November 16, 2013
Early this week Google updated the layout of the G+ Pages. They also updated the imagery and maps at the top of the pages moving away from the ever slithering image that continually changed in size to one that was relatively stable. They simultaneously moved the details about business location to the area to the left of the image.
Some notes about the image
The aspect ratio of the cover photo is not changing. It’s still 16:9.
- The size of the cover photo shown depends on the browser width.
- According to Google the entire cover photo is shown unhidden on > 95% of desktop displays.
- When part of the photo is hidden, it is roughly hiding 10% of the length of the photo from each side of the photo
- The actual image display size ranges on the desktop from 519 x 294 pixels to 1081 x 608 pixels. The text area to the left adjusts both the width of the area and the font size as the screen width increases
- The navigation bar is now below the cover photo on the desktop (but not on mobile phones).
- No changes to the mobile design.
Here are some notes about the cover image that might not be obvious at first glance:
When the image is cropped at certain screen sizes roughly 10% of the image content is lost from each side of the image.
- The intent of the change was that all current cover photos will work with the new design however if you were an early adopter of the +Page and retained the thin image from prior to May, 2103 it will now be bordered on both top and bottom to fill the space. It works but it is ugly and will motivate you to replace it.
- Consider how your current cover photo will render in this new design. When a user navigates to your Page, they will see the entire or most of the entire cover photo image.
- If you choose to upload a new cover photo, make sure it has a 16×9 aspect ratio with a minimum upload size of 480px x 270px. Maximum pixel size is still 2120 x 1192 but the largest actual image that I found displayed was 1081 x 608 pixels so really anything larger than that will do. Note that I was only able to test up to a screen width of 3200 pixels so the image might get still get larger in very limited circumstances.
- Given that on certain display sizes the left and right edges are trimmed by about 10% each be sure that there is no critical content in the edge areas
- On a Nexus 4 the image shows at full width. However on an iPhone the smaller cropped image is shown and on the 5s a small portion at the very top of the image is not visible in the Google Plus app so you probably do not want any critical detail at the very top of the image.
- I have seen some very nice examples of cover images where smaller images were imbedded in the larger image. They looked great on the desktop but due to the small size of the embeds they did not resolve well on mobile screens. Be sure to check your cover photo on those smaller screens as well.
- Note that the dashboard profile photo, still round, will reside with above the name and address block when the page is displaying 2 columns or more.
- When the display is a single column and on mobile phones the profile image will be centered on the middle bottom of the cover image. Half of the profile image is above and half below the bottom of the cover image. This image will be 123 x 123 pixels. Not enough pixels to resolve any amount of detail so keep the image close and simple.
- When the display is in two column mode, the profile image is displayed at 71 pixels allowing for even less detail but returns to 123 pixels when the display is wider in 2 column mode and in 3 column mode.
Here is a table that delineates the changes to the image at different desktop screen sizes: (more…)
October 16, 2013
This afternoon Google rolled out a new mobile Google Places for Business app that allows management of a business’s Google Plus listing via Android.
From the Google Play description:
Keep your business listing fresh and up-to-date across Google with the free Google Places for Business app:
- Update your business information, including hours, address, contact information, photos and description
- Keep your customers in the know by posting updates and photos
- Respond to comments and +1′s on your posts
- Learn how customers find and interact with your business with insights
- Manage multiple business locations from one app
The app shows the way for the new dashboard to provide an integrated experience to the SMB that wants to interact with all aspects of their listing as well as their public social stream from one unified interface. In that sense it might be providing a look at what the desktop dashboard might become.
The interface, like the desktop Places for Business Dashboard, is intuitive and easy to use. Unlike the desktop dashboard, this product is fully integrated with the Plus social stream and allows for social posts that include photos and for social responses. For those businesses that have a social presence and would like to keep it updated frequently with photos it offers a compelling solution.
There are some limits to the product
- U.S. listings only
- Business must already have the new dashboard
- no iPhone version
Besides the lack of an iPhone app and the inability to respond to reviews, the rap against the app is the same criticism that I have of the desktop dashboard – it just doesn’t do that much that would compel a business owner to return regularly to check in. If their business doesn’t have a strong social presence and doesn’t have a need for regular photo uploads (which is most local businesses), the app and the Places for Business dashboard desktop provide little reason for regular visits to Places.
That being said, the Places Dashboard was built as a platform for the future and is able to readily be expanded with new functionality. One presumes that the mobile version is similarly designed. Google has not provided many reasons in the past for a business to continually check into their dashboard. This had lead to a situation where the listing data gets stale, the SMB understanding and appreciation of the product is decreased, passwords are lost and there is little opportunity for Google to entice the SMB with additional functionality, paid or otherwise.
My sense is that Google understands this and will, at some point in the future, provide increasing functionality to the SMB. Here’s hoping its sooner rather than later and that once Google gets past the very painful transition from the old to the new Places that we will see steady and valuable updates to the dashboards both mobile and desktop.
Here are some additional points provided to me by Google about the app:
September 28, 2013
The big news earlier in the week was Google’s announcement of the Hummingbird search algo upgrade. InformationWeek noted that “the Hummingbird update expands Google’s use of its Knowledge Graph”. Local search results were some of the first entities moved to the Knowledge graph and displayed as knowledge graph results. For me there are thus two questions.
Does Hummingbird affect local search results?
Are there any indications of a decline in local search results quality?
The answer, at least as far as I can tell, to both questions seems to be yes.
According to Danny Sullivan, Google started using this new algo “about a month ago”. Moz pegged the rollout at around August 20-22. For the most part this change went unoticed in both local and universal search results. But there was one big change in local that Linda Buquet has covered quite extensively that she first wrote about on August 24th. The timing and results, I think, are not coincidental.
Linda titled this one exactly right: Attack of the Bad Google Local One-Boxes!
What is the attack of the Local One-Boxes? A number of broad head searches like “Buffalo NY Diamonds” or “Denver SEO” are returning (usually) a single branded, spammy local result. Google seems to have dug into the wayback machine to have pulled out these totally inappropriate results. (Note: as Linda said below it may be necessary to set your location to the same as the geo phrase to see these. That isn’t always the case but it increases the likelihood of surfacing them).
Essentially it appears that Google has once again conflated these head terms with what they suppose to be a branded search and have surfaced spammy pinned local results that we thought had long ago been buried. Hummingbird has worked surprisingly well as demonstrated by the lack of complaints. It is interesting that a problem thought solved long ago would trip it up.
For example if you search on the phrase “Buffalo NY Diamonds” it surfaces a second listing for a local jeweler at the same address that was created long ago for the purpose of keyword
spamming ”marketing” in local. The problem of Google showing a single branded results was first spotted years ago. It subsequently lead to a spate of one box spam and then, for the most part, squelched by Google. For whatever reason, these spammy local knowledge graph entities seem to have made a come back.
The timing and nature of the results makes me believe that we are seeing “the Hummingbird effect”.
When was the last time that you saw a local result for a spammy local SEO listings? The answer: December, 2009. They seem to have returned.
September 26, 2013
Lot’s has been happening at LocalU. We have an advanced LocalU coming up Monday in NYC that has just 5 seats left. If you do sign up be sure to use the discount code WS-LUA10 for 10% off. If you are already signed up be sure to reach out to me and introduce yourself.
We will be announcing our (very busy) winter & spring speaking schedule shortly and it looks like we will be in Dallas, Springfield (MA), Valley Forge, Harrisburg and hopefully the Cupertino area (and perhaps a few more places as well). We are now scheduling for May and the fall of 2014 so if you are interested in having us come to your city, let us know.
We hope to have our full video tape of the LocalU advanced session in Seattle available for purchase shortly and some other cool content as well. We will keep you posted.
We have been busy at the LocalU blog as well with some great articles over the past few months that you might have missed:
Where Should a New Business Create a Listing: Google+ Page or Google Places for Business Dashboard? - Mike Blumenthal
The Real Truth About SEO & Call Tracking - Mary Bowling
Is Your Website Ready for the Holidays? - Mary Bowling
What Kind of Google+ Page Is It? – A Visual Guide to Google+ Local Pages - Mike Blumenthal
How Long Should Your Business Description Be in the Google Places for Business Dashboard? - Mike Blumenthal
Have You Tried Google Support for Local Lately? - Mary Bowling
How To Segment Local Search In Google Analytics (with Free Dashboard!) - Ed Reese (I particularly like the free dashboard that Ed created that gives some incredible insights into where your local visitors are coming from. And what is better than free?).
There will be light postings next week due to travel. I hope to see you in NYC next week.
September 25, 2013
We have just upgraded the Google Places Category tool with categories for the new dashboard from:
UK - United Kingdom contributed by Andrew Loy, Occupancy Marketing
NL - Netherlands contributed by Eduard de Boer
FR - France contributed by Ken Fagan
Aus - Austria contributed by Petra Kraft
IT - Italy contributed by Andrea Scarpetta
CA - Canada contributed by Darren Shaw
Norway has been contributed by Aleksander Steinsvik, Crosspath Media but is not yet loaded.
Here are the countries that have been added to the new dashboard for which I do not yet have categories and am asking for volunteers:
||United Arab Emirates
If you would like your 15 seconds of fame and a link and live in one of the above countries here are the instructions to gather the categories from the new dashboard (obviously I wold appreciate it if you sent them along):
September 17, 2013
With the help of Darren Shaw of Whitespark, we have recently added the list of Canadian categories from the new Google Places for Business Dashboard to our searchable Google Places Category Tool.
The new Places for Business Dashboard is country specific and the categories that one sees are IP & country specific. Thus I need to ask your help in gathering the categories for the countries that now have the new dashboard.
If you would like to volunteer 10 minutes of your time to help me gather categories in one of the following countries to which you have access please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you instructions. Not much glory in this job besides public recognition, a link and knowing that you have helped others better understand Google Places.
Countries for which I need help obtaining the category list:
July 17, 2013
I noticed the fact that the new mobile Maps apps for Droid and iPhone included “Enhanced navigation” out of the corner of my eye but it became apparent this morning as I started playing with the new iPhone App exactly what it meant. On the Lat-Long Blog Google noted:
Enhanced navigation: In addition to current traffic conditions, we’ve added two new features to help you navigate around traffic. You can now see reports of problems on the road that you can tap to see incident details. While on the road, Google Maps will also alert you if a better route becomes available and reroute you to your destination faster. This feature is available only on Android and is coming soon to iOS.
These road reports include construction information (obviously sourced from DOT etc) as well as incident reports. It is not at all clear where that information is coming from. It is interesting to me that Google is including this real time information prior to their full absorption of Waze. It is obvious that Google would have done real time data with or without the Waze acquisition. Perhaps not as well, perhaps not as thoroughly but done it none the less.
What will be interesting with Waze is whether Google is capable of sustaining their strong community. That has not been a strength of Google. It will also be interesting to see how Apple responds to this feature or if they are able to.
Here is a screen shot of the area around Philadelphia.
June 17, 2013
Local, like many developments at Google, has always been many things; a brand (G+Local, Places), a product (Places Search, the +Local App) and an internal & external API service (local data in Now, Earth or 3rd party products).
And as David Mihm has pointed out, Google’s branding of local has always been muddled and caused confusion in the market place. But now it would appear that the confusion will someday end and that both the local brand and the forward facing search product (Places Search) are falling by the wayside.
Local will persist as a service feeding critical contextually relevant data to the many current Google products that use local data and the many that are likely to be coming rapidly down the pipeline.
Local as brand & product – a History
April 16, 2013
We have upgraded the Google Places for Business Category tool and added our categories from the recently released, new Google Places for Business Dashboard.
The new list is designated as Google English (US) (PfB) to distinguish it from the list for the old and still predominant dashboard. Note that the new categories themselves DO NOT have synonyms in the new dashboard but where there was a 1 to 1 match with the old category we have added them from the existing list to facilitate searching.
We have also made the country selection default to the previous country choice selected to make additional searches easier.
In analyzing the category differences between the two lists, the most obvious change was some clean up work with a number of plural categories having been removed. Approximately 243 categories were removed from the old list. These were mostly either plurals of already existing categories or non-compliant categories. An example of the former was the removal of the category “bakeries” while the category “bakery” remained. An example of the later was the category “rv”. Here is the complete list of categories removed in ascii text: in-old-not-in-new1.
There were 88 additional, non restaurant categories added to the new Google Places for Business list: in-new-not-in-old-others1.
Some were minor changes like “personal injury attorney” became “personal injury lawyer”. Some were cleaned up to be in compliance with the Google Quality Guidelines standards. For example “jewelry” became “jewelry store”.
Given the clean up in some categories, it was odd to still see newly added categories that do not comply with the Category guidelines like beauty, car rental. culture, hair care, laundry and logistics showing up in the new list.
The biggest change in the new list, as I have noted previously, was the inclusion of 168 new restaurant categories, many of which are quite unusual like “kushiage and kushiyaki restaurant” or “okonomiyaki restaurant”. Here is the list new restaurant types added: in-new-not-in-old-restaurants1.
Regardless, the restaurant list is intriguing. Either Google is attempting to create a master list of restaurants for world wide use (as opposed to just the US) or they have broader plans for the list in existing or new restaurant related products.
Hopefully the tool will continue to be useful to you. Please visit the newly updated Google Places for Business Category Tool and let me know what works and what doesn’t in the tool and how you are using it.
April 5, 2013
David Mihm just did a great Whiteboard Friday on the evolution of the local ranking algo. In the article he speculated about the future of local signals:
And just to speculate a little bit, because I love to speculate, going forward I also think we’re going to see Google potentially integrating some offline information into the local rankings. So what do I mean by that? As we get more and more comfortable, we as a society get more and more comfortable with things like Foursquare check-ins or Facebook check-ins, using our phones to make mobile payments, using Google Wallet, or companies like Square or LevelUp, these types of things, loyalty programs, Google has acquired a company several years ago that focused on digital loyalty cards, these types of offline signals about how we’re actually engaging with businesses in the real world, I think there’s no reason that they wouldn’t try to incorporate those into their local rankings going forward.
I would suggest that the future is now and that Google is currently using some mobile signals in their current ranking algo. Certainly, as David points out, Google has invested in a number of technologies (Coupons, Wallet, Offers, PunchD, Talkbing, check-ins) that will give Google on the ground signals as to whether a consumer actually visited a location and consummated a sale. Most of these have not achieved any sort of scale and are forward facing investments that attempt to close the “search to sale” loop for analytics. All could also provide popularity signals to Google when they do achieve some scale.
But Google has two very widespread highly trusted technologies, Driving Directions and Android, that function at huge scale and could be providing signals now.
Alex Garrido (aka Alex Webmaster) has done some interesting local research that seems to indicate that mobile click to calls do in fact affect ranking.
He worked with 5 local clients ranking in the lower spots on front page Google 7-Pack results. Over a two week period he had his 40 research participants do a keyword + city search on their mobile phones and click to call the specific businesses. Two clients were scheduled to receive 40 calls over that period, two were to receive 20 calls over that period and one was used as a control. His conclusion:
To our surprise it turned out to be a major ranking signal often improving the position of a local business by several spots.
Discussion: This is a small scale study and as is always the case in such situations it is hard to know that correlation is in fact causation. It is also the case that correlation studies are problematic in studying search results. There are a lot of moving parts in the local algo that we can not see and that could have influenced these results. Obviously it is worth carrying out this experiment in several markets over several time frames to see if their is similar impact on rank. Correlation if it happens enough and is consistent enough can then be assumed, with greater confidence, to have some causal relationship.
If it is causal, and the click to calls do in fact improve rank, is the effect permanent? Clearly these results need to be tracked over time as well. And similar work would need to be done in more competitive markets to see if the effective impact is similar i.e. if there are other strong signals maybe this one just doesn’t have much impact.
That being said there is every reason to think that Google might now be using mobile signals in ranking results. (more…)