All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Google Adds Restaurants to the Book with Google Feature

This was mentioned on twitter several weeks ago and reported on in France about a month ago (h/t Sergey Alakov). I missed the memo.  Google is now supporting restaurant reservations with the Book with Google Feature in the GMB.

When initially introduced in October, it supported 12 booking programs across a range of verticals.

OpenTable was not mentioned at rollout. One wonders what other verticals and booking packages are in the works.

The  booking button is a very large call to action on both mobile AND desktop views of a restaurant.

The feature, consistent with the earlier booking services, provides Google OpenTable and restaurant specific insights into its utilization.

A restaurant, comparing Google to their OpenTable data should be able to get a solid sense of where the bulk of their transactions are occurring.

Google Q & A Ebook

I have been looking at and thinking about Google Q & A great deal since its introduction.

The feature reminds me of the movie, Dr. Strangelove and it’s subtitle: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Q & A is a lot like that. For those of you with many locations it’s as if you were just getting used to the idea of your Knowledge Panel as your new home page and engaging with reviews, and the landlord suddenly changed the lease without telling you. Who needs one more digital job?

The problem is that I don’t think we can avoid it. Users are starting conversations around your brand locations and its important that you start engaging with these customers that are leaving questions in a constructive way. You need to think about answering questions that need answering and reporting those that violate Google TOS.

I have put together an eBook with my findings from 3 months of reaserh and its now available (for the price of an email address) at GetFiveStars. It can guide you as you develop the processes and policies to deal with this new feature:

GOOGLE QUESTIONS & ANSWERS – What you don’t know can hurt you.

Download it and let me know what you think.

Google Formally Announces New Service Menu for Local Knowledge Panel

Google has formally announced the availability of the new GMB feature to add a Service Menu to the local Knowledge Panel. It has recently been reported by  both Kevin Getch and Phil Rozek as visible in their client dashboards.

From the announcement:

Back in January we launched a new Menu editor for the food service industry. This month, we are excited to announce that we have expanded our menu editor to now include additional services.

Businesses in health & beauty, and service businesses, such as plumbers and florists, now have the ability to add their menu of services directly to their listing through their Google My Business account.

Same as the food establishment menu editor, this feature will only be available if the listing is not currently connected to a third party provider and for listings in English speaking locals. If your listing is currently displaying an incorrect menu, please see this help center link for more information on how to correct or remove the link.

As a note it is visible in every category I have checked so far EXCEPT hotels. 

The feature is simple to use. Navigagte to the Info section of the Google My Business Dashboard and select the Services Item :

Once there you can enter your items:

Local Franchise Opportunity with a Chance to Enter the Google Local Spam Hall of Shame

Have an office in any city. Heck, every city in your territory

Don’t let cost prohibit you from owning a franchise. Incredible fast paced opportunity1 for expansion. Find unlimited potential in new(ish) and fast growing lead generation space. Very low initial costs.

Three years of Photoshop skills, understanding of call center technologies and a straight face required. Photo geo-tagging and familiarity with competitive local exchange carriers a plus.

You can have an office like this in every city in your protected territory. Other Office styles are available!

Choose from nay different office styles with that open office look found in office supply catalogs
Or go for that more professional style. Click to view other opportunities with this concept.

See what some of our other franchises have accomplished in major US cities. Sign up soon, cities are going fast.

Click to see enterprising entrepreneurs in Google search
Click to see other enterprising entrepreneurs in Google Local search

1- Hat tip to Tom Waddington for making me aware of this incredible opportunity.

Mike B Around the Internet

GetFiveStars: Google Write a Review Link Generator – Free Chrome Extension
Sometimes big things come in very small packages. Easily being able to generate the Google Write a Review link for service area businesses has not been readily available. This Chrome extension will do that in 0 seconds flat.

LocalU Deep Dive: Interview with Cindy Krum – Is Mobile First Indexing Really Entity First Indexing?
Cindy thinks, and I agree with her very interesting thesis, that mobile first indexing is really about a paradigm shift for Google search away from blue links towards entity based answers. Cindy is alway exciting to chat with. She will be at LocalU Advanced on April 12 if you want to hear from her in person.

Available as a video, transcript or a podcast at your favorite podcast site.

MozPod: Make the Most of Google Q&A, with Mike Blumenthal
I had a great podcast with Brin Childs with the ins and outs of Q & A

Streetfight: An eBook on Google Q&A: Everything You Wanted to Know and More
I look at Google Q & A from the multi location perspective and why the Walmarts and Home Depots of the world need to start thinking about it and soon.

Streetfight: Q&A, Reviews, and Fake News on Google: False Content Is Not Just a Facebook Problem
David Mihm and I go on a rant about Google being as guilty as Facebook of leaving deceptive local listings and reviews up for the world to see.

LocalU:  Last Week in Local April 2, 2018
Mary Bowling and I cover everything from strategic to tactical articles in that are impacting the world of local search.

Fake Reviews? Negative Reputation Mgt? Google Once Again Caught Flat Footed in the Review Space

There was an interesting article on CBC Canada this past week and it  encapsulates the range of problems that Google has not yet confronted in the review space- including but not limited to buying reviews, negative SEO reviews, review pile ons etc etc etc.:

Kensington Market restaurant inundated with hundreds of 5-star reviews accused of buying them

From the article:

Hundreds of five-star reviews pouring in over a week may seem like a dream come true for a restaurant. But for the owner of Top Gun Steak and Burger in Toronto’s Kensington Market, it’s becoming a nightmare.

“In the morning I was so excited when I saw those reviews … I’m very, very stressed now,” owner Ibrahim Nehme told CBC Toronto.

The reviews started coming in about a week ago on the restaurant’s Google profile and ramped up on Friday. There are hundreds of mostly one-sentence raves by users who have only reviewed the single restaurant, and whose profiles have little to no information about the user behind them.

A few hours later, the restaurant added a comment under many of the reviews saying, “Our success also has attracted the unwanted attention of our competitors who are using fake accounts to consistently create false reviews.”

Who knows what the truth of the situation is in Toronto. I am sure that there is plenty of fault to go around on the ground. Ultimately though the fault and the responsibility lies with Google. And their approach to reviews.

In other fake review cases Google is quite frequently quoted as saying: We’re always working on new and better ways to fight these issues and keep our information up to date.  We use automated systems to detect for spam and fraud, but we tend not to share details behind our processes so as not to tip off spammers or others with bad intent.

I am sure that they would come up with an equally inane response in this situation. This sort of mealy mouthed company line we often get is typical of Google’s big data approach to a hyper local issues. IE Google’s thinking that amongst the millions of reviews that they receive these fake are but a small percentage.

And because it is a free product, and because they have blanket federal immunity for these sorts of abuses  Google chooses (yes chooses) to not really deal with their review issues both in terms of improving the automation of for review spam detection OR putting humans onto the pitch to deal with the edge cases that their automation seems incapable of handling.

How hard would it be, for example, to set flags that when review volume suddenly surges that the reviews are temporarily quarantined until human review can ascertain their validity?

My point is that the credibility of Google reviews is dying one fake review at a time as case after case of these abuses are raised in the media. Big data has trouble capturing the concept of human trust, a very fragile thing. And it would be a crime if the benefit of reviews were permanently tainted by Google’s lack of action.





Google Posts Testing Video as a Media Type

Phillip Barnhart of Nehmedia just noted on Google+ that Google Posts is testing the use of video as a media type within a Post. The Knowledge Panel for  Moments from the Heart Photography Cedar Park Tx shows the video in an actual post.

I am a big fan of Google Posts as a tool for the SMB to use for branding, story telling, coupons and to create customer engagement and increase critical KPIs. Video is a natural evolution of the product and Moments From the Heart does a great job taking advantage of it in their post.

Interestingly though there is no other call to action or link in the post. I am curious if the use of video as a media type precludes the use of a call to action link or if that was a user choice.

Regardless it looks like an interesting test and if it goes live, an interesting feature.

Google Pushes Full Release of New Location Dashboard & Improved Q & A Notifications

Google has broadly pushed the new location dashboard to almost all accounts. And in doing so seems to have finally provided a near real time notification for (the long missing) Questions and Answers.

The new location dashboard, using a card approach to highlight important activities and calls to action for a given listing, was first seen last December. In the past few days it has been noted on Twitter as being seen more broadly (h/t Jeffrey Magner).

New Location Dashboard – click to view larger – note that the cards highligh important updates and task for the location.

More importantly Google seems to have updated their notifications capability and are now send alerts to new questions and answers appearing on a business’s Knowledge Panel.  The email allows for instant reporting of the question if it is inappropriate.

When a question has been answered, a notification is also sent in real time.

These notifications will make managing Q & A much, much easier for single & several location businesses.

New Google My Business Dashboard Slowly Rolling Out

Click to view larger

In November, Google announced the limited availability of a new “UI for Google My Business to better allow users with multiple listings to view and edit their information“.

Google noted the following about the new view:

What’s changing

  • User’s will no longer need to switch between card and list view within their dashboard, all users, large and small, will be using the same interface.
  • The new dashboard is much easier to navigate, allowing you to click into a listing and editing within the same window.
  • Features such as Posts and Insights are now more easily accessible, displaying on the side navigation panel of the main page.
  • Adding more listings will no longer impact the loading speed of the page.

I have not yet seen this new feature but reader Maurice Smit of Keaton Online Marketing sent me screen shots of this new layout in December. He is located in Europe where this interface appears to be more common.

This interface seems to be steadily and perhaps increasingly showing up in the US. Jeffrey Magner recently tweeted some concerns about the new dashboard.

(I actually don’t like the feature where Google spawns so many new windows).

Andy Kuiper, a Local SEO in Edmonton, sent this screenshot of his recently updated dashboard:

Click to view larger

A big benefit of this update is that the arbitrary limits on the number of listings in an account seem to have been removed and the speed issues apparently will be gone.

These changes are in a long line of upgrades to the Google My Business Dashboard since the dis-integration with Plus as Google has moved towards a single, integrated experience in the Dashboard that is the same regardless of whether you are an agency, a single location or a brand that does bulk uploads.

This improvement, along with the API and other changes, is a recognition on the part of Google that the dashboard does not just serve the small business nor should it. 

I am curious how many of you see this new(ish) dashboard? And if you have what do you think? Is it better, faster, more annoying? What?

Is Google Stupid or Do They Choose Not to Solve the Local Spam Problem?

In the conversation on my article about the divorce settlement between G+ and Google Local, Maurice Smit made this comment:

People sometimes ask me why Google can’t do certain things. There is a misconception that the people at Google are so savvy that they can do almost anything. As local marketers we know better, don’t we?

Wouldn’t it be easy for the biggest and smartest searchengine people to catch crap on the map? NO it is not apparently….

My answer:

As you know, I have explored that question for a long time.

The short answer is that they are savvy and could solve the problem but choose not to do so.

The long answer…

There are 88,110 employees at Google. Roughly half of which are engineers1 from the top institutions in the world. So on one level they are savvy.

But, and this is a big but, they have a corporate culture that is inculcated with certain values that prevent them from wanting to solve certain problems or perhaps unwilling to do so.

As you saw in their spam research paper, they view the problem of local spam from one of scale and relevance. This very limited POV effectively blinds them to the hyper local reality on the ground. The algo is god and that puts the damper on putting real, trained humans on the task2.

Another issue within Google is their cost accounting. Maps and organic search are surely responsible for the massive income of Adwords and yet internally Maps and Local are seen as a “free” product3. Thus any infrastructure and engineering time used for the purpose of spam abatement is viewed as an above the line, gross profit impacting, variable expense rather than a long term investment in the future of the company3.

The corporate culture also has two values that impact these outcomes… projects and products are an outcome of small teams with full, independent control AND Google has a strong desire for these team members to move to different divisions and gain more experience on a very regular basis. Within that is the ethos of build quick, release early and reiterate until it’s proved to be useful or a failure and then cut the cord.

The former means that the Maps team comes up with something like Q & A and forget to tell the GMB team about it4.

The latter means that if there were someone that was interested in say, review spam they would be encouraged to move onto another team in another division in a very short time frame. Months not years. So not only is the person with the interest gone, but their institutional knowledge is to some extent lost as well5.

The ethos of release early, iterate often and test means that 1)bugs are part of the landscape, 2)it might be updated soon in some sense but 3) that it might just as likely be cut from herd before the market even knows the product exists6.

To a large extent #craponthemap is the perfect example of the type of problem that Google COULD solve but chooses NOT to solve for both individual AND corporate reasons.

What is obvious to us, the impact of spam listings and spam reviews on legit local businesses, is perceived as a gnat on the butt of an elephant by the Google Gods. Only rarely does the sting of the gnat generate enough pain that someone looks up and says oh, maybe there is a problem… take down that specific spammer so the gnat goes away7.

All of this exists within a context of Google success at generating a profit and becoming a monopoly. From a corporate point of view, if not ours, they are doing something right to be that profitable. Their status of being a super aggregator monopolist means that they can create these problems but as long as the problems have no material economic impact, they can ignore them.

I, being ever hopeful, have encouraged, embraced and highlighted other gnats in the hope that a swarm can both identify more problems with the product AND garner more of Google’s ADD rattled attention.

Its been a long slog8. And it has become clear during that journey that Google has made an active decision, as much as they are capable of doing so, to not solve this problem any more than they already have, IN THE CURRENT CONTEXT.

But Google, as the monopoly hegemon, is a context creator. The final outcome may end up being something like Local Services Ads, where the monopolist creates a new market from which they profit by putting trust back into the broken system they created. Ironic eh?

1 – This strong engineering focus creates a certain class bias in and of itself outside of the corporate culture. While some engineers may have come from working and small business backgrounds, by the time they have run the gauntlet of a place like MIT they have become entitled representatives of their technocratic status. When I visit Google I am struck by the very obvious class differences within the organization.

2 – Their trust in the algo means that problems need to be able to be solved at scale. Many times, spam is widespread but so hyper local that it defies an algo based solution. From the point of view of Google these are “edge cases”. They certainly make enough money to put people on these edge  cases but that would deny their own strongly held belief about the algo. And cost money, god forbid.

3- While this appears to be true, it is the sort of “white” (or not) lie that companies tell themselves to excuse their lack of willingness to solve the problem. And the internal accounting whether intentional or not puts the incentives in the wrong places to solve this problem. In many ways, Google has created a public utility in the form of Google Maps but shifted the costs of the local spam onto the consumer.

4 – While small, independent teams can make great products, the lack of minimal viable features needed in the important context of local is astounding. How could a product like Google Q & A be released with no functional way to communicate to the business about a new question?

5- This has long been an issue with Google but I must say that they are doing better on the remembering front than they used to… it still leads to costly (to the local business) re-dos as products come and go and come again but it is better than in the 2008-2012 time frame.

6 – This often leads to Google spending time on interesting products only to nuke them due to lack of business uptake. It also means less engineering resources for solving problems with the existing product set (review spam anyone?). This creates a distrust on the part of the business to adopt new features which feeds back into the Google process leading to the feature being nuked. A very weird dialectic.

7 – I have been told, and it is perhaps apocryphal and perhaps not, that Google has a team that just looks for problems that are appearing in the press and are authorized to solve that immediate problem to avoid further bad press…. the “proverbial hand job”. The issue might or more likely, might not see a long term systemic solution.

8- When I say a long slog I mean a long slog. I started writing and critiquing listing  spam in 2008. In some cases Google fixed the problem. In others, like locksmiths, they just threw up their hands and it still exists today…10 years on. With a solution only just now on the horizon, Local Services Ads.