January 19, 2013
Google may no longer allow SMBs to run client contests for money or charity to gather reviews. That doesn’t slow Google down from encouraging G+ Local users from leaving more reviews by digging into a users search history.
The Google Plus Daily noted several days ago that Google+ Local Now Suggests Places to Review. Google is using your search history and checkins to inform the nag.
Clearly Google is exploring one more way to “close the search to sale loop” and determine when a searcher actually makes a purchase. When you combine this with Offers, Check-Ins, Driving Dirctions, Wallet, Zavers (Coupons), various iPhone apps and the use of Android, Google is clearly going to triangulate their way to conversion information if they can’t get it directly and they are obviously looking across all of their software to find it.
January 17, 2013
Adam Dorfman is an interactive marketing professional with over 15 years experience in all facets of online marketing including local & organic search, pay per click, paid inclusion, email, XML driven advertising, mobile advertising, social networking, content creation, analytics, usability and offline integration as well as web development, hosting, networking and project management.
He currently oversees the Velocity platform at SIM Partners – a SaaS solution that empowers national brands to maximize Social, Local Search, and Mobile at the location level through automation and scalability.
Clearly, the biggest news in local search for 2012 was Google’s shift to Google+ Local. While Google Places was still a mess when they made the switch, it feels like the issues we had managing listings for local businesses there paled in comparison to Google+ Local. Google has made some very recent efforts into amending some of the problems, but Google+ Local is still much more difficult to get right than Google Places ever was.
As huge as that news was, there was so much more that happened with Google in 2012. From the still under-reported Venice Update to their integration and pull back of Zagat review formatting to removing AdWords Express from Places prior to the Google+ Local release, it seems that Google+ Local is receiving more attention and resources than ever before.
Apple’s foray into local search was also big news in 2012. When Apple dropped Google Maps as the native iOS mapping application and replaced it with their own, they received a lot of attention from both inside and outside the industry. The move highlighted the importance of map software and local information to people outside of the industry (plenty of my colleagues friends and family were asking about it).
When Apple rolled out their own mapping application, there was a lot of public criticism of Apple’s software, many suggesting it was subpar to Google’s . Not only did Apple end up highlighting the importance of this market to the general public, but also showed their vulnerability with the (perceived) failure of Apple Maps, to the extent that Tim Cook released a public apology for the application. In the end, Apple ended up making Google look like the better software developer and trusted source for local and map based information.
Outside of Google & Apple, here are some news and trends that caught my attention as something that will have a noticeable impact on our space moving forward.
- Marissa Mayer becoming the new CEO of Yahoo.
- National brands seeing the importance of having a hyperlocal strategy.
- The continued shift of local being driven by mobile usage.
- This is larger than local but the increasing complexities when it comes to creating, optimizing and managing paid, earned and owned media has made competing with national brands harder than ever for SMBs.
- David Mihm joining the SEOmoz team. Speaking of David, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a link to David’s yearly Local Search Ranking Factors survey or the Local Search Ecosystem. While not “news” at this point, they are still the two pieces of content I visit most frequently for reference purposes.
- The focus on bolstering international offerings by Yelp as well as them working to increase the amount of places their data is being syndicated to.
Thanks to Mike for keeping us in the space up to speed on the endless changes going on with Google+ Local. It’s been a whirlwind of a year and I suspect that 2013 will be no different.
January 15, 2013
Nyagoslav Zhekov is a 20 something Bulgarian that owns and operates NGS Marketing. He has spoken at SMX West, is a guest author for SearchEnginePeople.com and elsewhere. When he isn’t answering questions on the Google and Your Business Forum, where he is a Top Contributor, and Quora you might find him playing (European) football with his teammates from Absolut AFC (Varna) or traveling with his wife Jenny.
Wherever or whatever he has a passion and integrity about local and has become a student of the craft. Read along with him on his journey of self discovery about the realities of business.
I am relatively new to the online world, having used the Internet for the first time just about 7 years ago. That was long after Google has established itself as the dominant search engine and I was hearing everywhere how cool it was and how the team behind it was strictly obeying to their “Don’t be evil” creed. Probably that is why when I started doing what I do for a living I was observing Google’s actions from a somewhat romantic and idealistic point of view. To my greatest disappointment, this grandiose image was gradually demolished by no other but Google themselves.
One point I feel I should make before sharing my thoughts is that I am not really a fan of conspiracy theories. However, there are so many details involved that it would be hard even for the greatest conspiracy skeptic to deny them.
My “awakening” began in the summer of 2011 with Google removing the images that were previously “attached” to each Google Places result in the organic SERPs. It didn’t make much sense and they didn’t give any proper explanation why they made this move. A little later, in October of the same year, the Googlers decided to change the red balloon markers that were previously found next to each Places result, with grey ones. Again – no logical explanation. In January 2012, they “reduced” the number of local listings that were showing in the local SERPs, a phenomenon that was observed across a wide array of verticals and locales. And that is when I started questioning myself – why?
The following events gave a relatively clear answer to my wondering. In the end of January (early February), the Venice algorithm update was rolled out, which could have been one of the potential reasons for “blended” Places SERPs to replace the “packs” almost everywhere. In February, the web descriptions disappeared in the blended SERPs. In June, the golden stars that could have previously been achieved if you have 5 or more reviews on your Places listing, were replaced by numbers, but only in the organic results, not in the paid ones. All of these changes made it clear that Google understood that the local listings had too great of an influence on the user’s click-through decision making and they were trying to reduce the “eye magnetism” in every way possible. At the same time they were pitching paid advertising and potentially developing a “marketing portal” targeted predominantly at small businesses. There is nothing bad, you would say, in a corporation trying to increase its profit. And I agree, but just partly. There are two main problems:
1. It would be a conflict of interest if Google starts prioritizing its own paid products. Oh, wait, they are doing this right now, openly and not so much.
2. It means that Google is ready to sacrifice part of the usefulness (removing images and descriptions) and relevance of the organic search results (reducing the number of listing results) in order to prioritize the paid results.
The Bright Light at the End of the Tunnel
Hope for improvement, as frequently happens in economics, comes from the competition. And there is not as much hope to see the competitors coming up with something better, but rather hope for competitors to come at least a little closer to Google in order for them to feel threatened. And fortunately, there was a lot of action in the world of “local” apart from Google. The biggest news came from Apple, but in my opinion it was Yelp who was the most active. Facebook launched Nearby, and Nokia – Here. There are also hopes that the new CEO of Yahoo – Marissa Mayer, will move the things around local inside the lethargic behemoth.
Let’s hope 2013 will show us some signs of Google returning to its roots of non-evil-doing.
January 14, 2013
There had long been some ambiguity & contradictions around whether the Google Review guidelines prevented a business from having a contest or raffle to encourage customers to leave reviews. No more. Google has finally stated that drawings that involve incentives are not allowed.
In response to a report in the forums of a contest that had a drawing for the chance of a refund for the value of work done in return for a review (either positive or negative), Googler Jade said: Just clarifying that it is against our reviews guidelines to trade money for reviews, so, yes, this sort of solicitation would be against the reviews guidelines. You can see the rules for the contest in question here & here.
Given that Google themselves have had these sorts of contests in the past it was often thought that as long as a given review was not incented AND there was no pressure for a positive review that a business could have a monthly drawing. Even after Google rewrote the guidelines in February of 2011 to include the phrasing: For instance, do not offer or accept money or product to write positive reviews about a business, or to write negative reviews about a competitor, it was unclear whether a drawing that did not have a quid pro quo for a positive review might pass muster. Matt McGee felt that there was additional clarification needed. And Nyagoslav, after reviewing newly minted Places guidelines on promotions in May of 2012, noted that while there was ambiguity, it was probably ok to have a drawing as long as you didn’t ask for positive reviews. I agreed with his interpretation.
Somewhere along the line the word positive was removed and they now say: Don’t offer money or product to others to write reviews for your business or write negative reviews about a competitor. A subtle change yes but it appears that Google finally has made clear that these sorts of contests and drawings are verboten. Whether the new written guideline is still clear enough is another matter. I would suggest that while the rules are getting clearer, like in February 2011 and May 2012, there is still room for clarification vis a vis these sorts of activities so that there is no mistake. This is particularly true given the long back story.
Here is a history or the guideline as it changed over time (relevant sentence in bold italics). (more…)
January 13, 2013
It appears that most newly created listings in the
Local Business Center (LBC) Google Places for Business Dashboard the DASHBOARD are now immediately going to a pending state.
Like with all Google messaging this has a certain Kafaesque quality to it. The other day Barry Schwartz reported it out as a verification delay which while that may be occurring is not actually what is happening. Verification is still happening. But as soon as the pin is entered the “pending” message occurs.
Googler Jade) noted here on Jan 3: I think that the “Pending” message is due to an expected delay in the updating of dashboards we are experiencing right now.
She noted in a post on Jan 8: We were experiencing longer delays than usual at the end of 2012 and this page may have been affected.
Is it just a delay in the dashboard messaging or is it more significant than that? Is a listing that shows pending having any other issues than the message? Will it likely show up in the index? How long can we expect to see the pending message? Is it a delay in updating the Dashboard message or does it reflect the possibility of a new process or perhaps listing going into limbo for an inordinate amount of time?
It is probably all of that. While the pending message has been around for a while it has never really appeared instantaneously on all newly claimed listings immediately after entering your verification number. Minimally that is new. And appears to be a new level of review (not a bug).
I think Linda Boquet has it right (or very close) when she says: My assumption is if you can find it live, it’s just delayed messaging. If you CAN’T find it live and it’s more than a week since verification, then it may have been pulled for actual review.
I would add that if the Google review finds problems the pending state can last for an eternity with no feedback from Google. (more…)
January 9, 2013
That Google has finally added some semblance of human support to G+ Local raises a number of questions that are still unanswered:
- Is it worldwide or US only?
- Can agencies call in on behalf of their clients?
- Will it be extended beyond the verification process to other aspects and problems that occur with Google+Local like merges?
But an even bigger question for me is:
Google has always known of the unsatisfied demand for phone service that existed in their local product, why add phone support now? As far back as Maps Guide Jen, Google has always said that local was a free product (free my ass..free as in you only pay with data, suffering, time and eyeballs) and that free Google products did not receive phone support.
My speculation: A revived dashboard will include numerous paid products that will be able to be used as upsells during a “support” call. Google is likely moving toward a freemium model of local where the basic service is free but many of the add ons that will offer highly visibility will have a fee associated with them.
The G+ Dashboard for Business has been in a state of “under construction” disarray for many, many months. Yet as I noted in Google Local: Train Wreck at the Junction:
…the product sports a renewed Offers interface, an upgraded Adwords Express AND a recently rebuilt bulk upload interface. The dashboard is account based rather than individual based. Certainly that is a superior solution for a multi-location brand yet it is steadfastly single user. It is the ultimate contradiction and any attempt at reading the tea leaves as to its future gives one a serious case of heartburn. But given the fact that parts of the product HAVE been upgraded its hard to conclude that it is in fact going away.
You can’t very well sell Offers, Adwords Express and who knows what future products if the business can’t get their listing verified. And Google already has an SMB support team in place for AdWords Express. It is a trivial task to cross train them to a new Dashboard (that works).
Just the other day, Google increased the visibility of Offers by surfacing them in Google+ Local search results. The product has long carried the caveat that “it’s free, for you during a limited-time trial period”.
Last June, the Wall Street Journal noted about the “coming” replacement for the dashboard that
The project combines several products and services aimed at small businesses under a single banner. It is based on a mix of internally developed software and recently acquired technologies that the company hopes eventually will bring in billions of dollars a year in new revenue.
American business is not known for its altruism. Google is no exception and as a market leader is under huge pressures to increase revenues. With somewhere north of 8 million businesses registered in the dashboard they have a huge opportunity for monetization in local like no other.
While it is extraordinary that Google is implementing human support for local after many long years of having absolutely none, I think this move is part and parcel of a grander strategy to monetize their Local product as they upgrade and enhance the Dashboard.
January 8, 2013
Update 10:00 pm: Google has confirmed that this is a permanent feature.
Update 01/09/12 11:09 am: Google has confirmed that phone support is US- only and just English at this point if an agency is managing the listing, they should be able to get support.
Google+ Local had a rough 2012. But it appears that at the start of 2013 there has been at least one upgrade that is worth shouting about (here’s hoping its permanent).
Google is actually providing phone support when a business runs into verification issues.
Just to be sure that you read that correctly, I will repeat it:
Google is actually providing phone support when a business runs into verification issues. And not just phone support but support that is staffed (at least currently) by US based, English speaking personnel.
To initiate a call in go to the Google Places for Business I’m having a problem verifiying my listing(s) troubleshooter and select the option “I tried PIN verification for a single listing” and indicate that you asked for a postcard and have waited the requisite 15 days. At the bottom of the form you will a link to “Please either call us or complete the following form:”
When you select the call us option you are taken to a call back form. I tested it to see if it was actually working and within 10 seconds of filling it out Google rang me up, an automated attendant asked me to press one for support and Darrel answered. He said when I asked: “This line is primarily to provide support for verification issues”. I would suggest that this quote should be filed along with Neil Armstrong’s “One small step” quote if not for its eloquence at least for its significance.
After I picked my jaw up from the floor I thanked him and let him go on with his day. Needless to say I was shocked.
Plamen Barzev alerted me to the existence of a local listing display that includes a video. The display showed for the search term plumbing charleston sc on the listing for Tamsberg Plumbing. Their site is a single page site done by Localedge.
Whether this is a test or a new display type is unclear. When you look at the underlying code and compare the video listing (C) with the B listing you can see that Google is using a different display class. When you examine the underlying HTML most of the listings share a class of “g”, the video listing however shows a class of “g videobox”. Why it is missing the address and pin though is unclear.
December 19, 2012
NOTE: The article is outdated.
Update 10/3/2013: The relationship between the social page and the new dashboard is different and Google’s rules about how they handle businesses with hidden addresses are different.
If the social + page is associated with a new dashboard listing, deleting the social page will delete the listing.
If you have a listing that was at one time suspended for not hiding the address then you need to call Google support and have them deal with it.
From the rollout of the G+ Local Social merge and bugs showing up when service area businesses attempted to hide their address, Google has said that service area businesses (SABs) should NOT merge their Places listing with their G+ social page. Well, some SABs did not get the message (big surprise eh?) and the question is what should they do now. The answer: Delete the Merged page and rely solely on the dashboard to manage the listing.
Google posted this sticky in the forums:
Are you a Service Area Business (SAB) that has created and verified/merged a social local Google+ page for your business? Read on!
If you do not accept customers at your location, then your address should be hidden. At this time, Google+ currently does not support hidden addresses. You should delete your social local Google+ page from within Google+ (Click on Pages on the ribbon on the left, go to the Settings of your page, and scroll to the bottom and click Delete page).
Don’t worry! You can still manage your business’ presence on Google. Here’s how:
- If you’re a verified business owner in Google Places for Business…
- Manage the listing via the Google Places for Business dashboard. Be sure to hide your address.
- If not, but a listing for your business exists…
- Find the listing for your business and become a verified business owner by clicking on Manage this page on the right-hand side.
- Then, manage the page via the Google Places for Business dashboard
- If no listing for your business exists…
We’ll share updates with you on this thread when we have them.
December 12, 2012
Google has just updated the review content guidelines to explicitly prohibit review stations AND employee reviews.
The changes to the policy are noted in italics:
For instance, as a business owner or employee you should not review your own business or current place of work. Don’t offer money or product to others to write reviews for your business or write negative reviews about a competitor. We also discourage specialized review stations or kiosks set up at your place of business for the sole purpose of soliciting reviews.