All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Google Local Image Photos – Let’s Link Anywhere but Your Site

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 8.59.24 AM
Google invites image spam and pisses off business owners once again.

Google, while ostensibly giving business owners control over which images show, has always usurped that role and done so without any guidelines or clear communication. Now though it has become possible for a third party with good web design to leverage a listing’s photos display for their gain (i.e. spam).

And while businesses are clearly upset about this Google seems to condone it.  When I asked Google I was told that the imagery complies with their guidelines. While it may comply it strikes me as a dumb and arrogant policy. (In case you were wondering my opinion).

Google looks far and wide for images to associate with local businesses; they ask the owner, incent top contributors, encourage users to post and scrape photos from sites where they can clearly identify the business with which it is associated.

This last method of scraping the web for location images has been around for a while but seems to have been recently been updated and in the current incarnation they have become a new favorite vector for stealing traffic, highlighting porn and generating weird results like linking to competitors. And they are but one click away from the main search result.

This links directly to the booking page for this hotel at Oyster.com
This links directly to the booking page for this hotel at Oyster.com

Unlike images that are uploaded by the business or the community, images that Google scrapes link back to the originating site. Weirdly they not only link back but they also allow for some amount of additional messaging and subtle calls to action to encourage users to click through. Google notes in their Guideline :

Advertising and Attribution

Small, discreet copyright notices (such as a business name or logo) are allowed. Email addresses and phone numbers cannot be included in your images. Acceptable attribution must be limited to the bottom 10% of photos and the bottom 36º (bottom 20%) of photo spheres.

Hotels across the US have been impacted by this as OTA aggregator Oyster.com has done a “great” job of getting their photos picked up, shown and linked to their site, often as profile photos, for many, many hotels. It is totally bizarre to me that a searcher could or should be diverted from the business photo to a site that only looks to extract money by virtue of having their images scraped.

Why should a 3rd party get a link when the actual business doesn’t?

Why should a third party be allowed to not just brand the images but create a subtle call to action?

Why should these images ever be used as the profile image when there are perfectly adequate business uploaded images?

Why would Google dis-incentivize a business from uploading images directly?

Why would Google highlight non-paying OTA sites to the disadvantage of both the local listing business AND their advertisers who pay for the privelege?

What should a hotel (or any business for that matter) do?

Firstly regularly check your photos to be sure that they have not been hijacked (gag me with a spoon… as if you need one more Google maintenance job).

Secondly I would add my logo to the lower right of all of my photos. You might not be able to add your logo as a profile photo but you can apparently add it to each photo. (let the fun begin!)

And finally you might want to rethink your photo strategy on your own website to see if you can get Google to scrape your photos rather than those of a site that is clearly not in your interests. At least you would be controlling the images, the links and the logo that appear on the images.

Doing so would likely entail being sure that each image is clearly marked up on your site (oyster.com provides a model) so as to make the location clear on a page that has strong NAP signals. If successful I would cut back on directly uploaded images in the Google My Business Dashboard.

Hey you might even consider doing so against your competitors.

Complaints and Their Role in Business – I need your help

Lately, having had some terrible customer service experiences with some big brands, I have been thinking a lot about complaints and what they mean to the consumer and the business.

Complaints are so very different from a bad review and the appropriate responses are different as well. And I know when I ran a bricks and mortar store how painful they were as well.

So I am asking you for some help from you. Here are some questions that you might answer for me:

Do you have any anecdotes about the good, bad and ugly of complaints vis a vis your business or businesses you deal with?

Do you have suggestions on how you handle complaints?

If you are agency do you value add your client relationships by helping them navigate the complaint waters?

How do you see complaints as different than and the same as reviews?

What do you think are the key bullet points when thinking about responding to complaints?

And you are welcome to send along anything about complaints that would add to the conversation. Don’t feel limited by my suggestions I just put them out there to give you something to think about.

As always your ideas, if used will be credited with a link. Not that I am offering a quid pro quo. That would be bad. Just offering to credit you. 🙂

You can answer below or email me at mike@blumenthals.com

Google to Hotels: We Pick Your Profile Photo

Yesterday (first reported on Twitter by Craig Harkins, an SEO manager at InterContinental Hotels Group) Google switched virtually every hotel profile photo in their Hotel Local Pack results from an exterior to an interior shot.

While Google ostensibly offers businesses the ability to set this profile photo for their own business, that appearance of “freedom” to a large extent is a sham. Business wishes be damned, Google is going to make the choice that optimizes their monetization of local.

After the change, Google almost exclusively shows interior photos.
After the change, Google almost exclusively shows interior photos.
b-b-williamsburg
Prior to the change, Google almost always showed exterior photos. This search was from early March this year.
A businesses’  photo that Google shows as their profile photos has always been a business’s most important photo, creating that critical first impression to the searcher. There is no photo seen in more places on Google, in more apps, more screens and on more devices than that photo… from Google Maps to Plus and most importantly search. And a business probably has no image of them seen more widely than this one anywhere.

Google has always offered up the ability to add your own photos and with the Google MyBusiness upgrade in early 2015 appeared to allow business to choose the profile photo. From the Google post at the time: Starting today, you can tell us which image you’d like to appear when customers search for your business on Google. Their recent API upgrade also  touted this as a new feature.

The reality has always been quite different. The image Google showed was actually determined by their algo and by their preference. If your choice was consistent with that preference your choice might have been left to stand. But if you were so presumptuous as to choose an image that was contrary to their preferences say a logo, odds were Google would change the image.

Thus choosing an image that best represented your business was a crap shoot and as a business owner you would never know exactly what would show.

When I inquired about this practice of ignoring business preferences a few years ago I was told that the images were selected to improve the Map experience. IE an exterior photo that would help a person know what they were looking for when traveling was preferable to an image like a logo that offered no real world benefit. That at least was an understandable if arrogant decision.

I know I have said this before but this change, clearly for commercial reasons, should put everyone on notice that their listing at Google is for Google’s well being and any benefits that you may accrue are rented not owned. And unlike a normal business relationship you never know when the lease will expire.

The only option open to the Hotel owner and any business for that matter is to make every photo at Google count and don’t count on that carefully chosen profile photo showing. And pray.

 

Google Releases GMB API V3.0

One area of Local Search where Google has been active with regular improvements has been the Google My Business API. Google seems to have committed to a regular schedule of regular updates and along that line V 3.0 was introduced today.

There are two main features that have been released in this update:

  • Ability to read and respond to reviews
  • Ability to add Rich Attributes to a listing

Review management is a solid move and gives businesses that have access to services like Moz Local, Yext or their own API, the ability to respond to reviews directly from within their own local dashboard. It will put Google reviews at front of mind for their larger partners and it will also create some pressure for Facebook and Yelp to do the same.

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Will Attributes be similar to these attributes currently associated with Hotels in the Local finder?

Attributes are new sets of structured information that will be able to be added to a listing. The specifics will vary by both category and country and as of now we do not have a list of what they will be. This feature is coming to the API first and will ultimately be rolled back into both the list and card views of the GMB. If and how these attributes will show in search is unclear.

In the examples I saw restaurants were able to indicate whether they accepted reservations, served liquor, had outdoor seating etc. In the Gas Station example the listing could include things like whether they had a card wash, free air, diesel and ethanol free gasoline.

For those of you that haven’t been in local for a coon’s age, Google once upon a time allowed businesses to add custom attributes to every location. They were poorly implemented with the user having to define both the attribute and the content so they were frequently meaningless and of course they were spammed heavily before their demise.

Screenshot 2016-05-04 17.09.13
Will each category have this many optional attributes?

I assume that these attributes will be like the structured attributes that are currently associated with Hotels like Free Wifi, Free Breakfast, Air-conditioned, Laundry Service and Business center, etc. I presume but have not yet confirmed that Hotels will now be able to have some measure of control over the attributes that have been displaying via the API if not the GMB. When and how these will actually show up in search results is TBD.

There are a number of minor features as well that come with V3 of the API that adds some of the features that have been in the bulk dashboard for a while:

  • Ability to set Preferred Photo
  • Ability to Transfer Location to another account
  • Support for Search filters so that you can retrieve listings that have duplicates, are suspended or have updates.
  • Support for Locations states like verified or not

There are some critical pieces that are still missing from the API that would make the API even more valuable. Two that come to me top of mind:

  • Local Insights (and while you are at it, fix them so they are useful)
  • Ability to easily verify a listing via the API from a whitelisted dashboard (I am not sure if we will ever see that but here’s hoping).

Google’s GMB API has been a shining light in their local development since its introduction early last fall. Encouragingly Google has made steady progress introducing V2 in mid December and V3 today. It is a steady drumbeat of quasi quarterly development that is refreshing after years of push me pull me.

Full documentation for this release can be found at: https://developers.google.com/my-business/reference/rest/index . v2 of the API will continue to be supported until Oct 5th 2016. Google will notify notify folks in advance of this deprecation. v1 will be deprecated. on June 1st.

If only every one of their local products showed such a steady forward march… here’s hoping.

The Annual Print Yellow Pages Page Count And Lemonade

Photo Apr 22, 11 37 34 AMEvery year around this time I get my Superpages Yellow Pages book. And every year around this time I report,  one more time, that the print Yellow Pages are dying. This year is no exception.

The total page count, contrary to last year’s aberrant small increase, continued to drop and the book now sports 84 total pages. Sort of.

The good news (from Superpages POV) is that unlike previous years there was actually many fewer filler ads stuffing the pages, pitching how great the Yellow Pages were, and artificially increasing the page count.

Page-count3

The bad news? They have actually increased font size and are effectively showing fewer listings in the same number of pages. As Ed Reese pointed out in a recent interview at Local U, that’s what he (and I) did in 7th grade to get our school papers up to the required length.

In classic marketing style of making lemonade out of lemons they are now promoting the book with a Larger Print moniker, hiding what would have been significantly fewer pages under the guise of being elderly friendly. And targeting the only audience they have left; aging seniors with declining eye sight.

Next year? No doubt they will still be around and probably touting how light the book is and easy to pick up with my arthritic hands. At least the marketing and the actual market finally align.

Google Testing New Mobile Local Knowledge Panel

Sergey Alakov, a Toronto SEO, reported on Twitter seeing this Google test of a slimmed down local mobile Knowledge Panel on a branded search. The mobile search was Humberview Motorsports Mississauga:

Screenshot 2016-04-25 16.09.51

Here is what is currently seen for that search:
Continue reading Google Testing New Mobile Local Knowledge Panel

Hotel Local Finder – Ain’t Nuttin’ but Ads

I reported earlier in the day that Google seemed to be rolling out a new Tag like attribute for the free hotel listings in the Local Pack. During the past week, as noted by Brian Barwig and Michael Wallace, Google has also been adding paid ads to the top of the Local Finder. Together they are quite the dynamic duo.

When you click into the Local Finder from the search, all too often now all you see above the fold are paid listings of one form or another. And unfortunately the Offers, while highly visible, are not at all marked as paid calls to action.

hotels-new-york-citycropped

 

Google Hotel Local Packs Now Showing Paid Tag Promo

Remember back in 2010 when Google rolled out “Tags” to allow for paid enhancement of your local listing? Well, at least in the Hotel world, its deja vue all over again as these paid insertions into the free Local Pack seem to have made a comeback.

The Local Pack which has been the last bastion of “free” placement as Google seems intent on monetizing just about everything may soon come with its own up-sells and add ons and paid doodahs hanging from the rafters.

I spotted this when search for Hotels NYC today on the desktop with a similar result on mobile:

tags-nyc
Click to view larger

Tim Capper, a local SEO in the UK that spends a lot of time in the Hotel world speculated that this new Tag like form “is coming from within Google Hotel Ads“. He noted that “Hotel ads are really ramping up and I saw in the UK for the 1st time independent hotels using the platform”.

Google Tags (aka Enhanced Listings) were first seen February, 2010, rolled out in July of that year and discontinued by April 2011. At the time, I hypothesized that Google was looking for the next big thing to lure small businesses into advertising and these didn’t make it. Now it appears that rather than looking for the next big thing for local they are just striving to monetize every nook and cranny of local left where they can cram a commercial message. This fits in with Google recently adding ads to the Local Pack (ht Brian Barwig and Michael Wallace).

Here is the same Tag on the mobile search. Note how much more visible it is on the screen:
Continue reading Google Hotel Local Packs Now Showing Paid Tag Promo

Will Facebook Salvage QR Codes from the Dustbin of Local Marketing History?

QR Codes never took off in the US. It was an offline to online play that always required too many apps,  took too many steps, was too obtuse and ended up not solving any problems. I once used them to learn the history of the streets a small town in Hungary – the only time I ever really used it.

But Facebook with it’s Messenger ScanCode is ready to replay the story and this time I think that it has a compelling context  which, for me, portends the return of the QR code as an effective small business tool – in the form of a compelling customer communication channel that most, if not all, businesses will want to participate in.

Imagine standing in the aisle of your local grocery store, getting ready to be pissed because they have moved the fish sauce once again. Instead of the endless wandering the aisles in search you point Messenger at ScanCode and you ask: Where is the Fish Sauce?  And the response whether from a person or perhaps even an AI bot says: Aisle 10 half way down.

The client side is super easy, very fast and puts you in nearly instant “Messenger touch” with the business. They simply open Messenger, click on “people” and “scan code”. They instantly are put in touch with the business.

The business side is equally easy. It couldn’t be easier, they only have to take these simple steps:

1– Pop into their Facebook messages page and download their Scancode:

Screenshot 2016-04-14 13.45.41

Screenshot 2016-04-14 15.57.34

2– Post it in store (or use the URL on your website)

Feel free to ping me
Try it. Point Messenger at the above and feel free to ping me

3-Prepare a few canned responses in Settings/Messaging

Click to see more
Click to see more

4– Have a human and/or a bot monitor their messaging channel in Facebook.

And you have in place a customer channel that is already used by 900 million people monthly and growing. You have an app, Messenger, that is on nearly every phone, already used by most consumers and most businesses and a compelling need – creating an immediate connection between a customer and a  business.

I never thought that I would be saying this but it appears to me that QR Codes  (in the form of ScanCodes) might just have been salvaged from the bin of technological abandonment. What had been missing was the ready made platform with enough scale and purpose for this to work.

Its like Back to the Future time for QR codes… or maybe deja vue all over again.

 

Gas Prices Added to Local 3-Pack

Google appears to be  rolling out local gas prices to the mobile Local 3 Pack. The pricing is also visible on the Local Finder and the location Knowledge panel. Spotted last night by Dr Pete on the desktop and  Adam Humphreys of Making8  and reported this AM by Barry Schwartz it is visible to me on iPhone Safari and iPhone Chrome but not yet the Google search app. On the desktop I am seeing on Safari and Chrome.

It is not clear if Google is sourcing the data from Waze or one of the 3rd party gas price aggregators although it doesn’t appear to be GasBuddy as their pricing is more comprehensive than Google’s. Nor is the speed with which updates appear obvious.  During times of slow price change speed would not be an issue in this market but I could envision times when operators would be screaming in the pricing were not near real time and historically Google has not been great at updating these detailed attributes for a business in a timely fashion.

This update is consistent with Google attempting to add vertical information to local that provides the answer on the front page of search without the user needing to look any deeper.

IMG_1036 IMG_1037

Here are the desktop screen shots:
Continue reading Gas Prices Added to Local 3-Pack