August 16, 2011
This clarification from Google arrived late yesterday afternoon in regards to my articles on the Reported to Be Closed feature and perhaps did not receive the visibility that it deserved. When I showed it to Joey, my PR guy, he felt that a clarification to the clarification was necessary. Google’s and Joey’s clarification follow.
Clarification re: closed listings
I saw your recent posts about business listings that are reported/marked as closed and wanted to reach out with some clarification.
Every year, thousands of businesses open, close, move, change their hours, get a new website, or make other types of changes. We can’t be on the ground in every city and town, so we enable our great community of users to let us know when something needs to be updated. The vast majority of edits people have made to business listings have improved the quality and accuracy of Google Maps for the benefit of all Maps users. However, we’re aware that abuse – such as “place closed” spam reports – can become an issue, and we’re working on improvements to the system to prevent and flag any malicious or incorrect edits.
To be clear, the system currently displays the UI message “Reported to be closed. Not true?” when there is a pending edit that marks a place as closed. Only when that pending edit is reviewed and approved goes the UI message change to “This place is permanently closed. Not true?” We know that accurate listings on Google Maps are a vital tool for many business owners; we take these reports very seriously and do our best to ensure their accuracy before updating a listing’s status.
Hope that helps, and thanks for your understanding,
Global Communications and Public Affairs
If you received this communication by mistake, please don’t forward it to anyone else (it may contain confidential or privileged information), please erase all copies of it, including all attachments, and please let the sender know it went to the wrong person. Thanks.
Clarification re: Clarification re: closed listings
Mike passed me your clarification about business listings that are reported/marked/erroneously tagged as closed and he wanted me to circle back with you re your clarification with some clarification from the SMB point of view. The executive summary: A little communication on your part would go a very long way.
It is true that every year, thousands of businesses open, close, move, change their hours, get a new website, or make other types of changes. It need not be true that every year thousands of businesses are erroneously marked as closed on Google Places. A business on the ground can’t constantly be in the ether monitoring these occurrences as we are too busy taking care of our great community of shoppers. These shoppers stop into our stores on a regular basis and they also seem too busy to alert us to your carelessness.
We have empowered Google to both assist in marketing on our behalf and to use reasonable judgement when something needs to be updated on our listing. We are now distraught that we need to put in place ONE MORE process to be on the watch for any malicious or incorrect edits that you have allowed to occur on our Places listing.
To be clear, the very large yellow flag that you have placed on our listing might just indicate the rumor of closing and not the actual closing itself. It does however send inappropriate signals to potential customers that are considering shopping at our location. It creates unnecessary effort for monitoring on our end and leads to endless stress contemplating which competitor is scheming our undoing. We depend on the accuracy of the listings on your service and we take these events very seriously.
Hope that helps you understand the unnecessary aggravation that you have caused. Thanks for your understanding.
Joey The PR Guy
Local Jack of all Trades and brother in law
If you are reading this communication by mistake and are unable to change your processes, please forward it to someone in your organization that can.
August 15, 2011
In the spirit of discovery, I have once again embarked on a project to determine exactly how many “closing reports” are required to actually show a business as closed on their Places Page. The answer: Only 2 even if you are Google.
Update 12:39: 16 minutes after it was reported as closed, the listing had the yellow flag removed and it once again notes that there are unverified edits.
Update 1:33: After a few more reported closing reports, Google Mt View has once again been closed for the past 30 minutes. The experiment is open to all. Be sure to use a throw away Google account.
Update 1:40: It is once again showing as open and no longer showing as having unverified edits.
Update 5:27: Deanna Yick has just forwarded me this clarification from Google that I have posted it and responded.
It seems that the newest blackhat playground of user generated input annoyance is the “Place is permanently closed” radio button in Google Places. I have been receiving an increasing number of complaints from readers that are seeing the flag. In fact Barbara Oliver Jewelry and Andrews Jewelers both experienced the dreaded yellow highlight on their Places Pages over the past week shortly after they were hit with competitor review spam. Apparently the flag is generated both by algo and humans but there appears to be an uptick in its use as competitors (and their blackhat proxies) face off in Places.
Until Google steps in and either changes the procedure or eliminates the option, there is little to be done to prevent someone from repeatedly flagging your listing and bringing the flag to the fore. If they have access to multiple IPs it can occur multiple times in very short order. I presume if the status is left as is, the listing will eventually fall from the results although just the flag alone is likely to diminish user calls to a business.
The only current remedy is to keep an eye on your listing and as soon as the “Reported to be closed” flag appears report via the “Not True?” link while logged in as the owner of the listing that it is in fact open. Then immediately head over to MapMaker and approve your edit and the flag will instantly disappear. The problem is that a motivated spammer, using multiple IPs and sock puppets can keep you hopping and it isn’t clear that Google will automatically put an end to the tomfoolery.
Like community edits before, this problem demonstrates the vulnerability of a listing to blackhat spamming activities in the form of community input. It also dramatically points out why Places should offer every legitimate claimant an automated business owner feedback mechanism that alerts them to major changes to the listing and to new reviews. It gets old very quickly sitting vigil over a listing being repeatedly hit with this absurdity when Google could easily send out a notice on a claimed listing.
August 9, 2011
My grandfather was born and bred on the lower East Side of New York City in the early 1900s. He moved to upstate NY after WWII to join my father in business.The subtleties of gentile conversation that was the norm in rural NYS were largely lost on my grandfather. He was a large, loving, lovable direct man but one who spoke with the frankness of having grown up on the streets of NYC. At one time or another he had been scrambling to make a living having as a merchant, a fruit vendor with a cart and a taxi cab driver. I envied his ability to literally cut heavy wrapping twine with his bear hands (a skill I never was able to master).
Once in the mid 60′s, when I was probably in 8th grade, he was giving me a ride home from work. We saw a classmate of mine standing on the curb waiting for a ride. As was the style at the time, she was wearing a short skirt, fishnet stockings and perhaps a bit too much make up. He gruffly noted that she looked like a 2 bit hooker. I recognized that my grandfather was not current with the style of the times but his point, that she appeared inappropriately tawdry and cheap, was heartfelt. Nothing I could say would change his mind. Was he just out of date or did he have a valid point of view?
At the time I was shocked at his “provincial” assessment but have come to think him more right than wrong. Certainly the need for
young women to dress in the ever changing fashions of the day, particularly ones that objectify them as sex toys, could be considered a less than ideal aspect of our commercial culture.
It is a conversation that I have never forgotten and one that comes to mind as I look at Google’s on-going hotel booking experiment on the main search results pages. Literally every item above the fold is either an ad or has the booking option attached to the result. Google experiences the demands of every corporation to increase their income but exactly when does commercialization of the front page pass from tasteful to tawdry?
(click to view larger)
August 8, 2011
I seem to be mired in competitor spam reviews these days. The second bad review in as many weeks showed up this weekend on Barbara Oliver & Co. Jewelry’s Place Page. At first glance it appeared legit. The complaint, that it is pretentious to require appointments, is untrue and probably comes from a misreading of Barbara’s recently placed announcement on her website. She noted that during renovations and expansion construction from the 12th to 24th of this month she would be closed except by appointment.
The second review made an owner- response to both negative reviews imperative. I had not previously responded to the original bad review thinking that the reviewer might go silent. That did not happen. I think Puresheer and EarlPearl are right in that sense… the spammer is unlikely to go away and defend our honor we must.
The answer I chose to use was Kevin Baca’s (of Customer Lobby) excellent edit of my original response. I modified it slightly (per CathyR’s suggestion) and removed the words “fake review” to avoid a Google snippet disaster.
This is Barbara Oliver, owner of the company. You are right in that there are business owners out there faking reviews. I’m from the old school of small business ethics that insists on earning a good reputation over time with excellent customer service. I give my word that the reviews here on my Place Page are 100% legitimate and left by my real customers. I personally remember each of the wonderful transactions they are mentioning. As you can imagine, we really appreciate the time they took to do this. I invite you to come to our shop to see for yourself our beautiful jewelry, fair pricing and the fabulous shopping experience we provide for each of our valued customers. Barbara
The “perp” though, while trying to be sneakier and leaving a seemingly real second review, seems to have tipped their hand. I was actually “buying” their review of Barbara and Andrews Jewelers until I got to the marketing happy talk left on behalf of the third jeweler.
Responding to the appointment critique was much easier and offered the opportunity to both differentiate Barbara’s services and extol her expansion. The problem is though that it appears that the writer is developing a taste for this sort of thing, however small time.
Should we contact the other jewelers in question and initiate a dialogue? Should we just keep responding and ignore the likely source knowing that they are adding to our review count? Should we consider some third course of action? Perhaps a firm, carefully worded letter from our attorney?
August 5, 2011
Much has been written about what Google left out in the Places upgrade and much speculation has been offered as to the reasons for the change. The specualtion have often made the assumption that the new design was a reactive response on the part of Google.
After looking at a large number of pages, I would suggest that the changes were primarily proactive in a nature and design driven (did I just say design and Google in the same sentence?). To get a sense of Google’s intentions I looked at a number Places pages in a range of industries and states and captured a screen shot of the information above the fold on a typical size screen 1280 x 1024 screen to see exactly which objects and activities had been prioritized. I captured the same Places page on my iPhone for comparison.
We all know of the call to action for additional reviews and uploaded photos those were very obvious. However Google made a number of other decisions in terms of how to prioritize the information. Here is the slide show and I think you will find the choices made interesting and design driven. Click to start the slide show:
While Google may have left some things off in response to complaints about their use of 3rd party reviews, for the most part the changes are a conscious design effort to make Places more interactive, more current and more social and more transactional.
They include a strong call to action (review, upload photos) and clear sense of priorities as to what is important going forward – even coupons now have a higher visibility - more user generated content, more understanding of your social circles intent and a greater desire, at least in the hotel industry, to use Places to “close” the sale.
What are your thoughts on the new priorities and what they say about the direction of Places?
P.S. If you can’t remember the order of things prior to the change Optilocal has a good article summarizing the order after the last change.
August 3, 2011
On July 22, my client Barbara Oliver & Co. Jewelry’s Google Place page was hit with what appears to be a competitor spam review. The review is rather bizarre with racial innuendo and unfounded accusations. It would appear that the reviewer had not ever visited the store.
The timing of the spam review is interesting. There have previously been review complaints against other businesses in her market for having posted their own fake reviews. With Google no longer counting 3rd party reviews as of July 21st, there was a radical shift in the number of counted reviews showing for businesses that were returned in key searches in the market. Barbara fared well with the new review count totals while others in the market did not. Whether these facts are related to the spam review is unclear but I thought they added context and certainly raised suspicions.
The review is in technical violation of Google’s review guidelines although it is not at all obvious that it will be taken down by Google or if they will take it down, when. And like all reviews of this type, it points to a process failure in how Google handles review take down requests by SMBs.
Because of Barbara’s many positive reviews it had no impact on her star rating. Fortunately the best of all possible events occurred when a client responded to the bogus review directly and came to Barbara’s defense and another review was posted pushing the spam review down the page. It certainly points to the benefits of having happy clients speaking on your behalf in the on-line conversation.
I have been of two minds in regards to an owner response and have more questions than answers at this point. Would the review be somehow legitimized by any response? Would it bring unwarranted attention to it? Can a response be written, focused on future customers, that would stand the business and Barbara in good stead? Or is steady at the helm, garner new customer reviews the overall best, singular tactic? Barbara of course was calling for blood but was willing to take my advice and she recognized the power of having her customers speak on her behalf once that occurred.
The question at hand that I would like help answering: Should Barbara provide an owner response? If so why and what should the response look like? And if not why not?
P.S. a few simple Google Places Reputation management tips:
August 2, 2011
There have been two updates to the Places Quality Guidelines over the past two weeks. On July 21st, with the rollout of the new Places Page look, Google added this paragraph (bold added by me):
You cannot create Places listings for stores which you do not own, but which stock your products. Instead, consider asking the store owner to update their own Places listing with a custom attribute specifying brands or products they stock, including yours. While this data may not appear on the Place page, this information continues to help our system understand more about your business and ensure your organic listings appears and ranks appropriately on Google and Google Maps when potential customers perform searches related to your business.
This is a clear indication that while not displaying the information in the Additional details area of the Places listing they are in fact using the information for relevance and rank in retrieval of the listings and you want to still fill in the extra information.
Yesterday Google added a paragraph to the Quality Guidelines allowing stores within other stores to explicitly note their relationship with the mall or container store:
Some businesses may be located within a mall or a container store, which is a store that contains another business. If your business is within a container store or mall, and you’d like to include this information in your listing, specify the container store in parentheses in the business name field. For example, Starbucks (inside Safeway).
Historically it has been true that major updates to Google Places have been preceeded by more annoying and obvious bugs than normal being highlighted in the forums and elsewhere. In the case of the recent update that occurred on July 21st, there were a number of these bugs noted in the forums starting in early July.
||Date of Forum Mention
|Reviews Go Missing
|All Listings Hit Pending
|Places Update Goes Live
While correlation is not causation I do not think that it is coincidental that these “bugs” started shortly after the rollout of the new Google look and Google+ at the end of June. I also think it likely and have seen indications that in addition to changes in the Places layout there were under the hood changes to the review spam tagging algo and the rules that enforce the quality quidelines.
August 1, 2011
This morning I spoke of the Google Hotel experiment that made search results into interactive local content. It is not clear if this is the new normal or a test but on this search for bed and breakfast St. Augustine and every hotel search, Adwords with Location Extensions and Adwords Express are now showing as interactive local content on hotel searches. No non local ads need apply.
By changing the dates of the visit, a hotel searcher remains on the search results page and sees a changing display of local hotels that one presumes are available during those dates. The local ads, dominating the page, either point to the Places page with the booking tool as opposed to the hotel website or provide an instant choice to book via Google’s Hotel booking ad via on the online travel agencies.
The highest blended result is now below the fold and with it, the first link to TripAdvisor or any 3rd party review site.
Whoah dude! Must be that Google doesn’t think organic results can be as useful to searchers as ads.
Here is a slide show of various searches with screen shots above the fold and full page. Or you can click the image below to view larger)
The results are similar with the 7-pack showing, although obviously more local results: