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.
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.
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.
Last week amidst the noise of changes in the Place’s layout, Google noted that they would be “Integrating some of the great information that’s been buried on Place pages into your web search experience across all Google platforms“. While Google doesn’t talk much about their thinking or the future, when they do, I have learned that you can take them at their word. They have in fact quickly started this process of projecting data from within Places more broadly, resulting in its higher visibility and an increased liklihood of being seen. They are putting more photos from Places into the branded One Box in the main search results and have started showing coupons from Places in their mobile Shopper app (OMG will coupons finally make their Phoenix like re-appearance after 4 moribund years?) .
The Google Hotel Finder experiment is yet another example that they are taking buried information from Places and Maps and experimenting with making it more visible. In the process they are making search results more engaging and interactive, demonstrating their move from being strictly a search results provider to using search to generate useful content that will attract and retain users. More users, a longer time on the site and a fresh way of looking at previously buried content will obviously also provide additional ways to sell more ads.
Rather than the standard Google approach of the single search box and their educated guess as to what searchers want, the Hotel Finder interface, in very un-Google like fashion, provides a more faceted approach to finding exactly the information that a user is looking for. The choices allow for a great deal of granularity of pricing, relative pricing and quality.
If the broad, single field geo search does not return the appropriate geography, the user can drill into the map and literally outline the appropriate neighborhoods themselves via interactive, draggable boundary lines. The map view provides a heat mapped representation of the most popular areas.
The interface allows a user to build repeated queries with slightly different parameters and save the results into a “short list” of choices. Thus if you wanted to compare hotels in two or three totally distinct non-adjacent neighborhoods, say the Upper West Side, Tribecca and Park Slope, a user could create a custom view of hotels from which to choose and then share the view via URL with another.
More details about a given hotel, a Places view if you will, with a very attractive layout can be seen by clicking on the hotel of choice. The user is presented with an array of photos, review summaries and the owner description. It seems to reflect a new, thoughtful design sensibility on the part of Google.
Of course, it is not just a view of content but offers the option of booking the hotel via their still secretive hotel booking tool. All in all it is in impressive experiment with a subtle transactional nature. It is both more polished and definitely better looking than most Google experiments. It is very slick and offers an interface that could be easily adapted to restaurants, bars, florists and hair salons (to name a few) and of course to mobile.
If this experiment is any indication, the future of search is local search and it is an interesting one. With the acquisition of ITA and Google’s obvious and long standing desire to move into the hotel booking market, this experiment shows how Google is thinking about both the data and the market. Many have explained the recent changes as a reactive response to anti-trust complaints. It could equally be explained as a proactive measure that would allow Google to be in a more competitive position going forward as they compete more directly against the likes of TripAdvisor and Yelp.
The Google Hotel Finder experiment is not just search as we have come to know it but search as interactive content that has the ability to achieve serendipity in both interaction and results. And of course in a way that makes the sale.
I recently had that pleasure of being interviewed by John Carcutt and Ross Dun on Webmasterradio.fm’s SEO 101 show, a show that gives out helpful information for the beginners without overwhelming them with technical details.
The conversation covered a wide range of topics around Google Places. For those of you that would rather listen than read you can find the interview here.
Quite a few readers have asked where this field or that field has gone and whether it is returning or why it is not displaying so I am reposting Google Places Community Manager Vanessagene‘s comments from the Google Places forums to make explicit what else is not showing:
Seeing a lot of questions in the forum, let me just clarify a couple things about the new Place pages. The following info you provide may not appear on your Place page, but it’s all still used to help us understand more about your business:
• Email address
• Optional attributes / Additional details
• Service area toggle “Show service area”
So just because we’re not showing it, doesn’t mean it’s not helpful for us to have — it helps our system ensure that your organic listing appears and ranks appropriately on Google and Google Maps when potential customers perform searches related to your service.
For more info about ranking, check out this blog post:
Google has always contended that the content on the Places Page was informed by what searchers found useful. Whether this removal of the information reflects that ethos, the desire to make the page more visually streamlined or whether Google is making space for additional (money making?) features is unclear at this point.
A number of readers in the forum were displeased with Google’s decision to remove this data and the post comments are worth a read. The most salient being that it makes little sense to provide all of these details to Google if Google is not going to show them. Regardless, I would presume that the above fields of data are not coming back to the Places page any time soon.
On a related note there is still a bug on a number of Places pages where the business description is not showing. Google’s intention is to show the description on the page. They are aware of the bug and, one presumes, that they will locate and display that data some day.
Here is the email that Google sent to all Boost advertisers today:
Google Boost is now AdWords Express
Dear Google Boost user,Thank you for choosing Boost to advertise your business online. Today, we’re renaming the product as AdWords Express and officially launching it across the U.S. This name change will not affect your account – your AdWords Express (formerly Boost) account will continue to work as usual.
There are also a few things we’ve recently developed to help improve AdWords Express and enhance your experience with the product. Here are some important new features we’ve added:
Create ads for each of your business categories: Ads written specifically for each of your categories will perform better than using the same ad for all of them. You can also divide up your budget by category for more control over spending.
Additional alerts & payment management: We’ll let you know if there’s an issue with the billing information in your account and give you steps to resolve it right away.
Ad title editing: To make your ads even more specific, you can now change ad titles from your business name to any customized message.
You can access these additional features and check on your ads through your dashboard. If you have any questions about AdWords Express or your account you can visit www.google.com/awexpress and our Help Center, or contact 1-866-2-GOOGLE for further assistance.
The Google AdWords Express (formerly Boost) Team
When working in Places the message that we all dread to hear: We do currently do not support the location is a Google message that instills the fear of god in the most expert of us. In normal situations it will show when a newly created listing has not yet been integrated in the Maps index. Give it 48 hours and the message goes away.
However there has been a more sinister occurrence where it will show up all of the sudden on a long claimed and stable record and it’s the bane of who ever runs into it . Until now it was not known what caused it or how to fix it. It is a message that shows up all too often in the forums raising its head there 3 or 4 times a week.
Fortunately for all concerned, a frequent contributor to the German Places Forums, Spinatmensch has discoved a work around for this most devastating of Google Places Bugs. Here are the instructions as detailed by EHG, another frequent contributor:
1. go into the GooglePlace account containing the “unsuported” location.
2. click the name of the entry to get the URL of the analytics site of the entry opened in a new tab of the browser.
Mike Ramsey of NiftyMarketing, a local search marketer from Idaho, sent along this screen shot reflecting a name change to the Boost product:
The change has not yet made it over to the Boost Help pages. Certainly it makes sense from a branding perspective to leverage Google’s well known, existing ad brand although I doubt that it will make the bidding basis of the pricing more obvious.
I just got off the phone with Kiley McEvoy, Product Manager Lead on Boost Adwords Express at Google to let me know that Google will be formally announcing the rebranding of the Boost product shortly.
Here are some of his comments:
We have seen great success with the Boost product and signup rate and to better indicate its ties to Adwords we are going with new name.
We have seen users in all 50 states and tens of thusands of customers. I spend a lot of time talking to customers and the main piece of feedback is that they are surprised by the simplicity. The product is so simple that it has allayed fears of involvement in on-line advertising. A pizza shop that was getting 30 clicks per day had to pause their campaign due to significant increase in business.
I did inquire as to specific numbers or percentage of claimed accounts using Boost but he was unable to be explicit.
He indicated that there is a new requirement, introduced a number of weeks ago, that an Adwords Express ad be created for each category. With this better targeting, users will be less likely to see large jumps in bid pricing that I experienced in my “legacy” ad campaign that had one ad with two categories.
He also noted that there is a new signup procedure flow (now visible here) that allows a business to sign up for both Places and Adwords Express simultaneously. In the new process, verification required for the Places listing, is no longer required for an Adwords Express ad to start to run. The ad can run independtly of an approved Places listing as long as the ad point to your website. If a Places listing is rejected or suspended the ads will continue to run.
With the rollout of the changes on the Places page and display of Local Universal results on the main search results page Google noted that going forward that they would be “Integrating some of the great information that’s been buried on Place pages into your web search experience across all Google platforms“.
We had a discussion the other day postulating as to what Google Places and Maps data was “buried” and would surface. Photos, Offers/Coupon offers, videos were a common suggestions in the thread.
It seems that Google has already started down the path of more widely disseminating Offers (as in free Places Coupons as opposed to daily deals) with their recently updated Shopper App on the iPhone (thanks to Jim Gianoglio of ImpactQ for the tip). The noted changes clearly focus on Offers:
Nearby offers giving users great deals around them
Map view for nearby offers
Redemption of Google Offers from your phone
Although the Shopper app is probably makes these free coupons only slightly more visible than they are now it is a step…
It hadn’t occurred to me that another one of the great resources hidden in Maps is the massive amounts of Streetview data but it obviously had to Google. Regular reader Plamen sent along this screen shot of Google testing the integration of Streetview into a Local Onebox in the main search results: