All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Google Advanced Verification & Home Services Ads – An Update

The top contributors met with Google and we were educated as to the changes that are taking place in both the Advanced Verification programs and the Home Service Ads program.

Both are evolving from the model rolled out in San Diego which required all local listings to be advanced verified.

One big change is that only businesses that will advertise will be required to go through the advanced verification process that involves independent background checks.

The other is that service area business listings in markets where the test is now arriving, will be pulled from any 3-Pack display and only shown in the new HSA finder.

Here are notes of the meeting:

What’s happening?

  • The Advanced Verification pilot in San Diego and Los Angeles is changing for Google My Business service area merchants and expanding to new geos and categories for AdWords and AdWords Express customers.
  • The Home Services pilot in San Diego and Los Angeles that includes both paying and non-paying service professionals is expanding to new categories and cities.

From Google’s point of view:

  • Advanced verification helps reduce fraudulent listings on Google and ensures that local listings and local ads are relevant and legitimate.
  • Home Services – tailored for service area businesses – makes it easy for consumers to discover, connect and hire local service professionals directly from Google, and connects local professionals with new customers when they need them the most.

Key takeaways from Tests of both programs:

  • Independent verifications has been successful at identifying bad actors.
  • Deeply managing advertising and targeting corresponding GMB listings is effective and scalable.
  • Highest impact in locksmith and overhead doors, plumbing vertical has less risk (ATM). Actively testing auto glass repair and towing to determine its value.
  • Google expects things may change over the coming months. As bad actors shift their behaviors, so will Google.

Advanced Verification:

Here is the where and what of the City and category expansion tests:

  1. Locksmith and Plumber merchants signing up for Google My Business in San Diego and Los Angeles no longer need to complete Advanced Verification to be listed on Google.
    • Based on their pilot results, Google can effectively address Map spam with less impact on merchants.
    • Instead, Google is leveraging a behind the scenes approach to combat fraudulent businesses in these categories.
  2. AdWords and AdWords Express customers promoting auto glass repair, overhead door repair and towing services in the San Francisco Bay Area now need to pass advanced verification.
  3. In addition, all AdWords and AdWords Express customers promoting locksmith services across the whole of California need to pass advanced verification. It is expected this expansion will continue outside of California in the coming months.

Home Services expansion updates per city and category:

  1. New categories have been added to San Diego and Los Angeles:
    • Los Angeles: HVAC, electricians, overhead door
    • San Diego: HVAC, electricians, overhead door, towing, autoglass
  2. The pilot experience that includes both paying and non-paying service professionals is being extended to the San Francisco Bay Area, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Phoenix, and Seattle:
    • San Francisco Bay Area: Iocksmiths, plumbers, house cleaners, handyman, general contractors, electricians, HVAC, painters, overhead door, auto glass repair, towing
    • Philadelphia: plumbers, HVAC, electricians, Iocksmiths
    • Atlanta, Phoenix, Seattle: plumbers, HVAC, electricians, Iocksmiths, overhead door
  3. Pure service area businesses are been moved from the local search results (“B-pack”) to the Home Services unit in those cities.

Other recent articles that you should take a look at for a complete understanding of these changes:

Is Google Going to Remove the 3-Packs? What You Need to Know about Home Service Ads (HSAs) by Joy Hawkins at Whitespark

Home Service Ads Alert – Read this Post

How Google Home Services can Affect You – by Dave Squires

Google Local Questions & Answers Rolling Out to Mobile Browsers

Google Local’s Q & A feature is now rolling out to mobile browsers on the iPhone and Android. On the iPhone the feature is visible on both Safari and Chrome.

Sergey Alekov, an SEO specialist in Toronto, was first to notice the products increased visibility.

When Questions & Answers was released for local Knowledge Panels earlier this month, it was only visible from within Android Maps and only editable by business owners. Earlier last week editing was opened more broadly.

The feature has not yet rolled out to the iOS Google App or Google Maps but I assume that it will at some point show up. Probably sooner rather than later. I also assume that as Google gets more comfortable with the product it will ultimately show up on the desktop as well.

The rollout to mobile browsers and iOS make the feature significantly more visible to the public and thus much more likely to attract crowd sourced content to your Google local listing.

Now is the time to start posting your own Questions & Answers to your branded Knowledge Panel. For some ideas on how to proceed see my see my post 11 Tips to Optimize the New Google.

Home Service Ads Alert – Read this Post

As Google’s Home Service Ads rolls out to more verticals and more markets1, more and more service area businesses are going to feel the impact. While some of the details are changing it appears that Google is charging forward with Home Service Ads2. The impacts go beyond those covered by in this great article: How Google Home Services can Affect You – by Dave Squires.

You need to read this post in the forum: Service area businesses no longer ranking?

Items to note.

  •  It appears that when HSA is introduced to a market, that all service area businesses in the affected verticals are removed from the 3- Pack display.
  •  If they pay for HSA and Advanced verification they can move to the top of the new Ad unit and show “Google guaranteed” notation.
  • If they don’t, they are shown way down the new Ad unit’s equivalent of the Local Finder. Perhaps we can refer to this display as the “HSA Finder” although it might be better named Local SAB Hider or perhaps the “SAB Loser”.
  • Many of the affected SABs are marching forward with getting an office, either real or imagined, to deal with their predicament. An interesting example of how Google pushing in one direction creates unintended (but predictable) consequences mucking up index quality. They just got the SAB stuff squared away.
The new HSA Finder places non paying SABs at the bottom of the list at least a click and a scroll away from any visibility. More like HSA loser.

1 – The verticals have been expanded from locksmiths and plumbers to include HVAC, electricians, garage door, roadside assistance, auto glass, painting, handyman, home cleaning and even appliance repair categories. And now includes the Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, Stockton,  San Francisco, Philadelphia, Atlanta markets (and perhaps more).

2 – I know that a lot of folks speculate that HSA type pay to play will reach all categories. While I do see Google increasing Ad inventory & exposure across the whole of the local ecosystem I see the HSA as a unique response to categories that had both high spam in their listings and in their local Adwords campaigns. The problem was so egregious that Google is going to the length of Pinkerton background checks on employees of businesses in the program. That has to be expensive. And it is an indicator of the level of problems in these categories. Imagine the press and lawsuits when one of these spammers killed or robbed someone? It was a mess and Google chose to offset their costs with an pay to play approach much like in Shopping ads. 

Mike B Around the Web This Week

For those of you that just can’t enough of me, here are other posts that I have helped create or worked on or appeared in.

Channel7 Investigators uncover fake online reviews of Detroit businesses – I am the “expert” (or one of them) that helped with research and understanding for Channel 7 Detroit to file this on-air broadcast. Watch my 30 seconds of fame… or is it 15 seconds?

Can Yelp Extend Its Moment in the Sun? – Streetfight Magazine, with David Mihm. We discuss the recent Yelp quarterly results and the many headwinds that they still face.

Video Deep Dive: New from Google — Questions & Answers Mary Bowling and I discuss ways for businesses to not just cope with but to achieve success with Google Local’s newest product.

Video: Last Week in Local August 14th – Mary Bowling and I discuss major news events from last week including articles on strategic and tactical issues affecting local search.

Help Us Write Barbara Oliver’s Content for the new Google Questions & Answers

Barbara Oliver and her staff

When Google Questions & Answers came out last week, I reached out to Barbara Oliver Jewelry (who doesn’t have any street level presence in Williamsville, NY and is hidden on the third floor of an office building) and advised her on how to deal with the new product.

She agreed that she needed to get out in front of the crowd sourced aspect of Google Question & Answers  and asked her staff to write down the most common questions that they received on the phone.

I am posting them here in the hopes that all of you will help me make suggestions to her.

Are there too many questions? Is it the right voice? How would you change them to be more compelling to her potential customers?

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1) Do I need an appointment to look at engagement rings?    

You are welcome to stop by any time during our shop hours. No appointment is necessary. (We are just not that snooty!) With that being said, if your schedule doesn’t allow you to come in during our regular hours, please give us a call and we will be happy to accommodate you after hours.

2) Do you do jewelry repairs? 

Yes, we do all types of jewelry repairs including resizing rings, replacing missing stones, fixing broken parts, and more.

3) Will you send my jewelry out to be repaired?

No. All repairs are done by our in-house goldsmith Dan who is a master craftsman.          

4) Can you resize my ring if I didn’t buy from you? 

Yes, we will gladly size your ring even if you didn’t buy it from us.

5) What is the charge for an appraisal? 

It depends if you need a verbal or written appraisal. If you have a piece and would just like a verbal review to determine how much the piece is worth or exactly what it is, this is a complimentary service. If you need a written appraisal for insurance with complete documentation, there is a $45 charge per piece.

 6) Do I need to leave my jewelry to be appraised? 

Typically we do appraisals on the spot, so you don’t have to leave your jewelry pieces. There are some exceptions. For example, if you have numerous pieces that need to be appraised for an estate, we may ask you to leave those pieces with us. Please note:  We are a walk-in shop, so we do appraisals in-between customers. If you can come during the week instead of a Saturday, our busiest day, that would be greatly appreciated.

7) Are you in an office building?! Do you have parking?   

Yes, we’re on the third-floor in the Caldwell Building (a six story red brick office building) at 5820 Main St. in Williamsville. There is a large parking lot at the back of the building where the entrance is located. We look forward to seeing you!

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OK, sharpen your pens, pencils, keyboards and thinking and let us know how YOU would improve these.

Jobs for WordPress – A Plug-in that Every SMB & Agency Needs

Walter Schärer, Director of Marketing & Business Development at BlueGlass Interactive in Zurich alerted me to a newly created plug-in that they have recently developed: Jobs for WordPress.

The plug-in easily formats (using Schema markup) your job listings to be compatible and readable by the new Google for Jobs search engine.

Click to view larger

Every business small and large needs more exposure for their job listings. In the context of local, a jobs page is always a good ranking page that can potentially attract new employees, readily attract links and build some page strength.

Here are the features:

  • Add, manage and categorize job listings using the familiar WordPress UI
  • Preview of your job listing before it goes live – the preview matches the appearance of a live job listing
  • The job listings are automatically formatted with structured data or schema.org Markup with JSON-LD or Microdata
  • Job postings are easy to implement via shortcodes or PHP function
    Job postings can be saved in PDF format
  • Each listing can be customized with drag-and-drop – in terms of modules, structure, paragraph namings and order etc.
  • Applications can be easily clustered and filtered for a comfortable navigation
  • Each listing can be tied to a particular application recipient / e-mail address
  • Developer friendly — Custom Post Types, Single job template, a lot of hooks and filters implemented.

Caveat: I have not yet tried this plug-in, it’s new and only has one review. If you try it, let me know as it appears to be a great way to build out a jobs page that maximizes exposure for both attracting job seekers and link.

Google Maps: Feature or Bug? Web Link Opens New Window With No Tabs and It’s Annoying

On Friday, Justin Mosebach of Improve and Grow , Lancaster PA  pointed out some new, very annoying behavior happening within Google Maps.

When the business listing shows a business URL in Chrome, it now opens a new window “without any tab bar, bookmark bar, etc”. It does not happen in Mac Safari but according to Justin, he has seen this new behavior on all other browsers.

Bug or feature? It seems like a bug but who knows.

Click to view larger. Image courtesy of Justin Mosebach

 

11 Tips to Optimize the New Google Questions & Answers

The new Google Places Questions & Answers offers a lot of potential for both helping and hurting a business. Here are some thoughts on how your business should approach this new and untried feature in the local Knowledge Panel.

1- Get out in front of them.
Crowd sourcing can be intimidating to the typical business but it’s best if you approach this, like reviews and photos, proactively. Having good Q & A’s posted will somewhat limit the opportunity for mischief.

Used with minor revisions and permission of brett jordan under a Creative Commons License. Some rights reserved


2- Start now.
Write out some questions that you can post to your listing. Review them to make sure they meet consumer’s needs and get them posted. This will give the early postings a chance to be upvoted more over time.

3- Make sure that they really are Frequently Asked Questions1.
I have advised several clients to listen to incoming phone calls and list out the actual questions that callers ask before they come into the store. This will save you and them time which is one of the things that purchase funnel optimization is about. The obvious candidates here are the very real concerns about parking, special hours, appointments and other conveniences.

4- Think long tail as well.
Once you have identified the low hanging fruit, brainstorm some of the less frequently asked questions (but asked) about some of your less well known services.  “Does this bakery offer gluten free choices?” I am NOT saying to treat this as a keyword spamming opportunity. It isn’t but going niche can be helpful.

5- Plan for scanning.
Consumers are a busy lot and you want to be sure that both the questions are easy to read and the answer are brief but accurate. Be brief and too the point. These need to be short answers to real questions.

6- Write them using your customers voice.
These are meant to be accessible and easy to understand, not marketing pieces.

7- Make them useful to both parties; your business and the customer.
Obviously the goal here to facilitate interactions between the right kind of customer and your business.

8- Control yourself and don’t over do it.
Its best if there are fewer rather than more. (I am not yet sure what that means but…)

9- Plan for disaster.
This is a crowd sourced environment after all and we all know that weird and unpleasant things can arise. Write down a plan so that in the heat of the moment you don’t do something stupid. Usually the first step is to take a breath and call a trusted advisor (to talk you off of the cliff).

10- Monitor your Knowledge Panel for new questions.
If they are legit be the first to answer. Use your GMB login and the answer will be noted as from the business owner. This is likely going to be a problem for multi location chains as their is no API or in dashboard notification but it is necessary. Hopefully Google will prioritize the development of tools to deal with this both proactively and at scale.

11- Learn the process for removing unseemly questions and/or answers.
This involves:

  1. Reading the TOS of service and guidelines for content.
  2. Familiarizing yourself with how to flag them for Google’s attention.
  3. Understanding how the forum works so that if automated or human Google curation fails you, you can take the next step. That involves waiting at least a week, providing clear documentation and links about the problem, and articulating why they should come down. It helps to @ one or two top contributors via the forum to be sure that it gets their attention.

Like reviews, there is no way to hide from this. You are better off being proactive and getting ahead of it. It may be hard but take a deep breath and start planning now.

Fortunately Google is rolling this out slowly and on a single platform (Android Google Maps only). It will take some time for consumers (and worse competitors) to become aware of it. Be ready.

I am sure that I missed a few points. What would you add to the list?

1 – Credit to 10 Tips for Creating a Killer FAQ Page where I “stole” many of these ideas. 

Google Rolling Out Questions & Answers

Update: See my post 11 Tips to Optimize the New Google Questions & Answers to help plan your approach.

Google has announced and started to roll out Questions & Answers, a crowd sourced and business sourced Q & A product for local Knowledge Panels places listings. Tim Capper has a great summary as well that is worth the read.

Essentially the product is designed to allow Google to offer additional FAQ type content via the Knowledge Panel that answers consumers most frequent and “long tail” questions about a Place.

The product is initially rolling out on Android Google Maps only. At some point in the near future it will be available on all mobile browsers as well.

Here is Google’s description of the product that was provided during a preview of the product:

What
Questions and Answers allow business owners to answer questions directly from potential customers. Merchants can also anticipate FAQ’s by adding commonly asked questions and their answers.

Merchants and other users can both thumb up content to boost its ranking and flag content that is incorrect or spam.

Why
Users have many place-specific questions that are going unanswered right now. By allowing them to ask the business owner and each other, we can help them make decisions more quickly.

Example questions our users have about places:

  • “What dishes should I try?”
  • “What should I definitely do/see?”
  • “How much seating is there for large groups or special events?”
  • “Is there space to park a baby stroller?”
  • “What’s the lighting like inside?”
  • “Is delivery or take-out offered?”
  • “Which credit cards are accepted?”
  • “Is this a good date night restaurant?”
  • “Are service animals allowed?”
  • “Can I bring my kids here?”
  • “Where should I look for parking?”
  • “Do I need reservations for a Friday night?”
  • “Are there coupons?”

What does it look like?

Great in concept for Google and perhaps the consumer, but the devil is for sure in the details as to whether it will be good for the business.

Google has said that moderation will be much like reviews in being mostly automated with some human curation. If the product fails the failure is likely to be in the moderation and more importantly, spam moderation details.

If antagonistic competitors figure out the moderation rules, I see it as very likely that passive aggressive negative information could easily be posted. Will staff in India be able to understand the subtlety?

And of course there is always the “lets turn everything into an ugly promotional tool” mindset that many have that could pollute the waters with incredibly spammy content.

As the product is currently designed (it feels given the very limited release and limited interfaces more like a beta,) it puts the difficult task of monitoring directly on the shoulder of the business owner. They need to continually goto their Android Maps app and check to see if the questions are meaningful and if they need to answer the question or whether the consumer answer is adequate.

Posts and Websites “felt” very business friendly. This on the other hand will feel like a poke in the eye to most businesses. Being required to regularly go back and check the crowd sourced status of a listing due to fear of the “crowd” might be off base, is one more task that appears to offer little of value to the business and will take additional (and very limited)time.

Like reviews, I don’t doubt though that effectively embraced and managed it can help a business. I am just not sure most of them will see it that way.

On a more strategic level for Google, this product is one more piece of content that will be residing within the Knowledge Panel for the business… first NAP and photos, then reviews, reviews from the web, then Posts and now “Places Q & A”.

Like Google Destinations in the travel industry, it is an effort to create ever more granular content that will keep consumers within Google’s subtly “walled garden” and further limit the likelihood of their visiting your website.

Short haul it could increase conversions, if properly handled, and that would be a good thing… until the gate keeper starts charging more for the privilege or sends the traffic elsewhere.

Here is a FAQ with details that we know about Questions & Answers (assembled with the help of the many TCs in Google’s My Business Forum).

Q: Places? That sounds like back to future. Continue reading Google Rolling Out Questions & Answers