All posts by Mike Blumenthal

LocalU Blog: Video Deep Dive: Google Local Gets a Promotion

In this video discussion at the LocalU forum David Mihm, Mary Bowling and I look at how the role of Google Local at Google and where does it fit vis a vis Plus and search.

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In thinking about the role of Local at Google, going forward we look at a number of interesting recent developments as well as the forced separation from Google Plus and consider the implications of these moves. Has the importance of local decreased or increased at Google?

Three Tools to Retrieve Location Based Searches at Google

With Google having removed the location setting option in search a number of tools and tactics have hit the market to allow searchers to continue to retrieve location based search for areas other than the one in which Google thinks they are located.

Here are three that all seem to do the job one way or the other.

Screenshot 2015-12-08 11.37.341- Chris Desrochers’ Search by Location Applet – It requires that the searcher drag the applet to their favorites bar (the bad news) but once they do it presents a dead on simple in browser solution via a pop up box to using the &near modifier in an actual Google search.

2- I Search Form uses the Google Adwords tool to allow a user to input location information and retrieve a Google search. It requires you to visit the website and, unfortunately, doesn’t search on every small town in the US and is a simulation not the actual search but does a good job. Screenshot 2015-12-08 11.40.06

3- A more complex but perhaps more accurate way to accomplish the job is written up by Go Fish Digital is to configure the Chrome browser to emulate a browser that is geo located differently. Its very accurate but somewhat complicated and a few steps to change the settings for each different geography.

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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.

Screenshot 2015-12-03 15.23.53

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.