice was ultimately prohitibited. The current dashboard offers no real alternative. MapMaker however does offer limited support for multiple languages in a single listing. While the user experience with this is still not ideal (for example you can’t direct a user to a specific landing page) it is better than leaving the translations to chance. I asked Dan Austin to write up a guide to using MapMaker. Here is a link to a PDF Cheat Sheet (without images) of the process.

As a side note, MapMaker is not for the faint of heart and is very quirky and often bug ridden. Caveat emptor!

*******************************************

If your listing has international customers or your country is bilingual, a good way to attract their favorable attention is to add accurately translated names to your listing. These will show up in the search results better, since the searcher may be viewing your listing through their native language web portal.

I’ve selected a famous brand listing, The Hilton Club New York, in a world-renowned city that brings a lot of tourists from around the world to illustrate what you can do to enhance your listing with additional languages for display on Google Korea.  I’m going to use Google Map Maker to do this, since it offers an opportunity to not only explore MM but also enhance your listing in a way that your Dashboard or Support may not be able to accomplish.

1.  Open MM.

2.  Find the listing by typing it in the search field (the more details, the better)—it works just like Maps.

image01-mm

2a. (Alternately, find the listing in Google Maps then open it in MM by clicking on the Edit in Map Maker link on the bottom.)  If you can’t find it using search, use the address, then right click, Find near this point.  It will usually turn up.

image02-maps-listing

image04-report-problem

3.  Click Edit, Edit this place.

image05-edit-this-place

4.  Click on Name, then Add more names below that.

5.  Click on +1 (or more; total number can vary, from 1 to 100) more names if it’s available (that shows all the names)

6.  Start adding names, or correct existing names/tags.  Each name should be language specific (English:  The Hilton Club of New York), and should be tagged with the following tags:

  • Primary (the name it’s more commonly known by for each language type—there should be only one for each language type).
  • Local (the language most predominant in the region—for example, if the hotel is in NYC, it would use Local for all the English name tags; if it’s in Tokyo, it would use Local for all the Japanese names; only one set of Local tags for one language type, so all the English names in NYC are Local, but none of the other languages use the Local tag),
  • Obscure (the name it could be known by, but isn’t used very often).
  • Official (whatever the official name is on the hotel, usually visible on the website or building or promotional literature).
  • Abbreviated (the short name for the hotel, usually something like HCNY).

Using the above system and the example, I would create something like the following for the English and Korean languages:

image06-adding-names

 

 

  • English:  The Hilton Club New York (Local, Primary, Official)
  • English:  Hilton Club New York (Local)
  • English:  Hilton Club New York Hotel (Local, Obscure)

Google translation (not necessarily accurate, but used as an example) of the above names, in order:

  • Korean: Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 9.31.46 AM (Primary)
  • Korean:
  • Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 9.31.53 AM (Obscure)

You can have as many translated names as you want, for either the specific language or languages in total (provided that Google supports that specific language), but you can only have one name as Primary for any given language.

(Note:  If you hit a hard limit on the total number of names you added (Add more names disappears; sometimes you can only add 5 new names), you can save the edit, as below, and then re-open it, and add more names.)

If, as in the case of this listing, you find a bunch of names that are wrongly tagged in a different language than the provided “translation”, either correct them by accurately translating the names or delete them.  For example, (Spanish) Hilton Club New York (Primary) probably isn’t the Spanish translation of that name.  MM doesn’t provide an easy way to organize names, and it’s not always clear if there are redundant translated names (for example, two Norwegian tagged names).  Not infrequently, to get a sense of the redundant names, I’ll either start over by deleting them all, and adding new ones, or copy/pasting them into a separate document (like a spreadsheet) to see all the names.  Maps often adds these non-translation translations to popular features using a separate data feed, even though they’re not ‘translations’.

image07-alt-names

 

7.  Click Done if that button is visible.  If not, skip and go to step 8.

8.  Add an explanatory note in Comments, if necessary, and select Correcting Poor Data as the reason.  Since GLEs (Google Listing Editors, from the Maps team), rather than GRs (Google Reviewers, from the MM team) often review claimed POIs (point of interest), it’s helpful to add an explanatory cut-and-paste generic note (i.e. I’m adding additional foreign translated names, and correcting the tags for the English names so they appear correctly on Maps.) and, if necessary, alert Support in advance that you’re going to be fixing some of your POIs from MM.

9.  Click Save.

10.  Wait.  Usually a few days to a few weeks.  Pending edits stays under the My ActivitiesIn Review (or Everything, for everything)  As noted before, the edit can be Denied, Accepted, or Approved.  If it gets Denied or Accepted (without approving the changes—check in the DetailsHistory and/or Published to ensure that all your changes were accepted), then save the link from your MM sidebar (My ActivitiesEverything) or the email you’ll get, and contact Places Support to have them override the GLE (or GR) and approve the rejected changes.  Approved is the most desirable state of affairs, although as often the case, the review process can be occasionally chaotic and erratic.  (Note: Accepted is just another way to reject your edit without affecting your approval rating, visible as a percentage if you hover over your profile name or picture.  Lower percentages can send your edits into moderation, and is a measure of your trust in the system.)

image08-everything

 

Avoid using any misspellings, w*ird [sic] characters, ALL CAPS, and anything else that marketing suggests to increase the name presence of the POI on Maps.  Names should be accurately and reasonably spelled.  Google is really good at providing suggestions for misspelled words.

  • image09-lockedIf the listing is Locked (example), you can’t edit it in MM (and it’s not really clear you can edit it in Maps using Report a problem, but you can try).  Contact Support to unlock (they can do this, even though they claim they can’t, for various policy and technical reasons).  Locked are usually high value or frequently vandalized POIs which you should be able to freely edit if you own the listing.
  • You can also use Report a problem on Maps to add additional names and tags, which uses a simplified version of MM, and follow the steps above.
  • For additional guidelines, see MM Help.  They have excellent visual guides, and frequently, YouTube videos.
  • You can add translated categories, like ?? (Hotel) but I usually avoid that, since Google automatically (and accurately, for standard cats) translates those categories based on the specific language that each country is using.  You can also add custom categories, but I also avoid that for claimed listings (unless no equivalent category is available in Places), as that might cause issues with claimed listings on the Dashboard, due to Google’s restrictions on custom cats.
  • If a country uses multiple official languages, use one Local language that best suits that region (example:  Canada, which has two official languages.  Use English as the Local language in Vancouver, BC, and French as the Local language in Quebec.
  • Don’t use Google Translate.  It just doesn’t work for formal names, and it’s becomes increasingly inaccurate the longer and more complex the word clusters are.
  • image10-categoryWhile you’re working on the listing, take the time to note any additional points that should be corrected or enhanced for your listing.  Since it’s usually claimed listing, the fastest and easiest way to correct the contact information and categories is to do so from the Dashboard, rather than MM in order to avoid any of the above moderation hurdles.  For example, in the case of this particular listing, categories like Luxury Hotel or whatever you think is appropriate could more accurately direct Google Maps searches to this POI.
  • A Googler has a G tag next to their name.  GLEs are usually, but not always listed as Listing Editors or similar.  Google Reviewers usually use Google Reviewer in their name and a badge on their profile.  GLEs will not have a Google tag on their profile.  Why is this important?  In the review process, each has their separate reviewing responsibilities and belongs to different Geo teams, and depending on who reviews your edit, this may affect the outcome of the edit (GLEs are not well-regarded in the MM community, as they often make incorrect reviews, and it’s an outstanding ‘bug’ that MM is working to fix)image11-12-editor-reviewer
  • If done right, your visitors will be able to quickly and easily find your listing in their native language when they search for it on Google Maps.

Google SAB Update: Service Area Now Displaying in Knowledge Panel

I don’t search on service area businesses very often. But doing client work today I did and I noticed that for the first time that service areas are prominently displayed in the local branded knowledge panel.

I have no idea when this was implemented but it indicates that Google has increasing trust in the data if they are surfacing it to the front page. Historically this information was buried in Maps and rarely seen by searchers.

How long has the service area been displaying in the panel results? Is this part of the recent updates to the local displays?

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 4.30.36 PM

It also points out that you really need to pay attention to your settings. Otherwise this might occur:

Continue reading

Google+ Custom URLs – Facts, Tidbits and Concerns

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 9.24.59 AMGoogle rolled out a series of new photographic tools on Tuesday that they hoped would make them as cool as Apple but it seems that all folks are talking about is the new “custom” URLs at Google Plus.

Here are a number of factoids, observations & issues in relation to the latter:

  • “Custom” is a misnomer. Assigned is more like it. Custom implies that you have some input into the process which is fully automated. You pretty much have to accept the URL given or keep your number.
  • Any brand or business that has a linked website or is a verified local business can claim a custom URL for their Google+ page. Link and verification info is available in the Google+ Help Center: http://goo.gl/RMpxP
  • Even though there appears to be an appeal option the decision is for the most part final on the new URL.
  • From Google: At this time, we do not allow you to appeal your assigned Custom URL. Based on user feedback, we’ll determine any necessary updates to this process. 
  • Google will use a number of signals, including the name of the page/profile, and the website associated with the page to determine the given URL.
  • Businesses with multiple locations are being assigned a URL like BusinessNameLocation as in plus.google.com/+PizzHutOlean
  • When the domain is NOT .com Google seems to be adding the TLD to the end of the URL. Business with .net or .org will have those added to the URL.
  • This applies to international domains as well. So folks in France are getting URLs with FR appended to the end. This is an aestetic problem but apparently becomes  more so if you live in Cook Islands, and the websites end in “co.ck“. (Is this real?)
  • John Mueller noted that the “vanity URLs also work on any Google TLD”. They thus can be shortened from plus.google.com/+MikeBlumenthal to google.com/+MikeBlumenthal and it will still work.
  • Barry Schwartz noted that the Google’s TOS regarding Custom URLS indicate that Google “are free for now, but we may start charging a fee for them. However, we will tell you before we start charging and give you the choice to stop participating first”. Wow would that be a mess.
  • Glenn Gabe noticed that Google is 302’ing the old # URL to the new name URL. Strange but according to John Mueller  noted in the comments that “Google treats it like a redirect. [and] Yes, you can use rel=author with these.  You can also use the numeric ID” and thus should have no affect on existing author links. There is a good discussion of this at Cyrus Shepard’s G+ Post.

As in all change the real question for me is who really benefits? Clearly this is a win for Google. It is ironic at one time Google only sent traffic to your website and now you will be sending traffic to Google.

Cyrus Shepard noted that the new URL structure would likely cause G+ Pages to show more visibly for branded searches at Google. I suppose that might shift some traffic away from the directories to SMBS so that would be a net benefit if the SMB maintained a decent Plus Page.

My biggest concern though is that SMBS will not think through how this should fit into an integrated on-line marketing plan and that they will send folks willy nilly to their new and shiny google.com/+MyBusiness page. If this comes at the expense of building out their own web equity and losing the ability to track, analyse and convert new and existing customers it would be a shame.

Social media has a roll to play in SMB marketing but it should supplement a sound plan not replace it.

Google Local SERP Results Change Again

Last Thursday, Google shifted the pack display (Blended Results) from mostly blended with large pins to the smaller pin display (Map Packs) with locally driven ranking (ie Maps order) rather than organic driven ranking. Last night they switched (thanks to Nicolai Helling) the display of the pack back to a larger pinned display. So far at least, Google has retained the local, map based rankings rather than driving the results order from organic rank (Blended Map Insertions). The switch last week and the switch last night were apparently world wide.

Because the blend is not occurring, home (authority) pages are still able to show as a separate organic result in the SERPS and not be merged into the local result. Because the current results are not blending you are also NOT seeing author tag or title tags integrated into the local result.

This type of display (Blended Map Insertions), looking like blended results but being primarily based on Maps order, have been ever present over the past two years constituting roughly 24% of pinned results. They were seen mostly in the restaurant searches and to some extent in the locksmith searches. Today at least they are displaying at 100%.

The positioning of the pack under blended results typically started anywhere in the first four results. With the current state of the local display most of the pack results are inserted at postition four. In a small sample of ten searches, eight started at position 4, one search started at position 2 and one started at position 6. I assume that a larger search sample would show a similarly broad distribution with the bulk of pinned results starting at position 4.

Are Blended Results going away? If you had asked me yesterday I would have said yes. Today, I am not sure so of anything other than that we are in the midst of both display and ranking shakeups and where it will settle is anyone’s guess. Its hard to know exactly what is going on and even more so why. This change which started last Thursday seems to be continuing.

insurance bradford pa   Google Search

 

Nicolai pointed out in the comments that Branded searches for multi location entities, that have been shown as the small Map Packs forever, are also now using this same format:

Continue reading

Google Upgrades Self Serve Offers with Performance Based Pricing, Improved Distribution and a Simpler Interface

overview-promoYesterday Google has once again announced an upgrade to their self serve Offers product.

Ok that isn’t that interesting in itself given the long (it is almost as old as I am) and mostly invisible history of Google’s couponing product but there are some interesting aspects to this upgrade. Besides an easier, slicker to use set up process, the changes that could be significant are the move to performance based pricing and the promise of improved distribution

For the first time Google is charging for the product and making claims about the number of times that it will be downloaded. The pricing model is a pay per download instance. In the coupon I set up, Google is estimating that the Offer will be downloaded between 120 and 160 times per month for a cost of $30 at a cost between $.19 and $.25 per download.

Is it $.19 or is it $.25? It is not at all clear if the pricing is somehow bid based or fixed and more transparency in this arena would be useful. The product retains a free pricing option which one assumes will mean less aggressive distribution or perhaps none if there is a paid coupon alternative. This also reinforces Google’s developing fremium approach to it’s SMB products.

visible-new-mapsAn Offer, highly visible in the new Maps, will be taking on increased visibility in the upcoming Plus page update and retains visibility in Google’s Offers search engine (who knew right?). What is different in this release is the fact that since you are paying, Google will be motivated to highlight the inventory more and has a direct stake in the resultant outcome. Whether the increased visibility in the new Maps is enough to get the kinds of views they are hoping for is unclear, at least you won’t be paying unless the coupon is actually downloaded.

When a user saves an Offer they recieve an email copy of it and are encouraged to download the Android or iPhone Offers App. If they do so they will get geofenced notifications, alerting them that they are near the location of the coupon provider. At least on the iPhone side, the app has very little visibility and low distribution minimizing the value of that feature. It would make more sense to me to use Google Maps and the Plus apps to increase mobile visibility.

Google self serve Offers (aka Coupons) has been Google’s ugly step child of products. Like that step child that sits on the couch watching TV all day and that you can’t bring yourself to kick out the door, self serve Offers has somehow avoided the hatchet over the years despite its long and storied sorry history buried in the bowels of local.

The current version of the product was introduced as a beta in the Places Dashboard and in May, 2012  but it has existed in a very similar state since its introduction in 2006 . Offers was strictly a self serve, free, stand along coupon, Places based product until April, 2011 when Google rolled out a full blown competitor to Groupon that they also named Offers. The self serve coupon version has stayed in beta as a free product with caveats and with minor upgrades since that time. The main caveat noted at last year’s major refresh was that “Currently, you can create offers from within your Google Places account at no cost during this limited time trial period. You will be notified about pricing details before the trial period concludes.”

The bugaboo with Coupons/Offers has always been distribution. Or rather the lack of it. The coupon inventory has always been buried deep in a custom search engine or lost on a Plus (Places) page. As such, it never has had much adoption by either the public or SMBs. I always thought that it was just one front page placement away from success. Perhaps some day it will make it to the big leagues. In the meantime, it seems that Google is planning on keeping this step child around for a bit longer and hopefully bragging about it to at least the relatives if not the neighbors.

These new Offers can be created in any of the local management environments (Old Dashboard, New Dashboard, + Page for Local, Android Places Dashboard App)  but appears to be rolling out now so it may not be visible in all dashboards.

Here are screen shots of how a self serve offer is created and of the end user email notification: Continue reading

Google Testing New Local Listing “About Page” Layout – Just What are They Thinking?

Google is testing a new enhanced “card” layout for the About page on local listings. The new layout, visible to me in Firefox only, was pointed out by Mary Kelly Gaebel of ADP.

The big difference is that the page now can be displayed in either a single, two or three column layouts depending on browser window width as opposed to the current fixed two column display. Reviews will now follow the same columnar structure as the rest of the page and will not be limited to a current one column display. While this view is not yet visible in mobile, one assumes that if the view were to become universal it would likely push to mobile as well.

The page adds three iconic based calls to action near the top; review, directions & photos. The review summary has been moved up the page and photos have been moved down the page. Geo information including street address, category, hours, description and map are now consolidated into a single card near the top titled “Contact Information. “Similar Places” from around the web no longer show and “reviews from around the web” have been moved up the page to be nearer the top.

The real question about this change is why here, why now. The About Page of the local listing has become virtually inaccessible on Google. Since reviews were pushed to the front page and Places search was replaced with a the new Google Maps, it takes searchers anywhere from 2 to 4 clicks to get to the page. I am confident that visitation has plummeted. It is hard to understand a visual makeover of this page when there appears (at least to an outsider) that there are so many other more critical issues to deal with… Makes one think of Nero fiddling while Rome is burning.

Here is a screenshot of the three column width view (click to view larger):

three-wide-editied

 

Google Rolls Out Android Mobile Places Dashboard App

This afternoon Google rolled out a new mobile Google Places for Business app that allows management of a business’s Google Plus listing via  Android.

From the Google Play description:

Keep your business listing fresh and up-to-date across Google with the free Google Places for Business app:
– Update your business information, including hours, address, contact information, photos and description
– Keep your customers in the know by posting updates and photos
– Respond to comments and +1’s on your posts
– Learn how customers find and interact with your business with insights
– Manage multiple business locations from one app

The app shows the way for the new dashboard to provide an integrated experience to the SMB that wants to interact with all aspects of their listing as well as their public social stream from one unified interface. In that sense it might be providing a look at what the desktop dashboard might become.

The interface, like the desktop Places for Business Dashboard, is intuitive and easy to use. Unlike the desktop dashboard, this product is fully integrated with the Plus social stream and allows for social posts that include photos and for social responses. For those businesses that have a social presence and would like to keep it updated frequently with photos it offers a compelling solution.

There are some limits to the product
– U.S. listings only
– Business must already have the new dashboard
– no iPhone version

Besides the lack of an iPhone app and the inability to respond to reviews, the rap against the app is the same criticism that I have of the desktop dashboard – it just doesn’t do that much that would compel a business owner to return regularly to check in. If their business doesn’t have a strong social presence and doesn’t have a need for regular photo uploads (which is most local businesses), the app and the Places for Business dashboard desktop provide little reason for regular visits to Places.

That being said, the Places Dashboard was built as a platform for the future and is able to readily be expanded with new functionality. One presumes that the mobile version is similarly designed. Google has not provided many reasons in the past for a business to continually check into their dashboard. This had lead to a situation where the listing data gets stale, the SMB understanding and appreciation of the product is decreased, passwords are lost and there is little opportunity for Google to entice the SMB with additional functionality, paid or otherwise.

My sense is that Google understands this and will, at some point in the future, provide increasing functionality to the SMB. Here’s hoping its sooner rather than later and that once Google gets past the very painful transition from the old to the new Places that we will see steady and valuable updates to the dashboards both mobile and desktop.

Here are some additional points provided to me by Google about the app:

Continue reading

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”.

Screen Shot 2013-09-28 at 9.36.57 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2013-09-28 at 9.50.32 AM Continue reading