Category Archives: Google Places (Maps & Local)

Comments, research and information about Google Maps (Google Local)

Adwords Express: Things that are Easy to Hate

I have a love hate relationship with the elegantly simple Google’s Adwords Express. One of the things I love is that for a business with more than 2 reviews and greater than an 4 star rating, it will show your star rating with the ad. One of the things I hate is that, unbeknownst to the business placing the ad, if the stars are clicked, it is a billable event and the searcher is taken to your Places Page NOT the web page that you had opted for when you purchased the ad.

On the Places Page, the searcher is subjected to seeing both additional ads AND a list of nearby competitors. Perhaps a reasonable trade off if the business was aware of the quid pro quo or could opt out, but neither is the case. Regardless it hardly seems reasonable that a business should be paying for the privilege of showing a searcher additional ads on Google.

There are a number of other issues I have with the practice besides the indignity of paying to have users to see more ads and learn about your competitors:

1- There are no analytics of the event. It is impossible to see how many ads that were clicked went to the Places Page instead of your website thus it is difficult to asses the value of the ad. A click on the stars shows in the Places analytic as an action and exactly the same as a visit to your website.
2- A corollary to the above is that there is no ability to track the campaign accurately. Since the click never makes it to your website there can be no measurement of conversions or goals in Analytics or the value of the click.
3- There is no indication in the Help files that you are paying when a user clicks on the star. I had to confirm the practice by contacting Google.
4- More importantly, as most Express users do not make it to the Help files, there is no indication in Places that your ad will show your review stars or that a click on them is billable.
5- When you place the ad, there is no indication that the user might be sent to your Places Page even though you explicitly selected the option for sending the user to your web page.
6-If a business has no reviews or a low star rating they are not paying this extra fee. How is that fair? Only better businesses are thus taxed?

With Adwords and location extensions you have the option to enable clicks to call. You pay if the searcher does in fact call. That is a reasonable option in that it is both a choice to turn it on or not and it is an event that is measurable and likely to lead to a conversion.

The other Adwords case where Google will show review stars is with the seller ratings extensions option. In that case you are also “automatically opted in to showing seller ratings with your ads”. (Where is a good copywriter when we need one? Does “opt” not mean choice? Oxymoronic at best.) In this seller ratings case however, when the searcher is taken to the product reviews, it is not a billable click. While it may disrupt your purchase funnel, the pros seem to outweigh the cons.

While a review highlighted Adwords Express ad is more visually attractive, the total lack of knowledge, control and tracking makes this one of those options that is easy to hate.

Google Places Descriptor Snippets

One of the changes in the rollout of the new Places Page last month was the inclusion of short descriptor snippets high on the page between the review count and the business description. The descriptor snippets, besides recently changing from a light grey to black in color, have seemed to improve somewhat over the last month. In the case of Barbara Oliver, the strange phrase “couldn’t have” has been replaced with the more appropriate “felt comfortable”. Note the inclusion though of the oddly spelled “jewelery”.

The phrases seem to have a variety of sources including a Place’s review corpus, in bound links and web page content. The algo that drives the process is not yet known but it is possible that it uses the techniques that Bill Slawski detailed for Google’s recently approved patent Keywords associated with document categories.

The results displayed, while often accurate, can, can still on occasion show unusual results. I thought that this screen shot captured some of those obviously weird results. Where exactly do you think these come from?

Is Google’s Free “Get Your Business Online” Website Soon to Roll Out Nationwide?

Google has been slowly rolling out their “Get Your Business Online” free seminar/website initiative worldwide.  They first offered a similar program to SMBs in the UK in February 2010. Earlier this year, Google rolled out the program in Ireland and  Canada and apparently updated their UK program. Some of the programs have had some fine print but the most recent incarnations seem to offer real value for those businesses that want a minimal and easy to start web presence.

In July of this year Google offered up the first US based “Get Your Business Online” in Texas in conjunction with regional and national partners. Their national partners include Intuit, the Association of Small Business Development Centers, SCORE, and Meetup. The website offered as part of the package (with one year free domain) is a 3 page only version of Intuit’s Websites SiteBuilder. The Intuit commercial product is a 5 page site and costs $7.99/month.

Last week Google offered the seminar/free website program in Burlington and Rutland, Vermont. The kick off seminars in Vermont were done with a large number of not for profit agencies and business development groups including the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, the Vermont Small Business Development Center Network and others.

With the domains and on the ground programs in those two states it seemed possible that Google would be rolling the seminar and free website program nationwide on a state by state basis. On June 25, Google apparently transferred 100 domains to their servers in the format & GetStateOnline for most of the 50 states and an additional overarching domain While the move is certainly a defensive domain acquisition/protection strategy, it seems equally likely that free website program could soon be rolling out nationally.

Minimally the effort should put to rest speculation that Google just wants businesses to have a Places/Google+ pages on their servers and no independent web presence.

Here is a complete list of the domains transferred to Google at the end of June: Continue reading Is Google’s Free “Get Your Business Online” Website Soon to Roll Out Nationwide?

How Much Freeer than Free Can Free Be?

Stever of Axemedia passed this email solicitation along to me. It is a deceptive ad that attempts to leverage Google Places as a benefit to the package. How much freer than free can free be? I suppose that the offer revolves around some claiming package but is amazing to me that a company of’s stature would attempt to leverage Google’s good name in such a way.


Worse is yet to come though. When you click through to the website, you are offered a Free Website to along with your free Google Places listing. The offer that you thought was $24.95/mo. turns out to be $94.95/month. What you are actually buying, despite the immediate call to action, is not clear nor is there any way to achieve clarification other than calling.

At the end of three years a business would have spent $3418.20. It appears that the business will have received a website of indeterminate size with some keyword laden copywriting, a Google Places listing, a listing at one or the primary data suppliers to the GPS industry and some reporting…. probably Google Analytics. The package could be worth it, who knows. The level of misdirection and slight of hand makes me doubt it.

Google Related – Making Buried Information From Places More Visible

Google has just released a new browser plugin (Chrome & IE) tool, Google Related that provides information that Google thinks is relevant to a given website that you are visiting. The tool, while working across a range of e-commerce, information & local websites, is of particular interest in the local space as it provides direct access to information drawn from your Google Places page.

When Google noted last month that they would be making buried information in Places more visible, they were not kidding. The plug-in presents maps, reviews and related places front and center in a tool bar at the bottom of your website. It may also reference videos and additional web sites but I have yet to see a local example of that in the wild and will show these if 1)the info is available AND 2)the viewing screen is wide enough. The video, unlike the other options, plays in place and offers no click through option. As the screen resolution drops fewer options are displayed.

The new plugin provides a user with two additional links to your Place page, one link to your Google Places review page, links to 3rd party review sites and links to the Places page for businesses that show up in the Related Places section of your Place Page.

The feature set, while of likely use to the searcher, is most likely to benefit Google and their properties, driving page views and ad revenues.

In pushing Google Places information out to the greater web, Google is once again putting review management at the fore of both the searcher and the business’s mind. The use of Related Places is sure to raise the ire of many an SMB, much as it did when the feature was rolled out in early 2010. At the time it was referred to as Places Nearby You Might Like and was the first obvious indication to SMBs that they did not control their Places page but that Google did. It also demonstrated that Google was developing a sophisticated “business graph” that was capable of mapping out a web of similar local businesses across the local market.

It also raises a number of other questions. Will Google provide any analytical information about the information that is attached to your website? How many times folks viewed the review summary? How many visited your Place page or better visited a competitor site? If Google is going to attach this sort of information to a business website, they should have the analytics in place to help the business understand how to improve things.

Here is the same screen shot as above captured on a wider screen. Note how the web pages and videos now show:

Continue reading Google Related – Making Buried Information From Places More Visible

Clarification re: Clarification re: closed listings on Google Places

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

Hi Mike,

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,

Deanna Yick
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

Howdy Deanna

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.

News Flash: Google Mt View Reported Closed!

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.

Continue reading News Flash: Google Mt View Reported Closed!

Places Blackhat Playground – Reported To Be Closed

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.

Hotel Booking Ads Test Continues – a 2 Bit Hooker?

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)

Continue reading Hotel Booking Ads Test Continues – a 2 Bit Hooker?

Hit by Competitor Spam Reviews: The Plot Thickens

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?

What now?