All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Google Local Updates – Review Stars in Adwords & Amenities for Hotels

Photo Courtesy of Graham Johnson of PcRepair Croydon

Joy Hawkins reports that Adword customers that are using Location extension that are synced with GMB are now showing their review stars in the Ads. Previously this feature was only available via Adwords Express and to get the stars you needed to work with a 3rd party review site like TrustPilot.

I first saw these show up last week but couldn’t find any documentation about the feature. Still can’t. It is not clear how many reviews a business needs to have, what star rating they need to be or any other requirements.

Annie from Acorn pointed out something that I had noticed out of the corrner of my eye that Google was now displaying additional details about hotels and B & B in the Local Stack (Snack Pack) and Knowledge Panel.


It is not at all clear what source Google is using for this data although early money is on that seems to have embedded themselves into the booking tool. Several other oddities are that Google seems to have the data in the expanded Knowledge Pack but doesn’t always display it as in the Hyatt above. Note too that if the third listing displays the amenities they seem to get cut off in the main search result display.

The amenities also show up in Maps when you roll over the pin:

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 3.12.47 PM

Update: Google has published a Help Page on Amenities and notes that there is no way to directly impact the content of the display and if it is wrong to contact support.

Uber Hires Brian McClendon, (ex) Google VP of Maps

alumni_03Re/code has just reported that Uber has hired Brian McClendon, the former co-head of Google Maps. McClendon has a storied history in the mapping world having created Keyhole and Google Earth and having marshalled many of the technical developments at Google Maps over the past 10 years. According to Wikipedia he holds 12 Map patents including 7 related to KML.

I understood that he and Jen Fitzpatrick co-ran Google Maps and the Geo technologies at Google.  Apparently, last fall, Jen Fitzpatrick was put in sole charge of Maps.

Uber isn’t wasting any time building out a significant mapping and self driving car infrastructure. They are obviously very serious about having gutted the Carnegie Mellon research labs by hiring away many of its engineers earlier this year, acquiring long time mapping, driving direction & routing company DeCarta and having made an offer to purchase Here (aka Navteq) from Nokia.

Horace Deidu has pointed out  that creating and operating a mapping company costs $1-$2 billion per year. Because there is obviously little value in licensing of the data there needs to be another model for making money off of the investment. Google does so by selling advertising against the map, Apple by selling devices on which users expect a navigation system. He posits that Uber’s interest reflects a third business model where the large expense of mapping can be supported by transportation services where accurate maps are the key to autonomous vehicles.

Clearly Uber has the resources and they have the chops to make a significant move in Maps. For Apple, Google and now Uber, it appears that a billion or two a year is worth it. But mapping is haaaard…. Particularly at the level of the self driving car and it will not happen overnight. Uber won’t have any easier time of it than it did at Google or Apple.

The implications of the further “privatization” of Maps are not totally clear. Other local search companies and consumers will rely on sole sourced mapping technology that for competitive reasons is kept close to the companies controlling it.

Will our world be a better place for having three companies each dumping $2 billion per year into a Map race, the benefit of which is largely kept for the sole use of the companies acquiring the data?


Apple Confirms Vans are for Maps Data Improvement – Discloses Future Locations

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 9.18.00 AMApple, in a path eerily similar to the path that Google took during their first years of on-line mapping, has publicly acknowledged that their vans are being used to supplement their Maps data.

Google Maps was first rolled out in February of 2005 and  started their StreetView program in May, 2007 in  only five cities (Denver, Las Vegas, Miami, New York and San Francisco). By October, 2009 Google had replaced TeleAtlas ( having switched from Navteq a year earlier) as their data supplier in the US with their own base map and road geometry data from StreetView.

Apple Maps was rolled out in September, 2012 and Apple’s street view vans were first spotted in February of this year, 29 months after the introduction of Maps compared to Google’s 27 months. Given that Apple, like Google, is building their capacity internally they can’t be expected to move significantly faster than Google. They do however have the benefit of being able to study Google’s history and priorities which might allow them to avoid some of Google’s pitfalls.

Image Courtesy of iPhoneHacks

Apple has rolled out a new page on a subdomain on their web site detailing that the vans that have been spotted are in fact being used to improve Apple Maps data quality. (H/T AppleInsider).

They note:

Apple is driving vehicles around the world to collect data which will be used to improve Apple Maps. Some of this data will be published in future Apple Maps updates.

We are committed to protecting your privacy while collecting this data. For example, we will blur faces and license plates on collected images prior to publication.

In addition Apple is listing all of the cities that they will be driving in during the second two weeks of June in the US, UK and Ireland: Continue reading Apple Confirms Vans are for Maps Data Improvement – Discloses Future Locations

Facebook Makes Retail Beacons Available for Free

Re/Code reported yesterday that Facebook is expanding its Place Tips program and  making free beacons available to retailers. The program, first tested in Brooklyn 6 months ago, installs a beacon into the local business and pushes current posts and photos for the business to your phone while you are in that location.

If you are standing in line at a participating retailer and engage with Facebook you will see “more info about places you visit, including your friends’ photos, experiences and moments from that place” and be prompted to like the business’s Facebook page.

fb-exampleAccording to Engadget you will experience “a “tip” notification for the place that you’re at when you launch Facebook. Tap it, and it’ll show a series of cards about the place. Not only will you see the aforementioned posts and photos from your friends, but you’ll also see basic info about the business”.

While the capabilities of the program are currently somewhat limited from the retailer POV and no advertising is permited, it pushes the retailer posts directly to the users stream and is delivered on an opt out basis to users. The potential seems huge given Facebook’s reach.

Facebook determines your location with a combination of cellular networks, Wi-Fi, GPS and Facebook Bluetooth® beacons. For now Place tips are limited to the Facebook app for the iPhone and Location services must be enabled for place tips to work.

This marks the first time that beacon technology to interact with customers is being made available at scale to every business. While it might not appeal to a Macy’s that can implement their own beacon hardware and software stack, it now makes the option available for every Mom & Pop to participate with in-store customer interactions.   And I see no reason why even Macy’s would not use the Facebook program to compliment their own. As such this makes the program important. Facebook is the first to push the technology out to such a broad audience.

Here is the form to request your free beacon. I would love to hear from folks that implement or have implemented this with your observations.

Update: Sandro was kind enough to provide a screen shot of Facebook’s SMB promotional push along this front:



Google Photos- A Visual Graph of People, Places and Things. Can It Become Their “Everything Graph”?

Google Photos, positioned by Google as a GMail for photos, is an incredible product. Incredibly amazing, incredibly scary. It does well what Google does well.

Update: If you are interested in learning more about the technology behind Photos and what it is capable of read this article: How Google’s New Photos App Can Tell Cats From Dogs.

It provides unlimited storage for all of your photos and then proceeds to organize them for you. For the first time, probably in your life (at least in mine), you actually have a library of photos that has been organized in some meaningful way. All organized in much the same way and with the same connections that you have in the real world…

Let’s leave the very obvious and significant privacy implications aside and the fact that our government is likely in possession of similar technology and look at the way the product is organized and how it very well could influence the future of search.

People, Places and Things is the main organizing metaphor for Photos.

Screen Shot 2015-06-06 at 12.43.07 PMSound familiar? It should as it is the same organizing principle of Google Plus and of the Knowledge Graph, the tech underlying much of Google’s current advances.

Google manages to (mostly) successfully arrange every photo that you have ever taken into the right category… and often at an incredible level of granularity. And I have taken a lot.

People. Google’s ability to recognize people is amazing. They can pick out a person that is in the far distance or on the periphery of a busy scene. Clearly they can find faces and match them to a known set with very little data and from a photo with a lot of noise. Google is able to match the person in different photos despite bad lighting, partial side views, headwear and glasses that are not normally there.

Here is a range of photos from which Google was able to “pick” out my sister successfully whether covered in a medical gown, displaying black eyes, under exposed in the back of photo or in a crowd:

Places. That’s the relatively easy one. 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 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.

Things. Google is able to characterize a wide range of entities from food to weddings, from ruins to statues. All automatically and all with a fair degree of accuracy.

Continue reading Google Photos- A Visual Graph of People, Places and Things. Can It Become Their “Everything Graph”?

Google Now Requiring Null Edits to Keep GMB Lisitngs Active in US

Update: Google has posted at the forum with an explanation

Update: Google has added that it is not necessary to do a “null edit” just be logged into GMB. 

First reported by Integrated Marketing, Google is now requiring that US accounts periodically go to a given listing and do a null edit to prove that it is active. In the article, Integrated Marketing noted that support informed him that if the account was inactive for 6 months this process would commence. I assume that Google support may be overstating this timeframe. Regardless Google will provide a 2 weeks notice of the pending unverification via email.

Here is an updated comment from Google: “We may contact Google My Business users via email to confirm that they are still actively managing a business page. If a user is unresponsive to our attempts to contact him or her and has not logged into Google My Business for a significant length of time, then we may unverify pages in the account. We’re doing this in order to continue to provide users with the best experience when they’re looking for local businesses like yours. If you find that a page in your account has been incorrectly unverified, please contact support to get assistance restoring verification. ”

Here’s a copy of the warning email –

Important information about your Google My Business account

Dear business owner,

Thanks for being part of the small business community on Google. This email requires action from you so your Google My Business pages can maintain their current ‘verified’ status. It’s very quick—it shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes.

We’re doing this because we haven’t heard from you in a while, and we want to make sure that people looking for your following businesses find the most up-to-date information on Google:

• Googleplex (business name)

Simply follow these three easy steps:

1. Sign in to your Google My Business account. Click here if you have any trouble signing in.
2. Review and update your information for each page.
3. Click the “Done editing” button.

That’s it! Please note that if you don’t take action before May 29th, 2015, you’ll have to verify your pages again for future updates to be shown on Google.

If you have any questions, you can contact us anytime. Thank you for helping us make Google Maps better.

The Google My Business Team

This is consistent with previous Google actions in Australia and Canada in February of last year (As well as the UK and Germany earlier this year). I assume that it keeps their list more up to date and helps purge stale listings that have gone out of business which otherwise could not be pruned because they are verified. It might also have to do with Google’s current plan of “owning” the listings rather than renting them.

Google Location Results Still Screwy

location-missingStarting late last week we saw weirdnesses in using the location setting option in Google organic search.

Initially it was throwing off errors that it could not recognize cities like New York and Chicago.

That error disappeared and you could change the location. However weird results started cropping up with the local pack results reflecting the new location setting but the organic listings reflecting Google’s understanding of your browser location regardless of the location settings. Here is a Google + discussion joined by John Meuller that looked at the issue: Have Google switched off location settings in Search Tools?


More Google Pack Results

Last week Andrew Shotland noted some traffic declines for a number of local directories that he associated with the Door Way Page Algo update.

In that post, Phl Rozak  of LocalVisibility noted in the comments to that post that he had simultaneously seen an increase in pack results not just for real estate but for other search terms like “DUI law, water damage restoration, and possibly like Botox and liposuction”. I finally got around to looking and saw the clear increases in real estate searches.

Late last week Dr. Pete of Moz alerted me to a dramatic uptick in the Moz Cast count for local results. I have been following them since and they seem to clearly mirror what Phil had noted and the observations in real estate searches.

In fact they show a jump in the number of Local Packs being returned from  10% of all searches to now being shown in 12%, an increase of 20%.



I think it unlikely that this was a coincidence. The removal of doorway pages could have allowed what local web pages were there to move into the top 3-5 positions in the search results thus triggering more packs. Or perhaps there was some other local change. For example if Google started trusting some new locally prominent sites that added enough relevance to the local listings to facilitate their showing. Regardless, there are now more packs appearing for search terms that until recently had none.

Local Real Estate Results are Back in Google Search

Once again, local results for real estate and realtors are back in the Google search results.

Google Local Real estate results have had a tortured relationship in the Google search results. Having most recently gone MIA at the time of the Pigeon update.  I noted in November 2012:

In 2009 Google rolled out an expanded real estate listing product. However that product was dropped in January of 2011. Before that period and until very recently, Google did not return any blended results for most real estate searches and the only local search in real estate that returned pack results was the very specific “realtors + city” search. Searches like homes for sale + city and houses for rent + city did not return 7 packs. Even the search real estate + city did not return pinned results.

They seemed to have returned for real estate + city, realtors + city and those same terms without geo modifies. But they not appear to have returned for “homes for sale” or “houses for sale” (as far as I can tell) searches.
Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 5.47.34 PM

Last Links from Google Maps to G+ Local Plus Pages Removed

Google has recently removed links from the Local Knowledge Panel in search to the Google Plus Local Page. Nicolai Helling now reports that the last links standing in Google Maps, to read and or write reviews on the G+ Page for Local, have now been redirected as well.

The read reviews link now redirects to the Review Box that has been presented on the front page of search and the write a review link redirects to the write a review box in the same area.


When viewed with the rumors of a restructured G+ and the removal of links from the Knowledge Panel to new posts, it certainly raises questions about Google’s direction with G+ as a small business marketing platform.

As Nicolai points out it also puts the final nail in the coffin of using Maps for listing diagnostics and finding duplicates. My goto resource on that has been Michael Cottam’s G+ Business Page Finder reviewed here with some tips.

The other minor tactical factoid is that the link in Maps to write a review includes the full name, address, zip and country as well as both the CID and the FID for the listing. The 7,2 attached to the end of the URL string opens the review edit box and could be used in a review email campaign (although it doesn’t work on the iPhone or iPad).,+Caldwell+Building,+5820+Main+St+%23311,+Williamsville,+NY+14221,+United+States&ludocid=3291747407840809159&lrd=0x89d37487dfb1ea75:0x2daea2d3b6aa10c7,2