Category Archives: Google Places (Maps & Local)

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

Suspension and Reinclusion on social G+ Local Pages

This is a good news bad news Google story. At least there is some good news.

The good news? It appears that Google has dramatically improved the messaging around a listing suspension on a merged social G+ Local listing and is offering a direct link to a reinclusion request within the context of the suspension notice on the local Google+ page. No more hunting around trying to figure out whats next.

The bad news? There are an increasing number of suspensions in the social G+Local environment and there are now TWO sets of rules (the Google G+ Local Places (?) Quality Guidelines & the User Content & Conduct Policy) that a business needs to comply with to be sure that the listing is in compliance. It isn’t always clear which guideline has been violated either. I suspect that language use that a lawyer might view as categorical, the algo views as inappropriate (ie drug cases or DUI).

Update 1:30 pm: More good news. This particular client that requested reinclusion yesterday, heard back already that they were accepted. Good that they heard so quickly and good that the news was positive. It makes me think that an algo has been unleashed that might be overly aggressive.

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Click to see the reinclusion request form:
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Yelp: Real People. Real Reviews. Deceptive Sales Tactics.

deceptive-yelpIn my talks, I have often said that Google is the print Yellow Pages for the new millennium. But as Rocky Argawal has pointed out that title really falls to Yelp. He has noted that Yelp, in charging some local advertisers $600 per 1,000 impressions,  “despite ostensibly being an Internet company, [their] business model is closer to that of yellow pages companies: sell a questionable value proposition to many who don’t understand what they’re buying. 

It is not just their pricing model that mirrors the old yellow page companies but their selling techniques as well. I was recently pitched by them on behalf of a client. The sales person I dealt with, like the well trained ATT Yellow Page salesman of yore, was well spoken, persistent, organized and supremely confident in the product. The sales person would set up an appointment, call to me remind about the appointment, call to double check I would make the appointment and then remind me that I had missed it. It was if he was channeling my yellow page salesman of 30 years ago.

The pitch was persuasive and well organized trending strongly towards the hard sell and not the least bit consultative. The sales rep provided a list of 5 links referenced during the phone call that built the case from the top down that Yelp is the leading online directory, that they uniquely understand the internet and that you as a business person can only ignore them at your own peril. Hey if Steve Jobs says they are important who are you to disagree? You are asked to affirm these points along the way as they make the final point that their advertising makes sense. If you agreed to all that went before you can’t very well disagree on that one, final eensy weensy point.

The problem? Like the Yellow Pages, Yelp uses FUD (fear, uncertainty & doubt) and more than a little slight of hand to make their point.

  • When asked about ROI they respond that since your average selling price is $x then it will only take one sale to make this pay (yea right).
  • When asked about conversion tracking and analytics you are are told how good their dashboard showing impressions is.
  • When they are going for the close they point out that by taking out an ad you guarantee that your competitor’s ad will not show up on your listing. What SMB can refuse charging that red flag?
  • When asked if they had an offering that required less than a 12 month, the rep noted that yes but the best returns occur in month ten (hmm I wonder why that is?).
  • But the biggest slight of hand is their use of Google Trends to “prove” that they are the leading online business directory

This last bullet actually moved the pitch from slight of hand directly into the art of deception. And it was the foundational first point for the whole sales pitch. To demonstrate Yelp’s prominence they compared the searches on the term Yelp in the Buffalo market to searches for a number of online business directories. Here is the chart from Google Trends that “proves” Yelp  is the leading local opportunity for SMBs:

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When I asked again because I wasn’t sure that I had heard the sales person correctly the rep said: “This [Google] trends chart is a measure of the popularity of directories, which directory is used the most. It shows that Yelp is the most popular online directory.

Claiming that the number of searches on Google for “Yelp Local” is a reasonable metric to assess importance of Yelp is, as Rocky pointed out, obviously preying on the uninformed. And who, pray tell, would be searching for “Google Places” on Google? Using Google Trends to graphically portray absolute traffic and market dominance is the ultimate in misleading sales tactics as it demonstrates nothing of the kind. I doubt that one in a thousand SMBs would catch Yelp at their effort to close at any cost.

The question of whether their pricing model ultimately succeeds is up in the air but I can say that these tactics, like their use in the era of the Yellow Pages, will come back to haunt them.

Here are the reference links that the provided for their sales call:

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Google Local: Improved Messaging on Moved Businesses Now Showing

Starting in December Google started rolling out improved instructions & listing messaging on pages for businesses that Google knew had moved locations. Instead of stating that the business was closed Google will, if proper procedure is followed, indicate that a business has relocated. This new messaging is starting to appear in the wild. While still not perfect and the moving process is still too complicated, it is an improvement.

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Here are the instructions to mark a place as moved:

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Google+ Local Now Suggests Places to Review Based on Your Search History

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.Screen Shot 2013-01-18 at 5.21.18 PM

 

Loci 2012 – Nyagoslav Zhekov

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.

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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.

Awakening

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.

Google: Review Contests Violate Guidelines

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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).  Continue reading

Google Dashboard: Most New Listings Go Pending – For How Long?

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.

screenshot-google-places-verification-2 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. Continue reading

Is the Google+ Local Dashboard Moving Towards a Freemium Model?

That Google has finally added some semblance of human support to G+ Local raises a number  of questions that are still unanswered:

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  • 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:

  • Why now?

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.