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…)
April 2, 2013
One of the big changes in the rollout of the new Places for Business Dashboard is a change with categories. Categories have long been a key factor in Google’s determination of relevance of a listing. Google has added some additional categories, changed how categories are handled as well how many categories a business is allowed to have.
The bad news? The big change, predicted for some time, is the elimination of the option of custom categories. Google has moved to a fixed list of choices.
The synonym feature is also missing. Thus a user that doesn’t know exactly what they want in terms of categories will find it very hard to locate the correct categories.
The good news? Up to ten categories are allowed. Google has noted at the most recent LocalU seminar that categorical information about a business is retrieved from across the internet. Exactly what web based resources are likely to impact this are not totally clear.
The category list is a dramatic improvement over what is/was available to businesses that verified via the G+ Page local interface and the list is very similar to those categories previously available to users of the current Dashboard.
There appear to be some additional categories in the new list, particularly in the area of restaurants. Upon an initial and superficial check I could not find additional categories in other areas besides restaurants although there may be a few. In the previous category list there were 76 types of restaurants. In the new category list there are 230 restaurant types. For example Google added the following restaurant types (amongst others):
Southwest France Restaurant
I am curious whether a “Tongue Restaurant” is what it sounds like? Why exactly do we need the category “Southwest France Restaurant”?
The new list contains a total 2295 category choices. I am including the complete Places for Business category list (US only) here in HTML format and hope to have the list integrated with my Google Places category tool in the near future.
Google rolling out new update to Google Places for Business
Visual Guide to the new Places for Business Dashboard
Analysis: Google Places for Business or G+ Pages Lite?
Starting today at ~1 pm PST, Google Local is rolling out an upgraded interface for Places for Business that will replace the current dashboard*. The rollout is staged and will be initially made available to a small number of US businesses and businesses newly claimed via the G+ Local page.
Over the near future the rollout will accelerate to include all U.S. dashboards. The international rollout will then continue across the 136 countries that currently have the Places dashboard. The exact timing of the rollout is not being made explicit.
The rollout is one more step towards the integration of local with Plus. While the feature set is neither expansive nor comprehensive, the product release does account for service area businesses (SAB) who can now get a Plus page for the first time. The product is currently targeted for single location businesses with bricks and mortar storefronts and SABs but still has limited provisions for multi location businesses and does not support Bulk uploads.
Once an account is transitioned the dashboard account will be automatically redirected to the new interface. If that account has a Plus account the option to edit the Google+ page will appear in the interface. But a G+ profile is not required to interact with the business profile. All that is needed is the existing Google ID/email. The business will be required to obtain a G+ personal profile if they want to add the additional features (social stream, videos) of a full G+ Local page.
When this rollout is complete there will be only two types of local pages: verified and unverified. Each business can decide whether they need the social and video features or not.
Google has noted that the purpose of this rollout is to address usability issues for the SMB in terms of UI, data push speeds, better notifications, reduced data integrity issues and improved integration with other Google products.
The product will retain the current Places for Business name although it really is more of a Google Plus lite than a Places Dashboard equivalent.
For more information see these related posts:
Visual Guide to the new Places for Business Dashboard
Categories in the new Places for Business Dashboard
Analysis: Google Places for Business or G+ Pages Lite?
* Unlike yesterday’s post this is actually true. And I must admit I much prefer my vision.
April 1, 2013
The newly appointed head of Google Local Product Manager Brian Fitzpatrick today announced the rollout of a completely revamped local product to replace the Places dashboard. As written about in the Wall Street Journal in June, 2012 the product is called “The Business Builder”. With the rollout of the Business Builder Google Local is announcing a totally rebuilt local product that offers the best of local and social as well as easy to use self provisioning of sophisticated Couponing, Adwords, Offers and other paid options.
National multi-store brands as well as single storefront businesses will be able to take advantage of this new functionality with the free local and social products as well as the easy to deploy paid products for their locations. Local analytics have been totally revamped as well. With the rollout of the new couponing product Google will be able to offer search to sale tracking analytics in an easy to use reporting format that can grow in sophistication with the business user and use cases.
Fitzpatrick, a dynamic multi skilled developer in the world of Maps, noted “It was a great relief to finally get the merged and updated product out the door. The reason for its long delay was our commitment to make the product bug free the first time and not have to push weekly updates and bug fixes. We think we have met that milestone. The days of lost reviews, lost listings and unfounded closings are behind us.”
“More importantly we will be holding public monthly briefings going forward laying out upcoming developments in our local products. This will allow for businesses, big and small, that depend on our Business Builder products to better plan their SEO and SEM activities in Local.”
Brian Fitzpatrick is a the newly merged head of the Local & Maps division within the web search team. His duties, roughly akin to those of Marissa Mayer who left for Yahoo last July, had previously been filled by a troika of individuals.
March 28, 2013
Google’s Local Search sits at the center of an ecosystem of local web sites and data providers and they use this ecosystem to assemble their business listing data. This is true in the US and the basic structure and process is replicated on a local in every other country in the world using different local resources. In each country Google identifies a one (or two maybe) primary data supplier(s) upon which to base their local business list. This primary data supplier provides a starting “ground truth” which is then added to and enhanced by data from MapMaker, the Places Dashboard, leading local sites and the web in general to create the results that we see in search.
Sometimes, like in Canada, this primary data provider is noted directly in the Maps listing but often the information is not readily available. In many countries of the world, it is not easy to ferret out who is the trusted source of business listing data to Google.
Google does however publish a Legal Notice for Google Maps/Google Earth and their APIs that includes some of this detail. In this document Google identifies their primary sources of underlying map data and business listing data as required by their contracts.
While not comprehensive the list does have some interesting tidbits. Two notices that stood out were the one for the US and the one for France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Israel.
5 Business Listings Data.
5.1 Google Local Business Listings in France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Israel
When you search for local listings in France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Israel, your search results may include content (including business listings and related information) which has been supplied by Kapitol S.A. (trading as Infobel) (the “Infobel Content”). The intellectual property rights in the Infobel Content are owned by Kapitol S.A. or its licensors. The Infobel Content may only be used in accordance with these Terms of Service and the applicable terms and conditions of Kapitol S.A. If you know that your business listing is supplied by Kapitol S.A., and you have any questions about it you should contact them directly.
5.2 Google Local Business Listings in the United States
When you search for local listings, Google displays business listings which may be supplied by Acxiom Corporation and/or infoUSA Inc. (“Axciom” and/or “infoUSA”). This information is proprietary to those corporations and is protected under U.S. copyright law and international treaty provisions. This information is licensed for your personal or professional use and may not be resold or provided to others. Except as permitted through the Products, you may not distribute, sell, rent, sublicense, or lease such information, in whole or in part to any third party; and you will not make such information available in whole or in part to any other user in any networked or time-sharing environment, or transfer the information in whole or in part to any computer other than the PC used to access this information.
France and the related European countries were of interest because this information, despite the public web page, was not widely known.The note in reference to the US stood out because it has been widely thought that their primary suppliers were InfoUSA and Localeze. From the above it is clear that it is InfoUSA and Acxiom. Localeze might still have a data relationship with Google, we don’t really know but it points out why, in the US, it is necessary to be sure that your data is accurate at all three of the primary data suppliers.
In addition to those countries mentioned above Google also notes their business listings sources are Brazil, Turkey, Kenya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bulgaria. If you have identified Google’s primary list suppliers in your country and it is not on this list, I would love to hear from you.
February 3, 2013
There were a number of questions after I reported that a new Google+ Local claim of a business in Plus (not the Dasbboard) generated instructions to add the rel=publisher rich snippet to your website. Many asked whether rel=publisher should replace the rel=author snippet. The answer is that you should do both.
Daniel Berman explained it best in the comments:
Its not a matter of either or, its a matter of both and. You want to setup the rel=”publisher” to provide a context of identifying your business website to Google and especially giving you the chance to give them the categories that your business best fits, and then tying all of that back to your NAP information that Google has on file.
You want to setup your rel=”author” markup to recognize your contribution to the content as published by the business, but recognizing that your role as a human being is larger than just your position at that business. Maybe you also have a blog, and a hobby website. If you setup the rel=”authorship” formatting on all of those sites then your online identify or persona becomes clearer to Google as whole.
That said both are needed, just like getting a yellow page listing for your business and business cards for yourself are helpful so that people can find the business but also personally connect with you as a person.
Here is a good slide show by Ann Smarty detailing the differences.
January 26, 2013
First reported by Google Plus Daily and highlighted by the always observant Matt Gregory on Twitter, Google has rolled out an improved interface for those of you managing multiple G+ Pages social local pages (G+SLP?). The interface allows you to quickly view all of the Pages that you are managing, provides a single view of ALL notifications across all of your pages and allows quick access to each page’s settings.
The URL for the interface is telling: https://plus.google.com/dashboard. This new Dashboard appears to be part of an overall redesign of Plus elements as well as a future part of the coming replacement for the current Places Dashboard.
January 23, 2013
This is a good news bad news Google story. At least there is some good news.
The good news? It appears that Google has dramatically improved the messaging around a listing suspension on a merged social G+ Local listing and is offering a direct link to a reinclusion request within the context of the suspension notice on the local Google+ page. No more hunting around trying to figure out whats next.
The bad news? There are an increasing number of suspensions in the social G+Local environment and there are now TWO sets of rules (the Google
G+ Local Places (?) Quality Guidelines & the User Content & Conduct Policy) that a business needs to comply with to be sure that the listing is in compliance. It isn’t always clear which guideline has been violated either. I suspect that language use that a lawyer might view as categorical, the algo views as inappropriate (ie drug cases or DUI).
Update 1:30 pm: More good news. This particular client that requested reinclusion yesterday, heard back already that they were accepted. Good that they heard so quickly and good that the news was positive. It makes me think that an algo has been unleashed that might be overly aggressive.
Click to see the reinclusion request form: