All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Yelp Implements Active Cleanup Alerts

At GetFiveStars I have just published:    Yelp Implements Active Cleanup Alerts When a Business Hits the News – Tituss Burgess Vs Frank’s Express   (h/t to Local SEO Gerry Foster)

Yelp has started implementing active monitoring of businesses that become the target of political reviews due to having their story go viral. While I think that the business’s behavior in this case was reprehensible, I find Yelp’s new approach to be appropriate. Google and Facebook would do well to follow the policy.

Screenshot 2016-07-14 11.11.15

5 Reasons Why the New Google Business Photos Image Search Sucks

Google has yet to make any announcements vis a vis providing business photos to the Knowledge Panel via Image Search rather than from the GMB and Google Maps. Whether the change is permanent or “just a test” we do not know. It is very widespread though and appears to be the new normal. Google’s new normal is always more than a touch abnormal and this case is no different.

But we do know that there are problems with using Google Image search in lieu of business provided photos, some of which probably can be resolved and some of which can not.

Here are some of the issues that I see:

1- Google is very good on parsing user intent on partial searches and delivering the One Box when appropriate. However these same partial searches might return total crap for imagery. For example if you search for “Barbara Oliver Jewelry” and you click through to the images, you will get mostly relevant images. But if you search on the more common but less complete “Barbara Oliver” and click through the profile photo in the One Box with the specific intent of seeing more photos you get totally irrelevant photos:

barbara oliver Google Search

2- When a user does a local keyword search and clicks through to the Local Finder and explores the profile images, Google is still presenting the traditional More Photos view with images from the Google My Business Dashboard and ugc from Maps. Should a business be expected to manage and monitor images at both the GMB and Image search?


3-Google My Business has provided a structured, relatively easy place to add photos that would be one click away from your Knowledge Panel. A business could put a stake in it and, for the most part, understand how to use it and have some modicum of control over the images that showed. Should small businesses now have to learn about Google Image Search SEO to have control over the images?

target amanda lane orchard park Google Search4-Some listings, mostly larger brands and hotels, are still delivering the “original” See Photos option. Is that because they are using bulk upload? Will that continue to be the case? Will brands with bulk be handled differently than SMBs?

5- Some local listings from the same company have it one way and some have it the other. In the case of Busch Gardens, which has two locations, one goes to Image Search and the other to the See Photos box. What gives? Is it because they are slightly different types of Knowledge Panels? Will a business have both types to deal with?

Google, in typical fashion, is not making life easy but worse they are not communicating about what is going on with one of a business’s most important digital asset, their Knowledge Panel. (Oops I forgot it’s not the business’s, it’s Google’s.)

Google, Google, Google. Complexity instead of simplicity. Change instead of consistency. Insular instead of communicative. Its no wonder that most businesses throw up their hands in disgust.

I'm smart; you're dumb. I'm big; you're little. I'm right; you're wrong . I am always reminded of Danny Devito in Matilda when dealing with Google.
I’m smart; you’re dumb. I’m big; you’re little. I’m right; you’re wrong . I am always reminded of Danny Devito in Matilda when dealing with Google.

New Google Knowledge Panel Business Photo Shenanigans

Google, never particularly transparent about how to get the photos that you want to show in your Knowledge Panel, seems to be throwing another curve ball to local businesses (h/t to Lance Moore at Uptick marketing in Birmingham and Destin).

While the image that you chose as a profile photo might show, now when you click on it, you are taken to Google Image search, rather than to the businesses chosen photos for that business that were uploaded via the Google My Business Dashboard.

If the listing no longer notes “see photos” in the lower right of the Knowledge Graph profile image then the images, when clicked will take the user to Google Image search.

The images showing in Google Image search may or may not be very relevant. In my case I am seeing images for my long dead father, a politician named blumenthal, a uniform stored named Blumenthal,  some images from blog posts and who knows what else.

Screenshot 2016-07-12 16.27.38
When you click on the profile photo it takes you to Image Search. Note that if the profile image says “See photos” it still will direct you to your and user uploaded images.

If this is a new feature, I can sum up my thoughts on it very succinctly:

It Sucks.

A business should be able to put photos of itself and they should have some measure of control over those photos. Taking users to random photos is bad for everyone. Do businesses need one more reputation management/(stupid) SEO task on their plate?

Screenshot 2016-07-12 16.28.06

If this is more than a test then shouldn’t businesses be advised? At some point, this change MIGHT make sense.

But businesses that have focused on uploading images to the GMB now need to think about being sure that their images on their website are actually the ones that Google should show. It seems a lot to ask of most small businesses. And they need to be aware that images from around the web could be showing thus creating both a new SEO obligation PLUS a new reputation management concern.

The change has not occured to hotel Knowledge Panel images nor big brands like Target and Best Buy.  And for now, images in the Local Finder still reference the GMB and Maps images. The change seems to be impacting SMB Knowledge Panels only at this point.



Google Showing New Local Inventory Ad Entry Points

Google Local Inventory Ads have been around for several years. They have traditionally appeared as ad units delivered in response to product searches.

Nicolai Helling, a senior consultant at UDG United Digital Group, points out a new format, perhaps in testing, that embeds the inventory search function directly into the Knowledge Panel and Map listing for a local business via a Search items at this store link.

Have you seen this in the US? They are not visible on Ikea listings but perhaps you have seen them on other brands?

Andy Beohar of SevenAtoms points out that it is showing in the US on large chains like Best Buy and Target:
Screenshot 2016-07-12 16.52.40

New Google Help Page – To Create a Link for Customers to Write Reviews

Updated 11:21 Note the 404’s issues were mine
Updated: 11:30 It does work on Android
Updated 7/12: The help page has been removed but the technique still works.

Google has added a new help page Create a link for customers to write reviews which explains in detail how to use the Google Maps API to generate a URL that can be used to solicit reviews. (NOTE: this page has been removed as of 7/11.)

Image capture of help page. Click to view larger.
The page is interesting for two reasons.

One it explicitly provides a Google approved way of generating a URL string for asking for reviews. While Google has acknowledged in the forums that is ok to ask for reviews there has never been a specific help page nor an “easy” method for generating the review URL.

Two, the method doesn’t work very often and only appears to work on the desktop some of the time. Go figure.

The steps Google recommends generate the review URL (these steps still work even though the help page has been taken down):

To create a link, you’ll need to get the Place ID for your business. To get your Place ID:

  1. Go to the Google Places API.
  2. Enter your business information in the “Enter a location” field at the top of the map.
  3. Click your business name in the list that appears.
  4. Your Place ID will appear on the map, beneath your business name.

Add your Place ID to the following URL to create your link:<place_id>

Using the example above, the URL with the Place ID added would be:

Unfortunately, at least for now, the URL that Google is providing doesn’t always work or doesn’t work in different browsers or doesn’t work in mobile. Exactly when and why it fails is not clear.

For example the example link above works in Chrome on my Mac but not from Safari and not on my iPhone in either browser. On Safari on the my desktop it generates the Knowledge Panel but not the review box. This is likely due to Safari’s poor handling of redirects which this URL does.

I hear from Helmut that the URL does work on Android. I still can not get it to work on iPhone on either Safari or Chrome but it does appear to be working on Google Now for Android. Would love others to test.

I have observed in the past that features and new search parameters (like /local/writereview?placeid) do not  necessarily roll out to all browsers simultaneously. If we are lucky Google will be fixing this and rolling it out across all browsers on all platforms. For now it just as easy to copy the URL that Google generates from the Knowledge Panel or use one of the many tools to generate the URL.

Google Releases Brilliant (& Creepy) New Feature to Crowd Source Business Photos

Local Guides will be able to have photos that they are taking of local businesses “automagically matched” and added to the business listings from their Google Photos collection. The feature, first released on Android but soon available on iOS, only requires you to “turn on the back up and location features in Google Photos to have your photos of places appear in the Contribute tab of Google Maps.”

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 8.15.30 AM

When Google Photos was introduced a year ago I noted in my article Google Photos- A Visual Graph of People, Places and Things. Can It Become Their “Everything Graph”?Almost every photo these days comes geotagged so Google knows, at least within a 100 feet or so of where it was taken. They don’t yet auto assign a specific [business] location but they show incredible accuracy in auto assigning the photos to a city level. I assume that Google has more granular insights but has not yet turned them loose for fear of a privacy backlash.

So much for that fear.

Google Photos is one of those brilliant tools that shows Google at its very best and its very creepiest with its use of AI, machine learning and the ability to dig deep into your phone to surface additional details about businesses that you are frequenting.

And now with a little gamefication (Local Guide points), the offer of some free storage and some very sophisticated technology Google has unleashed one of the worlds most amazing geo-photo crowd sourcing projects ever.

Local Search Ain’t What It Used to Be…

I have been involved in local search marketing and local seo for much of the last 16 years. I love local seo and would never declare it dead. It has lots of life.

But it has never been harder, once you have nailed the basics, to get an appropriate ROI.  The many changes at Google Local, the increasing fragmentation and competition, the every shifting technology and rapidly evolving new interfaces should force every business and agency to assess the role Local SEO plays in your overall marketing plan.

Join Mary Bowling and myself as we discuss the varied and many influences that are impacting the ROI of local seo. Let me know what you think and how businesses and agencies should respond.

If you would rather read the transcript head over to the original at Local U: How are the Big Changes in Local Search Impacting Local Businesses and What Can They Do?

Shame on Elizabeth Warren (and Yelp)

Google is a monopoly in local search. Whether they leverage their monopoly power and intentionally disadvantage smaller competitors is probable. But that disadvantaging is what would need to be proved to make the case for any antitrust remedy to be proposed.

But when I hear Elizabeth Warren say in a speech that in 2012 the FTC staff noted that Google used “its dominant search engine to harm rivals of  its Google Plus user review feature” I have to wonder who is this woman? She is clearly bright so why would she be spouting a completely specious argument? And then I hear Yelp’s Luther Lowe mimic the line I wonder if maybe they are using the same bad researcher for their talking points.

Screenshot 2016-07-05 15.58.45It’s amazing how with one dumb statement you can call into question a whole line of reasoning because that statement has been so disabused by the actual outcomes.

A reasoned look back at Google Plus since 2012 would indicate that Yelp wasn’t the target but a bit player in their plans. But regardless Google’s Plus plans went terribly awry.

In 2012 Google did roll reviews into Google Plus. Its apparent objective at the time was to artificially inflate Plus usage in their battle with the other looming monopolist, Facebook. By taking products both small (reviews) and large (YouTube) (and a ton of others) and wrapping them up in the big whole of Plus, Google was hoping to aggregate enough users of the forced march to scale their budding social network. They thought that their many disparate users, including those leaving and reading reviews, would jump start Plus. I don’t see how it worked in reverse. Having reviews on Google Plus didn’t or wouldn’t increase the visibility of reviews or hurt a competitor.

But not only did the Google plan not work but it back fired. YouTube users revolted. And in the review space, it became so hard for users to write reviews that fewer folks were writing them.

Because users had to have a Google account AND create a new Google Plus account to leave a review there was so much friction that it became very difficult for most users to ever get to the point of actually leaving a review. In research I have looked at from last year, Facebook and Yelp had, over a significant timeframe, far outpaced both the absolute and relative numbers and growth rates of reviews left at Google Plus. In the end they both passed Google by a significant margin.

Clearly Google’s “grand scheme” didn’t work. Not only didn’t it put a dent in Facebook it actually helped Yelp. In fact the plan was so bad that Google has spent the last two years disentangling local and reviews from Plus. By this spring when Google “upgraded” Google Plus they ripped reviews totally out of Plus. If anything Yelp gained by Google’s actions.

Thats an amazing use of monopoly power. Even if disadvantage was the intent (and I am not sure it was), it never materialized. So to use it as a basis for current critique of Google’s monopoly power seems laughable.

For an argument to win an anti-trust case it has to be logically coherent and observationally consistent and determined to be factually true. Not only was this argument not consistent it turned out to be not just not true but false.

Do I think that there are ways that Google disadvantages Yelp and TripAdvisor? I think it possible. I have seen anecdotal evidence that it occurs and it seems to be baked into the relationship between Google’s indexing, the Knowledge Graph algo and Yelp’s strong SEO.

But it isn’t with Google Plus or even reviews on Google and Warren and Yelp basing their argument on these sorts of “facts” weakens their argument to the point of absurdity. Shame on both Elizabeth Warren and Yelp.

Making a Business More Complaint Receptive

I have just published the last (at least for now) article on complaints:  13 Ideas to Make Your Business More Complaint Friendly. In the article I came up with a number of ways to set your business up for success from both an operational point of view as well as a process one.

But I still have a ton of questions and thoughts that are half formed and I would love your ideas*.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 8.43.26 AMIn this post I categorized ideas that would help a business think differently about about complaints at a baked in level, at the core of the business. My sense is that if isn’t systematized in a meaningful way resolution won’t happen consistently or in the business’s favor. Here’s how I broke it down:

Be ready to handle complaints
Make it easy to complain
Welcome complaints when they do come
Resolve complaints quickly

Some of the questions that I have:
How do you calculate the “ROI” of complaint resolution?
Why do more businesses not have better systems in place?
Can process define success or is attitude the main issue?
What are some more ideas to make complaining easy?
Why don’t more customers complain?
When do you just have to tell the customer to take a hike?
How do you tell a customer to take a hike?
Are there common scenarios that need a different type of process?

And stories. Bring me your stories:
Do you have anecdotes of complaint resolution going really well?
Really poorly?
Of businesses that get it?
Of those that don’t?
Of complaints that turned into reviews and worse?

*As always I don’t have much to offer in return… just links. I realized in writing this that I am what you might consider the opposite of a link junkie. I want to give them out as liberally as I can in return for conversation and learning. I don’t really care if I ever get one, although I have gotten a few over the years and I would like to share the “wealth”. I am a learning junky. Help me learn, get a link or three, lets talk.