March 27, 2012
March 24, 2012
There have been many questions about the recently publicized change in Google’s Places policy that home based businesses that do not receive customers at their home should hide their address. Many have been critical of Google’s change and many have criticized the apparent illogic of the rule.
I see the issue somewhat differently. Certainly Google has a right to create guidelines that affect quality as they see fit. And this policy is mostly rational. Or rather its intent is. Its goal is to provide Google Map users with locations that they can drive to and have a reasonable expectation of finding “somebody at home” there.
But Google has not done everything right with this change.
1) Penalties should never precede the public policy which was the case here by a number of weeks. We were seeing this in the forums and with Andrew Shotland’s post long before it was publicly acknowledged. Change the policy, publicize the change and then enforce.
2) The initial phone calls that Google makes to inquire about whether a home business deals with customers at home should be cooperative not confrontational. If you are going to call SMBs then help them know that they have inadvertently stubbed a toe in regards to a new rule and ask them to fix it. Why anger or create fear in a potential customer when you don’t need to?
3) If after some period it has not been fixed and the SMB has been alerted THEN remove the listing. It would be ideal if you then properly communicated to the business as to why.
4) The policy is written in such a way as to be somewhat illogical… as Miriam Ellis pointed out in her post. If you take it literally then there would be many businesses that would be in violation of the policy. The reality is that world is more complicated and Google’s guidelines need to reflect that granularity.
I recognize that (as an old mentor used to say): Rules are for Fools. He meant that rules should not be taken too literally. They need to be contextualized. The intention with the guidelines is to not be dogmatic but to provide operating principles that offer a framework for quality and Google’s enforcement. Unfortunately there are many in the world that would prefer more explicit and accurate guidance.
The intent of the policy is to make sure that listings in Maps can be driven to. That is appropriate and as it should be. However the framing of the policy speaks in terms of customers only. Many businesses have a physical location but do not receive customers at that location. They do however conduct business meetings there, receive vendors there, do employee interviews there and need to be able to be found on Maps. And one would think that Google would want to be able to provide driving instructions for those locations and did not mean to exclude them with a rule.
If this guideline only applies to home based businesses (which appears to the case) then perhaps Google needs to make that explicit in the documentation. Not every rule need apply to every business. Alternatively they could rewrite the guidelines in a more general way. Instead of making the criteria whether customers visit a location, make the criteria whether business is conducted in a face to face way (to include vendors etc) at that location.
In the meantime, as SEO practitioners you need to handle this guideline with reason. Some thoughts:
Does hiding an address affect rank?
March 22, 2012
Two weeks ago Andrew Shotland described how he had his listing taken down after a Googler called him and asked whether he served clients at his location. When he said no, his listing was taken down. He ran across what was then a “hidden” rule. The rule has now become public. If you don’t serve clients at your location and only serve them on site it is necessary to hide your location in the Places Dashboard.
Here’s the advice that was recently added (but still somewhat hidden) to the Help Files:
What are my options when defining a service area?
Don’t receive customers at your location? Serve customers at their location? Select the “Do not show my business address on my Maps listing” option within your dashboard — if you don’t hide your address, your listing may be removed from Google Maps.
Update: Google has added this new requirement to the Guidelines:
If you don’t receive customers at your location, you must select the “Do not show my business address on my Maps listing” option within your dashboard. If you don’t hide your address, your listing may be removed from Google Maps.
I am heading to Munich today for a few days off and a presentation at SMX Munich. Posting will be light to none. If you have suggestions on what I should not miss seeing while in Germany, let me know
March 21, 2012
Google sends Barbara Oliver & Co Jewelry a lot of business. Local search, organic search, Adwords Express have all worked well for her. Despite the ups and downs, the ins and outs and the many changes in Google Places search, Google has been the primary generator of web visits and phone calls for her business.
The contest isn’t close. Google sends 20-25 times more web traffic (and uncountable phone calls and store visits) than the either Yahoo or Bing and 60 times more than the any of the directory, IYP or social sites.
Yet when a review is lost by Google, that is what Barbara remembers. Not all the traffic she gets from them, not the calls, not the visits but the lost review. Even if it is one or two reviews out of 45, when one goes south she knows, she feels it and she remembers it with frustration.
Here is an email string that I had with her over the past few days:
Barbara: Hi Mike, So yesterday I had 45 reviews with a new one from Monday and today back to 43. Do they cut off old ones or just do that to p-ss me off?
Mike: Google taketh and google giveth. Note these search results… your mug is all over them (referring to her having an Author photo)
Barbara: I see they also dropped 2 from my buddy at [a competitor] and the mug all over makes them [customers] think they know me when they see me so I am appeased…
Mike: You have a recent new review! from a Courtney D on Mar 16, 2012 -
Barb took my dream wedding ring and brought it to reality. There is no one better to trust than Barb with your precious gems or dreams! Thank you!
Barbara: Nice, let’s see how long it stays up – she said with sour grapes.
Mike: The cup really is more than half full… if THE GOOGLE decides to nuke a review or two, at least they are still sending you a lot of business
Barbara: Just saying I get them and I am a bit protective. I have been getting a lot of new customers for everything lately so thanks to THE GOOGLE and the MIKE.
Mike: I know you are protective. Losing one is like losing a close friend….
Even if Google got it right nearly all of the time (and they have yet to achieve that standard), most small retailers will focus on the pain of the bad memories and mistakes that Google has made and not the many positives, even when reminded.
This conversation demonstrates why Local is so hard. And will continue to be hard for Google.
March 20, 2012
It is hard explaining to small businesses that when their listing merges with their competitor’s business it is a feature of Google Places NOT a bug. Well not actually a feature but a known and predicted artifact of Google’s automated merge & purge routines.
The flip side of removing duplicates is some amount of merging. The algo does not have enough granularity to clearly see that two similar businesses are in fact distinct. It thinks the listings are either duplicates or spam. The more dupes that are removed from the index the more merges increase and vice versa. Google is continually tweaking this algo to minimize merges but perfection in big data is “right most of the time”. In running the routine the overall index might improve by some significant percentage BUT some much smaller percentage of listings will be inadvertently and inappropriately merged with a different listing. It was this “behavior” that motivated me to name this series of Google Places comics “False Negatives”, the name I give to these listings that Google says exist with wrong information but really don’t.
What Google sees as acceptable outcomes are in fact worse than collateral damage to the smb. They are a direct hit on one of their most successful marketing avenues. Google giveth and Google taketh away.
Here is Margaret Shulock’s latest comic in the Google Places False Negatives Series. Feel free to copy the snippet and use on your blog or website.
“Google Places Merge Routine – Acceptable Outcomes = Collateral Damage” by Margaret Shulock is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at blumenthals.com.
Grab this code to add the comic to your site:
March 19, 2012
I was disappointed when Google created a new Places forum and they decided to take down the old Places forum and all of the posts that had accumulated. Google effectively minimized the efforts of the many volunteers that staffed the forums, removed material that still is of value and was deleting information that was of historical interest (to me anyways).
I was not able to gather them all but I wanted to make the posts I did save available for research purposes and to honor those volunteers that gave of their time to make the forums work (Barry Hunter, EHG aka Helmut, Treebles from the old timers and Linda Buquet, Nyagoslav, Jim from the new timers) I have archived those posts and am making them available on my website.
Places is constantly evolving. Many of the problems and solutions you find in these archives will be outdated. Be sure to search the new Google Places Forum for the most up-to-date info.
I was able to archive these posts with the help of Arjan Snaterse, Charlie Loyd and Aria Stewart.
Adwords Express has generally improved since its initial nationwide rollout in January of 2011 and its name change in July of last year. It was initially dogged with poor targeting and huge spikes in monthly cost per click that often made their use untenable. I have continued to test it in a range of local situations and for some low dollar value campaigns in some markets it has worked very well. My relationship with Express has moved from wildly bipolar to only mildly bipolar.
One of the annoying aspects is the lack of control. For example Google adds review stars to your express ad and takes viewers directly to your Places page whether you want them to go there or not. The flip side of that is that they automatically provide click to call for your ads in a mobile environment. Another big downside is the inability to direct a user to a specific landing page. But it turns out to be a quick and relatively inexpensive local keyword research tool where it is sometimes hard to get a great list otherwise.
One of the big improvements has been the ability to create your own Ad Headline. Initially the product would ONLY show the business name in that field. The ability to correctly title your ad has improved targeting and increased the value of the ad for specific niches. But… and this is a big BUT …. along with that improvement Google is now apparently changing the ad title ON THE FLY. Not only are they changing the title to the business name they are shortening the business name to fit in the allowed 25 characters!
And Google does so without warning you that this might occur. As far as I can tell this behavior is NOT documented.
The assumption that Google knows best might be backed by reams of data, that doesn’t mean that I should not be given the option to either allow or disallow this behavior. Nor does it mean that Google should make these changes without asking my permission. Simplicity without explanation becomes duplicity in the eyes of the SMB.
Here is an ad that I recently found showing in the search results. Note the Ad Headline:
Here is the content that was created in the Places Dashboard:
March 16, 2012
Barry Hunter, Top Contributor in the Google Maps & Places forums and Maps expert, took the matter of the missing RSS feeds for the Places forum into his own hands and crafted these feed URLS.
All Topics in Google and Your Business Forum
Topics in Need advice?
Topics in Technical issue?
And these feeds should work in Google Reader only – probably wont elsewhere. Right click and ‘Copy shortcut’ then paste into the new subscription box in GReader:
The “msgs” (new messages) feed is with an entry per post, and “topics” (new topics) is just for the first post per topic.
Update: John Muller just posted this RSS feed for the forums on Google +
Webmaster Forum Topics Feed
Webmaster Forum MSGS Feed
.. just swap out “webmasters” with the appropriate part of the forum URL. The “topics” feed is per thread, the “msgs” feed is per message. The downsides to these URLs is that the body of the post is cut off at a certain length, and that you can’t look at these on a per-category basis (it’s awesome that Barry’s feed is per category).
So here are the two feeds (not sure the difference between the two). And both seem to require Google Reader:
Google Places Business MSG Feed
Google Places Business Topics Feed
At the end of February I reported that Google was including both rich snippet reviews AND authorship images and links in blended results on the desktop. At the time these features had not appeared in the mobile results. Starting yesterday Google has once again updated the Blended display on the desktop to not show the rich snippet reviews in the blended results (they still show in organic results) nor the author links as much. Google also is now including a larger authors image and including additional links to their reviews.
Compare this screen shot from this morning to the one taken on February 29th:
More interesting to me is that Google has added Author photos to the blended and organic mobile results. This creates a very strong visual queue on the much more constrained mobile desktop: