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:
Google has been in a pitched tussle with Yelp for quite some time. Google introduced reviews to local in 2007 and the fun began. Yelp reviews in Google, Yelp reviews out of Google, Yelp’s anger at Google’s use of their content, Google contrition, a large offer by Google and a failed buyout, Yelp reviews out of Google and in once again, more Yelp complaints… Google couldn’t seem to win but in typical Google fashion they kept plugging away. They weren’t giving up in the review arena.
Finally with the release of Hotpot last year and Google’s subsequent success in garnering ratings and reviews things started to change on the review front. Research was indicating that Google was making strides and soon Google stepped out and into the “we have lots of reviews game”. Yelp of course rose to the bait and insisted on engaging in the my review corpus is bigger than yours type posturing.
The changes yesterday in 3rd party review handling will change this review competition once again and tilt the playing field a little further towards Google in their battle with Yelp. While I don’t think the change should affect SMBs’ review management plans, it will do just that. Companies that saw their display count drop from 250 to 5 on the front page of Google will shift their efforts to regain an advantage. They will shift their review solicitation plans to refocus their client’s attention on Google.
Google has just gained an unwitting ally in their multi year battle with Yelp on the review front.
The Google Lat Long Blog has formally announced the changes to Places that we saw roll out earlier in the day with their normal happy talk:
Making constant tweaks and adjustments to our user interfaces and overall user experience have always been the norm at Google, and you may have recently heard about our renewed effort across all Google products to make the user experience more focused, elastic and effortless. Changes have already started to appear on Google Maps, and we’ve now simplified our Place pages across desktop and mobile devices as well.
But there was one thing that was unique in today’s post about the change that departed from the past. For the first time that I can remember Google has provided, even if guarded and vague, some clue about the future direction of Places:
Beyond today’s transition, our long-term vision for local search includes:
Bringing you more personalized results when you search for local places — because we understand that information from the people you know is most meaningful;
Integrating some of the great information that’s been buried on Place pages into your web search experience across all Google platforms;
Giving you more ways to rate, discover and share places you love faster and easier than ever, wherever you are, and on whichever device you choose.
I would be curious your interpretations and tea readings of the above… On what other platforms would Places data make sense? How many different ways can you write a review faster?
Google Places has once again “mixed it up” in the review arena. They are no longer showing the count for 3rd party reviews on the main search page and they are only displaying the count for Google reviews. They are still showing the link to the main 3rd party review sites on the main search results page but have removed the review snippets on all businesses except restaurants and hotels. Some businesses, Demand Force clients for example, will have seen a huge drop in the review count. You can bet that DF’s phones will be ringing of the hook with questions about the change.
On the Places page itself, Google is now highlighting with bold, bright red the option to leave a review, they no longer show 3rd party review snippets and the have pushed 3rd party review links well down the page and below the fold. And I for one will not miss the wildly weird review snippets that they often chose.
Google is clearly reducing their reliance on third party reviews and increasing the prominence of their own reviews. That is obvious and it makes sense from their self interested point of view now that they are garnering adequate volumes of reviews on their own.
Minimally it signals that Google thinks that they now have a large enough and useful review corpus that will provide consumers with a decent idea of the quality of the business they are looking at. Google will have more control and better insight over their reviews than those from other sites. It also seems to signal that they think that they are getting their review spam under control….although that remains to be seen.
This move will certainly change the relative importance and value of 3rd party review sites AND of 3rd party review management companies (like Demand Force) in the mix of things. The review sites and review providers will still have good links on the main search results page. That should mean that their traffic will not be negatively affected as most traffic likely comes from the main serps and significantly less from the Places Page. That being said I think this is a shot across their bows that all of them will hear. Review sites and review management companies alike will need to think about how it impacts their business plans.
In terms of Places rank and location prominence, it may reflect an update to the algo or perhaps signal a change of emphasis…. although that is much harder to say and much harder to track if that is in fact the case. If I were to be a betting man I might say that it signals less importance on total quantity of reviews but more on review site diversity and quality. But that is just a guess and is really nothing different than I would have said last week.
Does it mean you or your client should use just Google as a review platform? NO! Putting all of your eggs in one basket was short sighted and will continue to be. If you have a short memory it was but a few days ago that they managed to misplace many of their reviews and have done so regularly in the past.
It does though point out why any business should take a long term balanced approach to review management…. lots of sources; Google, Yelp, demand review sites, CitySearch, industry specific sites etc, It is always best to have a balanced portfolio as the winds could change. They have changed before and they will change again. Truth be told we don’t really know what the winds signify anyways. If you were only getting reviews from one source (like Demand Force) you really need to assess your practices and develop a plan to compliment their services. You should have been doing that already anyways.
You need to be where you clients are, you need to make it easy for the client to leave reviews, you need to feed Google’s algo the diversity it is looking for and you need to protect yourselves as best you can against the vagaries of a crazy industry.
And that means that you still need to be at Yelp and Trip Advisor and Citysearch and Yahoo and Google and where ever and will continue to need to do so.