Category Archives: Google Places (Maps & Local)

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

Places By Design – What does the new Places page say about Google’s intentions?

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.

Hit by Competitor Spam Review – How to Respond?

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:

Continue reading Hit by Competitor Spam Review – How to Respond?

Google Places Guideline Updates

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).

Do Bugs Precede Places Updates?

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.

Event Date of Forum Mention
Reviews Go Missing  7/4/11 
Descriptions Missing  7/6/11
All Listings Hit Pending  7/17/11
Places Update Goes Live  7/21/11

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.

Local Adwords Ads Dominate the Hotel SERPS – The new normal? Or a Test?

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:
Continue reading Local Adwords Ads Dominate the Hotel SERPS – The new normal? Or a Test?

Google Hotel Finder Experiment – A Peak at the Future of Local Search as Interactive Content

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.

Google Places: What Else Went Missing on the Places Page in the Update

Last week Google Places updated the display of the Places Page. In doing so they removed the review summaries, review snippets and 3rd party citations from the page. They removed a number of other fields from the Places display as well.

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
• Menu
• Reservations
• 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:

Hope this helps,


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.

Google AdWords Express Email Received by Boost Advertisers

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 and our Help Center, or contact 1-866-2-GOOGLE for further assistance.

The Google AdWords Express (formerly Boost) Team

© 2011 Google Inc. 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043

You have received this mandatory email service announcement to update you about important changes to your Google Places product or account.

© 2011 Google Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Google Places Work Around: We currently do not support the location

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.
Its URL should look like:[the numbered Place identifier]&hl=en&gl=US
3. Now enter any  content into the field below the line “Share an update on your place page” and hit the button Share” to publish the new content.

I have tested this recently with Andrew Baker whose Places Page was experiencing the problem. This solution may actually recover some of the listings that were edited during the Pending problem as well.

A hat tip and a huge thanks to EHG and Spinatmensch for solving this problem!