All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Google Local Spam – An A for Effort, a Z for a Zillion & an F for Google

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a sampling from MapMaker

Update: As of 12/13 Google has removed ~40 of these listings but somewhere on the order of 20 still remain.

I have been in the local space, in one form or another, for almost 15 years. Ten of those focused on Google Local. It is rare that I am shocked by my discoveries much these days but the spam reported in this forum post  really caught my eye.

This dermatologist’s “entrepreneurial” efforts created a true sense  of awe with somewhere on the order of 60 spammy local listings and 60 or 70 spammy websites all at one location. And every last one was verified.

This speaks to Google’s failures in this arena as much or more as to his amateurish”marketing” efforts. While  his chutzpah is impressive, it’s truly  incredible to me that with all of Google’s spam fighting resources, their public  bluster, all of the rules and all of the people and all of computer horsepower, this took a report in the forum to uncover.

And of course with many of these keyword laden business names/domains he’s getting a fair bit of 3 pack exposure.

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His websites are truly “works of art”
Screen Shot 2015-12-05 at 11.02.49 AM
….truly “works of art”
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…truly “works of art”
....truly "works of art"
….truly “works of art”
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a sampling from Maps
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A sampling from search: Fraxel NYC (What is Fraxel?).
Search: Ethnic Skin Care NYC
Search: Ethnic Skin Care NYC
Search: Skin Doctor NYC (he gets 2 listings no less)
Search: Skin Doctor NYC (he gets 2 listings no less)
Search: Best Dermatologist NYC (I am sure that he is....)
Search: Best Dermatologist NYC (I am sure that he is….)
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No irony here… Medical office for lease..hmm none left, our good skin doctor took them all.

An artifact of this whole process is some of the most amazing business names ever. I wonder what he says when we goes to the bank for a loan or when his mother asks how the business is doing? I have no clue what Pearly Penile Papules are but I can only imagine folks eyes bugging out if I were to hand it out on my business card.

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Screenshot 2015-12-07 13.32.10

Picking A Google Review URL

I have just published an article on the GetFiveStars* blog titled: Google Reviews – One URL To Rule Them All where you can read some ideas on picking a single Google URL for an SMB review program:

With the recent divorce of Google Plus and Google My Business, they have once again thrown a Google monkey wrench into the review process. If you are not using GetFivesStars (where we get to worry about these details) you need to decide which review URL to give your customers going forward.

The link you give to your customer should just work all the time and make it easy for your customers to see and leave you reviews at Google. For most small businesses doing their own review requests you ideally want a link that:

  • Gets your customer very close to the place on Google to be able to leave a review with the fewest clicks and scrolls.
  • Works in both desktop and mobile environments (as mobile usage is reaching 50% of all web viewing).
  • Works whether the user is already logged in to Google or not.
  • And finally, is a link that you never have to change.

*Note that I am a co-founder and principal in GetFiveStars.com, an agency & SMB friendly feedback and review solution.

Google Nukes the Local Pin for One Boxes?

Today, Google is not showing the local pin next to the web result for searches that return One Boxes. whether brand or key word based. The Knowledge Panel is still returned for the search.

The pins were visible yesterday in the main search results but gone today and apparently not visible across the US. I am not sure about Europe but they are apparently gone in Canada. Thus it is likely a world wide roll out.

b-oliver-search

Here is the same search from a few days ago:

barbara-search

The Pin has been removed from keyword search results as well:

Screenshot 2015-12-03 15.41.06

@djpaisley speculates that the reason is that this change makes Adwords ad both more visible and more likely to convert. It is certainly consistent with Google’s many recent changes to remove distractions from the search results like the removal of author photos, carousel results and the 7-pack.

This is one of those moments when I am glad that I don’t run a search ranking tool as this is likely to totally screw up the results.

Google Testing New HSA Ad Style in San Francisco Area

Joe Goldstein, who describes himself as a full time caffeine junkie. part time SEO specialist & pretty legit, recently shared with me a new Google HSA ad layout that takes up less room and allows more of the participants to be seen.

Like the previous test, it seems to be only presenting in the San Francisco and Silicon Valley area as searches as near as Oakland present a traditional 3 pack.

The ad format requests both a specific zip code and a service type before presenting a list of potential businesses to choose from.

Screenshot 2015-12-03 15.09.16

The searcher can then send up to 3 requests via Google to those selected from the list:

Screenshot 2015-12-03 15.09.47 Screenshot 2015-12-03 15.09.28If you select a zip in which no inventory is available you are alerted that the area is not currently served.

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The new format appears to replace the previous HSA ad format introduced in July that showed the 3 highest ranking service providers only and required a click to see more. In September we saw HSA tests showing the ad above a 3 pack.

While it is visible at the top of the page and doesn’t seem to co-occur with the local pack, I really wonder how many users would actually use it the way Google seems to be hoping versus just selecting one of the Yelp listings with stars immediately below? It seems like it would take a huge shift in consumer behavior before it could succeed.

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Your thoughts?

Google Removes the Location Setting?

UpdateChris Desrochers created an elegant and simple solution via an applet using Darren’s noted parameter. It makes the doing the search relatively painless. Download here.

Off and on for the past two months, the search location setting as been disappearing for many folks only to come back again. Today Johnny Niumata noted it’s once again missing.

I checked all three browsers (Chrome, Safari and Firefox) on my Mac and it is missing for me as well. I suppose it could be just on the servers we are both using or it could be more widespread. Are you seeing it still?

I also noticed that my automatic location setting  on both my laptop and desktop both improved on Google today as well…

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 5.00.20 PM

This feature was probably only used by SEOs but if it is gone, it will be missed.

Google Hotel Knowledge Panel Now Showing TrustYou Review Summaries

The Google Hotel Knowledge Panel is now showing TrustYou review summaries (h/t TC Tim Capper of Online Ownership). I am not sure when this started appearing but the summaries show granular detail about rooms, location and facilities and replace the Google review snippets that were shown previously.

There is some irony that Google is sourcing this data from a 3rd party given that the review system implemented after the purchase of Zagat  and ended after the departure of Marissa Mayer, included much the same type of extra detail.

TrustYou, Google’s data source for this granular data, is a reputation management product that tracks review content, helps Hotels get reviews and provides what it calls Meta-Review data to sites like Kayak, Trivago and Sabre.

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Google Local and the Continuing Lack of Clear Google Messaging

Martin Brossman, observing the recent pivot of G+,  recently noted that he: .. so much wish[es] Google would have communicated this in clearer ways to small  businesses. The businesses I meet are more confused than ever with the Get on the Map program, that then changed everything. Not communicating the changes in a way that makes sense to the local business. 

mixedmessagesblogThis has long been a problem of Google’s and a complaint of mine….their unwillingness to clearly articulate the uses cases, benefits and near future developments of their local product. Perhaps they were spoiled by search where SEO’s and businesses “just got it”.

The local communication issues have been compounded by the fact that local has always been a pawn in a bigger battle and not really having its own self standing importance to Google. It hasn’t been as important as search or Adwords or YouTube so it has been assigned to whatever division needed a boost at that moment… first Maps and then Plus and now Google Maps (again) and Adwords.

This has lead to a confusion in the market place. Just as the importance of local is dramatically increasing due to mobile, Google seems to be ripping out the plumbing and foundations of what is familiar with no declaration of what is to come.

Google has been “signaling” the separation of Local from Plus since 2013 with aggressive moves in 2014 and earlier this year. But smoke signals are not clear communications. And many missed the “message”.

In May of this year I noted that “while I think we will continue to see local data as an integral part of Google desktop search we may see even less of it elsewhere (like on G+) as Google uses local data (business listings & review content) to further their goal of positioning Google Maps as a dominant mobile destination”.

But I am an avid “watcher” of Google local and spend significant time reading the tea leaves. As Martin points out the job of communicating clear changes and benefits falls clearly at Google’s feet and they have, once again, done a terrible job of publicly articulating this to their audiences.

This problem is compounded by the way that Google handles local, its technical complexity and interrelation with search. This adds a layer of technical obfuscation to when and how local really benefits the small business.

85% of all local search traffic comes to SMBs from Google search. Even with the ascendancy of Facebook, Google far and away outstrips FB in terms of creating small business value in finding new customers. This occurs through search and Maps (and hardly ever through Plus) and yet this is a story that Google has never been able or willing to clearly tell.

In the recent past, Google has said “give us your data, goto Plus and you will have a page of your very own there”. But that was always a bit of a shell game.

The real value has always occurred in search. But the technical requirements of search optimization are so far out of the reach of the average business that it makes it hard for Google to really explain how to best benefit from where the most exposure takes place: in search.

It’s past time for Google to put forward a clear, no bullshit vision for local that SMBs can embrace and one that provides long term, consistent value.

Google Plus Upgrade FAQ for the SMB

Is it just me or is this the ugliest logo ever?
Is it just me or is this the ugliest logo ever?

Google has finally made some forward facing statements about the new Google+ and how it relates to local.

Essentially it doesn’t.

And they have no plans to add features back that would make it more local friendly.

They noted:

The following features are no longer supported for Local pages – Reviews, categories, directions, stars, photo uploads, interior photos, maps, hours, opentable/apps integration.

With that in mind, I wanted to put the questions about G+ to rest with this FAQ:

Q: What about G+ as a citation?

Google Plus was never a citation in the classic sense. A citation was a 3rd party web reference to your business that Google looked to for verification of your basic data and possibly to enhance your ranking. Your G+ listing in and of itself never offered any ranking value.

Q: Then why was local integrated into G+?

Short answer: Bad strategic thinking about social

Long answer: In the forced march to G+ it was arbitrarily welded to the hip of Plus in the hopes that the rising boat of local would push Plus to the surface as it had done in the past with Maps. Given the changing nature of the local world, the everything but the kitchen sink that Plus had become was more of an anchor.

Q: Is Google getting rid of reviews?

Reviews have and will remain an integral part of Google local search. They have never really been that visible on the G+ pages and were always the most visible in Google search and in Google Maps. Going forward as the world moves to apps for those apps that is even more true.

Q: What link should I use for reviews if reviews are going away on Plus?

There are a number of choices and here is a good utility that generates them for you.

Be careful though, several of the links given by the utility fail in one situation or another so test them. They need to work mobile, desktop, logged in, or not, incognito or not. Not all of them do.

As a note, the Plus URL that you have been using and will work for a while (at least until users actually switch to the new Plus) has NOT worked on mobile for quite some time.

Q: Do we know if the verification process for pages is going away?

Google My Business was separated from Plus quite a while ago. While pages may go away in Plus as they and profiles become one and the same, verification will not go away.

The verification process was to verify the accuracy of your local data for inclusion in the Google Local Knowledge Graph database. That has always been the case and will always be the case.

Likewise certain Page types on Plus have not required verification. It is possible that the idea of a unique page type for local might disappear. If it does then that page/profile type itself might not need verification. Currently they are showing the verification check mark in the Beta. That implies to me that it will continue to be verified for some time.

Q: What is the local smb business use case for the new G+?

There is none that is obvious and available to most businesses. The reason for that is several fold but the main one is that there are just not enough local users on G+ to make the effort worth your while.

The only situation where it might make sense is if you are in a very visual business and are looking for an international audience and have the time to curate or create visual content.

But if that were the case you might already be on Pinterest.

Q: Doesn’t posting at G+ with backlinks benefit my local site?

Maybe in 2011 it did. If that’s your link building tactic, you need to explore other avenues. And quick.

Q: Can a small business just delete their G+ page and be done with it?

Well you can delete your G+ page but….

1)your listing will still show in search with its reviews and

2) you will loose the ability to add hours, photos and respond to reviews.

At least for now you are stuck with the G+ page.

Q: What about all the posts I did? Shouldn’t I keep posting?

Sometimes as business people we invest resources in the wrong place. This may have been one of them. If you have a gadzillion followers and your posts get shared and commented on, keep doing it. Otherwise: Abandon ship.

Q: Do I owe David Mihm a beer for our bet that G+ would fail?

When the original G+ came out in 2011, we bet a beer as to whether it would hit the shit can. I said that it would succeed and David noted that it would fail. Lucky for me we had set a 12 or 18 month deadline for the beer .

I collected my winnings but I fear that this failure is so deep that I will have to pay that beer and one more back to David. It may have taken 4 years but this is what can only be called a #fail.

Q: Will the new G+ Survive?

The internet is a funny place. Who knows. Anything can happen. But we do know that Google doesn’t have much tolerance for also rans these days.

Regardless it appears that its local use case for the foreseeable future is nil.

Q: Why does G+ look so strange on the iPhone?

Google is apparently building a single code base for Plus wherever its deployed. That may be good for Google but when meshed with their (Im)Material Design, Google’s over arching design standards, it has disastrous outcomes on iOS.

Besides being frickin ugly and looking like a ransom note many of the conventions either don’t fit or don’t work. At this point even the limited web version is better.

Q: If G+ is minimizing local, what does that mean about local on Google? What will happen to local?

Local is alive and well. And more important to Google than ever. In fact while I see this as a demotion of Plus, it is a promotion of Local to a critical part of both search and Adwords.

Q: What’s the bottom line with G+?

The reality is that even if those locally oriented features that Google removed from the Plus beta had returned, the new G+ is not a platform that will have much direct or even indirect benefit to most local businesses.

You should continue to use Google My Business to update your local information and for most of you, ignore G+.

The New Google Plus – All About Collections Not About Business

unwelcomeGoogle Plus has released their new responsive, mobile first design. It indicates a very clear direction for the product with its focus on collections, communities, content and curation.

What it doesn’t focus on is of more interest to me. It doesn’t focus on businesses, their description, reviews, videos or business photos. In fact the complete absence of those features in this initial roll out seems to indicate the final and rather draconian separation from any business related function.

Over the past two years I have discussed the parting of the ways between local and Plus but through all of that  Google had retained the essence of tabbed business pages and given the owner the ability to add a description, photos, videos and provided a place to send customers to see and leave their reviews.

That is all gone. In focusing on content, communities and collections Google has hung out a new and bold  sign.

If you haven’t gotten the message yet it should finally be clear in the release of their new and improved G+: BUSINESS UNWELCOME.

Click to view the missing features larger. The “new” Business Page on G+ – No tabs, no reviews, no photos, no description and no video. Google wasn’t even bothered with making the cover photo scale correctly.

This dramatic change will leave small businesses not just frustrated but angry as they shake their heads and head out the exit.

Facebook and Reviews; It’s Time for the Big Boy Pants

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 3.53.36 PMFacebook, over the past 18 months, has slowly been pushing into the local space. One of those efforts has been in the review space and they have managed to become one of the leading general review sites because of user familiarity and Facebook’s periodic promotions of their review capacity. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that they have apparently not yet put in place filters and processes to deal with the problems and abuses that can occur with reviews when not managed correctly by the platform.

Lynelle Schmidt of Long’s Jewelry Store in Boston writes of a Fiverr driven review attack on their Facebook page that landed over a hundred negative reviews on their page in the span of a few minutes. She noted at inbound.org :

I was so disheartened to see that someone had hired over 100 people to give us fake one star reviews. In the span of just a few minutes, we went from a gleaming 5 star reputation to just barely over 2 stars.

Initially Facebook refused to do anything. After several attempts by Lynelle at communicating with Facebook they have agreed to reexamine the situation and apparently have at least temporarily removed the review page.

One hopes the Facebook steps up and resolves this particular case of abuse but it points out that their review platform in being unregulated and unsupervised is rife for this sort of attack on small businesses. Reviews are a particular pain point for most small businesses and if Facebook does not put in place both filters and processes that handle these sorts of events effectively, what trust they have built up with businesses will soon dissipate.

Facebook has clearly committed resources to their local efforts. If reviews are going to be part of that effort then Facebook has to “put on their big boy pants” and start to be a steward of that trust in a way that respects both the consumer and the business. And part of that trust is putting in place both algorithmic and management processes that minimizes the impact of these sorts of review attacks.