All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Google Phone Support Offers Limited Hours Due to High Volume

Update 3/13 3:30 (our lucky day): Google has noted that hours are back to normal.

Colan Nielsen of Imprezzio Marketing just noticed that Google has limited the hours of their phone support due to high call volumes:

Our call centers have recently experienced high support volume and our GMB specialists are working hard to solve existing queries. As a result, we are currently offering phone support on a limited basis only during the hours of 7 AM – 12 PM PST, Monday – Friday.

It is not clear to me if this is being caused by a general increase in usage or perhaps some nee problems.

Regardless it will cause problems for some and forwarned is forarmed. for those that are time challenged like me that’s 10 AM – 3 PM ON THE East Coast.

not sure what it means to Europe.

Local Guides: A Yelp Wannabe or Uniquely Google?

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 11.18.25 AMMany in the local search space have characterized the Google Local Guides program as a cheap imitation of Yelp’s Elite reviewer program. I suppose in some sense that is true but it appears to me that Google is bringing their own approach to the program and scaling it aggressively in a way that seems uniquely Google.

Google has done this before with their support forums and with MapMaker. They have managed to entice and incentivize large numbers of users world wide to engage in programs that help Google scale their products, gather data while simultaneously helping others in their respective communities. And doing so in a way that creates brand ambassadors that seem all to ready to drink the Google Kool-aid.

Having attended the recent TC forums in NYC I can attest to the fact that the many volunteers there were fanatical in their approach to all things Google. On the one hand I was embarrassed by the unthinking love of Google by many of the attendees while on the other I was in awe that Google had managed to capture such loyalty and to have embraced it at such large scale.

The Local Guides program replaced their City Experts program earlier this year and seems to be striving for that same sense of building out a scalable, love fest. City Experts was in my mind, much more like a combination of Yelp’s City Managers + Elites in that it required Google people on the ground to lead the effort in every city. By reaching out to users at all levels of review writing, Google can expand both the reach of the Local Guide program into many more markets and the depth of the program to reach many more users. And do so with very few staff people or perhaps the same number as in the City Experts program.

Has it been successful in its short life? It would appear from the G+ communities that it has. There are nearly 3000 members of the private Local Guides Community on G+. This community is limited to reviewers that have signed up for the program and review more than 50 locations. I have no clue how many Yelp Elites there are but 3000 active reviewers, many who have written more than 250 reviews can become a powerful force.

But the other communities appear to be active and vibrant as well.

Just in these four communities, Google has attracted 29,000 folks that are interested in those cities and in writing and reading reviews about them. I assume some of this success is from the transfer of users from active City Guide programs in those cities. The other cities on the list have not been as successful at scaling but the program has been in place less than two months.


If Google can incentivize the reviewer who leaves 1 review to leave 5, the ones who leave 5 to leave 50 and more importantly the ones that leave 50 to leave 250 then there will be both a quantitative and qualitative impact on Google’s review corpus as well as the general perception of Google as a good place to leave reviews. And that desire seems to be present in the posts that I have read in the private Local Guide forum. Comments like “I just got my #LocalGuideBadge! Way cool!” are not uncommon and the members all take their charge of helping others very seriously: “If anyone is ever in #leeds #uk please give me a shout for recommendations where to eat!” . Its hard to put a value on that to Google in general and their efforts to get more reviews in particular.

Here is a copy of the recent Local Guides newsletter:
Continue reading Local Guides: A Yelp Wannabe or Uniquely Google?

Small Business Alert: Google Local Phone Scams Continue

Chris Moreno of sent me this audio recording of a scammer pretending to be Google in their voice message to a small business.

Chris asks what can be done to stop these folks. Very little given the current regulatory environment which pretty much takes a hands off approach to these sorts of scams. Education might help but a new SMB sucker seems to be born every minute which seems to keep these scammers going.

Transcription of the call:
Yea hi, this is an important message for the business owner. Due to recent changes in Google Maps we are required to inform you that unless the business owner reviews and confirms the information on your Google Plus business page, we will no longer be able to show it to Google users at the end of the coming month.

Please call 949-478-6815 to speak to the tech support person assigned to help you personally. Thank You.

A reminder to the small business owner: while Google does occasionally make calls to a business they almost always originate from Google’s main number: (650) 253-0000. These scam calls often originate from boiler room set ups in Souther California and are similar to the scams that were perpetrated by 29Prime for many years and apparently still do.

Do due diligence; ask for a website URL, find out their exact relationship (or lack there of) to Google, double check the phone number they are calling from before running as fast as you can from these folks.

Yahoo “Forgets” It Has a Review API with Yelp

It appears that Yahoo seems to have forgotten that they have the Yelp review API or update it so infrequently that it is effectively useless. The reviews Yahoo is showing for many businesses are often 3 to 11 months out of date.

Last year to much hooey and horse puckey, Yahoo “upgraded” their review system to grab reviews from Yelp via the Yelp review API rather than manage their own review system. At the time I thought it was more reflective of the sad state of Yahoo local than of any bold move by Marissa Mayer. It was obviously sadder than I had imagined.

Reviews are generally aggravating for most small businesses, even more so if they are out of date and don’t reflect major updates and changes that a business has implemented.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 8.42.04 AM
The latest review on Yahoo is over a year old. Yelp has 6 reviews this year alone. This doesn’t affect just businesses that have moved. All businesses experience this problem to one degree or another.

This problem of Yahoo not updating their Yelp reviews came to light while exploring the reviews for a GetFiveStars* client, Cadillac Jack’s in Ellicottville. They had reopened just after the first of the year at a new location with a new menu and dramatic changes in their quality. Their reviews at Yelp and their Google+ page  captured these changes faithfully.

However when I clicked through their Knowledge Graph link to their Yahoo page the Yelp reviews showing were over a year old and reflected their work at their previous establishment.

Upon investigating a  number of other Yahoo listings, I found that most reviews had not been updated in at least 3 months at Yahoo and many had not been updated in 11 months. Isn’t the idea of an API that the data can flow in virtually real time?

I recognize that Yahoo Local has mostly turned out the lights and gone on auto pilot. But if anyone there is reading this, the autopilot needs a nudge.

Full disclosure: I am a partner in the GetFiveStars reputation platform.

Minor Upgrade to Google Maps iOS App

For a company that now professes to be mobile first Google’s mobile review experience seems opaque and not generally accessible. It’s a Google Maps app only affair and if you are an iPhone user you might not know that. But they are making small strides in the app. 

I just downloaded a February 26th update to iOS Google Maps app which has now started to channel Yelp (again) by asking for feedback on specific restaurant features like whether it is good for groups or not:

The app also now notes (like the  Android app several months ago) whether a reviewer is part of Google’s  Local Guide program:

Update Nick Rink has taken the time to detail all of the questions that Google now asks:

Yep, looks like it pops up only for places that you’ve personally reviewed, and only for restaurant, bar type locations. It seems to ask 3 initial questions and then say “Help Again” which leads to another round of questions. Here’s the full list that I’ve seen so far:

Is this place good for special occasions 

Is this place good for groups 

Is this place family friendly 

Is it quiet here 

Is this place good value 

Is this place popular for breakfast 

Is this place popular for lunch 

Is this place popular for dinner

Is there usually a wait here

PS I apologize to Nick for not providing more credit but I am writing and editing this post on my iPhone which tends to limit me somewhat.

Update 3/8

They do also ask two questions on a hotel reviews (so it may be other review types as well):

-is it family friendly?

-is it a good value?

Unlike with restaurant reviews there were no options that I could see for answering more questions than just the two. 

Knowledge Panel – Down the Hotel Rabbit Hole with Google

kp-with linkGoogle is leaving no stone unturned in their effort to find new ways to 1)show ads and 2)redirect users back to Google properties to see those ads.

Brad Brewer of Brewer Digital Marketing originally shared this screen shot on G+ showing the addition of a link to Google’s hotel search from the Knowledge Panel on geographic city based searches.

This link of course returns an ad laden search result which takes you to the Google Hotel Local Stack, which if you click takes you to the Google Hotel Booking Page which if you click takes you to a Branded Search Knowledge Panel Booking page for a given hotel.

Talk about going down the Google rabbit hole… not a web link to be seen through most of this process except of course back to Google or to an ad. I think that the engineers at Google have in fact been reading Alice in Wonderland:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
“As long as it’s back to Google”
– Larry Page

Google’s new motto: “What good is knowledge and all those facts if they can’t be monetized?”

Imagine some of the possibilities. Google could sell Disney tickets ads on the SeaWorld KP, they could sell t-shirt ads on the Bono one and heck maybe they could entice a Canadian pharmacy to sell drugs on the Knowledge Panel for US insurance companies. The possibilities are endless.

Start with a search for any big city (San Jose in this case):

kp-with link

Here is a tour of where you go once you click that link:

Continue reading Knowledge Panel – Down the Hotel Rabbit Hole with Google

FTC to Amerifreight – Failure to Disclose Review Incentives Against the Law

Update: it would appear that Amerifreight’s Google listing has been taken down. 

The FTC has, for the first time, successfully sued a company for incenting on line reviews and not declaring this material connection.

According to Google reviewer mb2970s:




7 months ago
I was moving from Nashville to Albuquerque. This is the third time that I have ever transported a vehicle (previously with two other companies).

1. Vehicle arrived safely without any damage or items stolen (although that is more of a comment re: the carrier).
2. Vehicle was picked up within the 1-15 day window agreed to.
3. Vehicle was delivered in a timely fashion.

1. Prior to choosing this company, I called twice, left a voicemail message, and emailed the customer service rep without a response. I was once told that the customer service rep was at lunch and would call me back in an hour. I called back over two hours later, and the rep did not know that I had called. Based on the reviews, I went ahead and used them anyway.
2. The quoted price was based on giving a “fair review” on two websites. If you don’t leave a review, they’ll add $50 to your quote, which would be $50 more than any other company quoted me (including several that had a carrier immediately available when I spoke to them … however, I kept with Amerifreight based on their online reviews).
3. The customer service rep gave me very little information up front, and after we got off the phone sent me an email with multiple items that I had to fill out before they would start looking for a carrier. I was not told about the need to fill out these forms before they would start looking, so I’m glad I read through the forms immediately.
4. One of the forms states that your chances of getting a carrier quickly is greatly increased if you say that they can charge you up to $200 more to book a carrier without calling you first. They state that they will try to keep from doing this.
5. When I was called with a carrier available, it was for $250 more than quoted (after the $50 discount for writing a review).
6. I’m having to write this review in order to get a discount that brings my costs to the same as other carriers offered. The other carriers were quoting me based on immediately available carriers (not estimates/quotes).
7. When I asked about the student discount, I was told not to bother because it basically just drops the amount that they’ll list your vehicle for (hence less likely to ship … and will likely have to raise the price anyway). I think this is deceptive advertising.
8. When I received an email reminding me about this review, there was a long paragraph about how I should leave a 5-star review if at all possible because it would effect how the customer service rep was compensated.

While this company transported my car safely and in the window requested, I’ve had better experiences with other companies that cost less (even during high auto transport seasons). I will not use Amerifreight again.

Today The FTC announced an agreement with Amerifreight that they will cease the practice:

AmeriFreight, an automobile shipment broker based in Peachtree City, Georgia, has agreed to a settlement with the Federal Trade Commissionthat will halt the company’s allegedly deceptive practice of touting online customer reviews, while failing to disclose that the reviewers were compensated with discounts and incentives.

The FTC’s complaint marks the first time the agency has charged a company with misrepresenting online reviews by failing to disclose that it gave cash discounts to customers to post the reviews.

“Companies must make it clear when they have paid their customers to write online reviews,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “If they fail to do that – as AmeriFreight did – then they’re deceiving consumers, plain and simple.”

AmeriFreight is an automobile shipment broker that arranges the shipment of consumers’ cars through third-party freight carriers. Its website touted that the company had “more highly ranked ratings and reviews than any other company in the automotive transportation business.” As part of its advertising, it encouraged consumers to “Google us ‘bbb top rated car shipping.’ You don’t have to believe us, our consumers say it all.”

Amerifreight currently
 has 540 reviews at Google and 21 at Yelp. 

The settlement is significant in being the first time that the FTC has inserted itself into the local review space. While there was no monetary settlement, Amerifreight did agree to cease and desist and agree to 20 years of oversight to prevent future abuses.

This action was a long time coming but makes it clear that incentives are inappropriate country wide.

It is though amazing to me what so many folks are willing to do for $50. Hardly reinforces my faith in humanity.


Google & Reviews Snippets – If It Can Go Wrong It Will Go Very Wrong Category

Update 3/5: Dan notes the response he received from support: “We attempted to retain the review itself and could not do so as a “snippet”, though it still stands as a wonderful review for your business. We removed the confusing snippet from your account.”

Update 2:27 PM (PST) 2/27: Googler Jade Wang just posted this on Dan’s original post: We are working to correct or remove this snippet. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

Last  year Google added review snippets that represent general sentiment to the Knowledge Panel. These snippets are determined by algo and are intended to represent the public’s attitude about a business . Like all Google algos sooner or later they screw up and in inimitable fashion Google is unwilling or unable to fix it.

Dan Petrovic of DejanSEO in Australia reported a case on G+ yesterday where a positive review of his business was mangled into a negative snippet.


I, in my best Boy Scout behavior, suggested that he might want to contact the group that dealt with business snippets and see if they would take it down.

Here is Dan’s reply from Sylvia B. :

Thanks for contacting Google Places for Business support regarding the descriptive terms associated with your business on the local Google+ page for your business. At this time, we do not remove terms for reasons such as being unclear or negative. These terms are a piece of our search results and we try to avoid editing or creating bias in what we show.”

If Google’s head were any further up their arse than this they could still pull it out 12″ and have another 12″ to go.

Google Testing Hangout Chats in Local

TechCrunch and SEL are reporting Google testing of  a live chat button appearing on business’s local Knowledge Panel.

This program is apparently part of a test with a limited number of businesses. It has been around at least since mid November when an invitee asked me about problems he was having with the test.


Here is the copy of the email that he had received from Google around mid November inviting him to participate in the test:

Use Hangouts with your Google+ page

Google Hangouts can make it easier for your customers to reach out to your business with a Hangouts chat message. When customers are looking for you on Google Maps or Search, they’ll find a button to chat with you.

This feature is currently limited to a small number of business that have been invited to test it. Opting-in to this feature will allow customers to chat with you by changing the “customize invites” setting for your business. If you don’t want to participate in the trial anymore, you can opt out in settings for your business in Hangouts.

Google My Business Upgrades Business Photos

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 1.46.14 PMGoogle has just announced a major update to Google My Business that finally rationalizes photos and their use across all of the places where your listing is shown.

From the post: Starting today, you can tell us which image you’d like to appear when customers search for your business on Google. Just log in to Google My Business on the web or in the Android or iOS apps, and visit the Photos section. While you’re there, you can also give your business a fresh look online by updating your profile, logo and cover photos.

Historically it was difficult from an interface point of view to add a cover photo and control which photos Google showed as it was split across three interfaces. With this upgrade all photos can be added from a simplified single user interface.

Best practices from the Google Help Files:

Your photos will look best on Google if they meet the following standards:

  • Format: JPG, PNG, TIFF, BMP
  • Size: Between 10KB and 5MB
  • Minimum resolution: 250px on the longest side for profile & logo photos; 720px on the longest side for other business photos
  • Aspect ratio: The longer dimension of the photo should be no more than four times the shorter dimension. Landscape photos look better than portrait photos on Google products. Panoramic photos may use different aspect ratios.
  • Quality: The photo should be in focus, well-lit, have no photoshop alterations, and no excessive use of filters. The image should represent reality.

Here are screen shots of the upgrade:

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 2.24.26 PM
This is the primary interface where all photo related interactions take place. While Google segments photo types (interior, exterior, product etc) these categories are not used in the user facing UI
Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 2.14.44 PM
The interface is the standard drag and drop interface offered by Plus
Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 1.27.31 PM
For the first time, Google allows you top specify whether a logo, profile or cover photo will be seen first in Maps and search. Hopefully businesses will now be able to control this function.


Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 2.07.28 PM
When uploading a logo it needs to be at least 250 pixels on the shortest side with the longest side no more than 4x that. This is an example of the error message when an inappropriate size is uploaded’
Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 2.24.35 PM
Previous photos are stored in the Additional Photos area and can be dragged and dropped into an appropriate sub section
Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 2.21.39 PM
When see examples is clicked Google provides contextual help (although neglects to mention image size requirements on this screen). You need to head to the help files to see that.
Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 2.23.15 PM
The image editor from Plus is available to each photo allowing for cropping, rotating and enhancing of the photos.
Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 2.24.12 PM
Photos for everything other than the Logo need to be a minimum of 750 px on one side.
Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 4.43.21 PM
To access the new Business Photo manager click on the “Manage Photos” link within each listing.