Category Archives: Google Places (Maps & Local)

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

Google Plaque for Excellence: NOT


Google Plaque for Excellent FoodThis afternoon Rocky Agrawal tweeted out about this plaque he had noticed hanging in a restaurant. He (and I ) were completely fooled by the plaque and were convinced that it was really from Google. I even thought that perhaps it was an experiment on Google’s part to migrate away from Zagat signage.

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Rakesh Agrawal (@rakeshlobster)
Strange use of Google+ brand in local. pic.twitter.com/yXoN5ZGx

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It didn’t take Rocky but a few minutes to figure out that the SMB had paid $300 for this plaque. And you (or your customers) can buy one too from InTheSpotLight.com.

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Rakesh Agrawal (@rakeshlobster)
Looks like that plaque I posted was really a $300 ripoff of small businesses. inthespotlight.com/plaques.yahoo.… This is C+D worthy.

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I am not sure who I think less of in this situation, the restaurant that was trying to appear more than they really are by leveraging Google’s name and their review product or the company that soaked them $300 for the “privilege”. A restaurant or hotel can order a sign that touts their good standing with just about any review company including Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zagat, Frommers and many more.

When businesses that are looking for a quick fix deal with companies that are willing to accommodate them, the customer inevitably loses. And in this case so does Google, Yelp, all the other companies whose name can be put on the plaque and every one else in the local space.

Infographic: Citations – Time To Live


The local ecosystem is a complex web of interrelations with Google having positioned themselves at its center. Given this complexity, just how long does it take for data to move through the various parts before it makes it into Google’s index. And from the main index into their local index and the cluster of data they have about your business? Just why does fixing error or changing a listing detail at InfoUSA take so long to impact your Google listing?

David Mihm and I have been working on detailing the time it takes for any given citation creation to impact the Google cluster for your business.

Chart Explanation

Our goal is to provide a broad stroke as to the range of times it might take for citation data to show up in a desktop Google search. The ranges are estimates only based on our experience and do not reflect comprehensive empirical data. As such, you might find discrepancies with our assessment of any given citation tactic. That being said, we think that the information is broadly accurate and provides insights into the delays at various points in the local ecosystem.

Depending on where the data enters the system it can take more or less time to finally make it into Google’s cluster of data in their local index and depending on where it hits in any given cycle along the way it can make it there more or less quickly.

For example, in the case of Infogroup they might take 2 months cycle to vet a new listing and another month before the data is fed to one of their customers for display in a local directory. Thus the range of times, depending on when the data hits their cycle could be as long as 180 days before (blue) the time for it to first appear live on the web. Depending on the importance of the page and its visibility where that data is shown it might take anywhere from a day to sixty days for Google (orange) to include the data in their main search engine. From there Google then needs to re-build their local index and include the new citation data into the Google+ Local cluster (Green) which occurs every 4 to 6 weeks.

The circle thus represents an educated guess as to the average time to inclusion in the Google+ Local cluster for data that started at any given point.

Discussion

Historically, as I have noted previously, a listing that went through a list broker, onto a primary list supplier like InfoUSA and then off to Google had a number of time delays before it would hit paydirt in the business cluster in the Google local index. This data could, if it hit every cycle just wrong, take as long as 9 months from beginning to end.

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Asking for Reviews (Post Google Apocalypse)


Since Google started clamping down on review solicitation, particularly in the dental and auto dealer worlds, many businesses have expressed fear, dismay and discouragement about reviews in general and Google’s review policies in particular.

Comments like “At this point I am ready to give up and ask my customers to avoid Google and go to Yelp. it is not worth all of the brain damage. does anyone at Google care enough to help? or should I just move on?” or “I’m completely moving away from encouraging customers to leave reviews on Google.” were all too common in my post on Google’s newest “guidance” in the arena.

My suggestion? Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Google may be frustrating and they may be opaque but they are still generating 60-90% of your leads. Endorsements on the front page of a search result are still very valuable. The issue is finding a way to continue to get reviews around the internet, including Google. You may need to test a few tactics until you find one that works but it is worth the effort.

But you say: How can I possibly ask a customer to leave a review there if Google is going to throw it away and waste their time. I say: Tell you customers what to expect, give them choices and let them decide.

The reality is that you don’t need 10 reviews a week at Google. In fact you don’t need 10 reviews a month or a quarter there to succeed. Most businesses need to accrue one review every month or two so that at the end of 3 years you will have 30. You need to ultimately get more than 10 so you get Zagat rated and you need to stop fretting about how many you have there and how many you have lost. You need to keep putting one foot in front of another, keep gaining endorsements across the internet.  In the end if you run a good business and have loyal customers you will get your share of reviews at Google and elsewhere.

If you have had massive review take downs at Google you need to review your processes and procedures and acknowledge that what you were doing was not working and will not work. If you are a car dealer you need to stop spiffing your salesmen to hustle a customer over to an on-sight review work station. If you are a high volume dentist you may need to simply hand out a piece of paper explaining the review process rather than actively soliciting reviews of 20 clients a day via email. And if you were buying reviews or using a review service to enter comment cards well DUH!, time to stop. If you were helping folks sign up for a Google account, that probably needs to end as well.

So what is left for a business to do that wants to gather reviews? The same as has always been the case. Put in place a review process that gives customers lots of choice, generates reviews at a wide range of sites in addition to Google and is easy for your staff to implement. Keep it ethical, keep it simple and you will find that you get the enough reviews at Google and lots of reviews elsewhere.

Here is a sample email/letter that I have crafted for a client. It was written for a legal client but the logic of it can be used for any business. Continue reading

G+ Local URLs MIA


With the help of Annie & Lisa Kolb from Acorn, I became aware of a new bug affecting Google’s local index where the URL of the listng’s site and occasionally the telephone number are stripped from the search result and the G+ Page. The URL is replaced with the plus.google.com URL in the search results. It seems to strike listings that have been claimed via the dashboard as well as merged listings that have been verified via Google+.

The problem seems to reside in the final local index as there is no indication of the problem in the respective MapMaker records or the Places Dashboard. The problem is fairly widespread. Google has acknowledged and is aware of the problem and has started a thread to collect reports of the issue.

Here are some links that Acorn discovered in their research if you want to see other examples. Continue reading

Google+ Pages For Local – Known Bugs & Quirks After the G+ Local Merge


Vietnamese Giant Water Bug

The initial rollout allowing single location businesses to merge their G+Local page into the fully social G+ Page for local, while very limited, has surfaced very few bugs. The rollout which occurred on August 3rd has been smooth by Google standards for local but any time a company strives to “release early and often” there will be some.

Here is the list of known bugs, assembled with the help of the top contributors in the forum, to be on the watch out for. Most of these are non threatening but given the limited targeting of this rollout I strongly suggest that you be sure that your business is a good fit for merge. You should be a single location b & m business with both a G+ page and a Places/+Local Page, not be a service area business with hidden address and most importantly be sure that there are no duplicates or other issues with your existing listing.
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Will Citations Stop Being Effective for Local Optimization in the Future?


Darren Shaw, creator of the Local Citation Finder, recently asked me this great question (I seem to be getting a few of these lately) via email:

I’ve heard people talking about how citations might not be a valuable ranking factor in the future. What do you think? Will they stop being effective for local optimization in the future?

Google’s local search algo is a complex multivariate, bi-modal algorithm that is continually evolving.  Thus predicting the future for any Google process is likely a fool’s errand. That being said, I will take the bait.

It might be better to ask what is the role of citations  in the current state of affairs and given how it is interwoven into the algo how it is it likely to change.

Google works at scale. In the case of local search, world wide scale. Any local algo needs to account for the great variation in information available and yet still be able to effectively rank businesses in any given market based on some sort of virtual proxy for business prominence. This has always been the case with the local algo and that is not likely to change.

Imagine if you will what Google can learn about a shoemaker in Kazakhstan versus a famous restaurant in Paris. Or closer to home what Google can see about a single plumber with no website in Utica, NY versus the Plaza Hotel in NYC. One has some entries in the yellow pages and the other has thousands of reviews, links, a complex website with a ton of information and an entry on Wikipedia. On the one hand there is little more than a few citation references and the other there is a trove of online information that can be mined.

This data set does not just change across industries and regions but over time as well. Businesses that were not web savvy in 2005 when the basic local algo was released have become so now. The ranking system needs to be flexible enough to deal with these spatial and temporal changes.

When you read Google’s Location Prominence and Local Authority patents you see different types of citations mentioned; everything from a basic listing at a reputable site to a link on the brand name. And you also see that Google will mine whatever data is available whether they need to buy a list from InfoUSA or scrape a local directory.

In 2008 when a number of us explored correlation with ranking we found the impact of citations and reviews to diminish in importance as a ranking factor as we explored markets that were more competitive and had more web based data available. In 2012 we still see that a solid, consistent citations effort can effectively improve the standing of a listing.  But we also saw the rollout of Venice in 2012 where Google acknowledged that traditional web signals would play an increasing role in the ranking of local results.

The outcome of that? To be ranked in the top third of local results a business has to do well with both web prominence AND location prominence. But even now you can see pinned listings in the lower 2/3′d of the blended local results that have no effective web presence and whose ranking is predicated on location prominence and nothing more than a lot of citations.

The algo has been dynamic and adaptive. It is a mistake to view any single ranking factor in isolation from all the others that we know (and don’t know) about. Citations are playing less of a role now because Google is able to get more and more signals about many businesses in other ways NOT because it has diminished importance in the algo. But we are also seeing the introductions of new signals like web prominence.

Given that there will be situations like the plumber in Utica and the shoemaker in Kazakhstan for years to come, it seems likely that citations as we have known them will continue to play a role.

I think that near future will look very similar to the recent past. In those geographies, industries and markets where things are getting more competitive citations will have less of an impact in and of themselves on ranking. In those instances where signals are thin and there is little for Google to go on, they will continue to play a significant role. We need to view them as a variable in an ever changing landscape.

The question that was asked was very narrowly framed. The reality is that citations have never been a stand alone tactic but were always best approached as part of a broad, holistic plan to make a brand more prominent on the web. That too will likely remain the same for some time to come.

MapMaker Bots and What They Do


Google MapMaker has become a tremendous resource for cleaning up listings in G+ Local. While it can be incredibly confusing, it provides a window into the complete cluster data that Google has for a given listing, provides a detailed history of activities vis a vis that listing and allows for direct editing of it. The results typically show back up in the G+Local listing within days if not hours. But the product is buggy and very opaque.

One of the more arcane mysteries in MapMaker revolves around the many Google bots that work their way through the listings, often with disastrous results. The Regional Expert Reviewers at MapMaker, those high level volunteer editors with more power to approve edits, have assembled this GDoc MapMaker Bot List spreadsheet as a reference to the many bots that run wild in the MapMaker world. It’s a great resource for understanding some of the history of the listing and how certain changes came about.

Current Name & Profile Old Names Stats Date Released Short Description
Anonymous0148 1251 days , 16278 edits 4/13/09 Possible bot; may not be active anymore
Anonymous5784 841 days , 3614717 reviews 5/28/10 Approval bot; either approves an edit or adds a tag
Anonymous6288 561 days , 7160629 edits 3/4/11 Possible bot based on the number of edits
Anonymous6662 907 days , 9692721 edits 3/22/10 Places Import Bot; imports features from other databases if it’s not in the Map Maker database at the time of editing
Google Automated Deactivated Accounts Deactivated Map Maker Account(changed Sept 2012), Google Automated Wipeout (changed Aug 2012) 398 days 8/14/11 When a Google account is deactivated, all edits made using that account are attributed to this profile. ** Not Technically a Bot **
Google Automated Address Fixer 1 521 days , 1486 edits 4/13/11
Google Automated Bounds Fixer 77 days 6/30/12
Google Automated Cleaner 2 1550 days , 117557 edits 6/17/08
Google Automated Flyover Fixer 577 days , 207 edits, 2 reviews 2/16/11
Google Automated Reconciler 3 Map Maker Syncer (changed 8/23/2012) 64 days 7/13/12
Google Automated Reconciler 4 Map Maker Instant Syncer (changed 8/23/2012) 24 days 8/22/12
Map Buildings 192 days , 20 edits 3/7/12 Adds the height to buildings
Map Maker Revert 878 days , 7673953 edits 4/21/10

Google Plus Now Allows Videos on Merged G+ Pages for Local


The ability to upload videos to your G+ Local listing via the Places Dashboard has long been broken and the feature was missing on the merged G+ Pages for Local. I am not quite sure when this happened but you now can upload videos if you have a (re)verified G+Page for Local. As reader Julie Larson from Divas Mobile Solutions pointed out to me, the feature is isolated to G+ and doesn’t allow for easily integrating YouTube channels into to your profile but with drag and drop it does allow for bulk video uploads. And more importantly the feature seems to just work.

The interface is simple, the uploads moved along quickly and I was able to upload both WMV and FLV files simultaneously. The uploads can be easily shared on G+ as well. You can see the results on Barbara Oliver & Co. Jewelry’s merged G+ Page.

Continue reading

Can a Citation Campaign Cause a Drop in Google Local Rankings?


A customer of ours sent us a question about citations. They have been building citations recently and cleaning up NAP inconsistencies. But they have seen a significant drop in rankings.

I’ve never heard of ‘good’ citation building having a negative effect on rankings – have you?

Also what’s your theory on speed of building citations and if you build too rapidly do you see Google treating this similarly to building links too quickly?


These are  great questions because they touch on virtually every aspect of local ranking and logical thinking.  Rather than just reply via email I decided to respond publicly so that all could join the discussion. Can a citation building campaign have a negative effect on rankings? Can you build citations too fast? The short answer is NO. For the longer answer read on.

As is often said in the SEO field (to the point of cliche) correlation is NOT causation. Certainly correlation of a good data set to certain events can lead to more understanding of a situation but a single instance is a particularly weak data set. Humans have a tendency to see patterns and relationships where none exist. Search involves a particularly complex set of variables many of which we don’t even know.  Continue reading

Google on Reviews: Asking for them is OK, Soliciting them is BAD


Los-Angeles-Enacts-New-Prostitution-Solicitation-LawWhat is the difference between asking for reviews and soliciting them? It seems that a number of SMBS have discovered that one leads to jail time.

Google has been throwing out reviews left and right of late. This is not a bug but the outcome of a newly aggressive review spam filter. The forums were rife with complaints from businesses about lost reviews and from individuals whose reviews would not post. In a consolidated thread Google indicated that most of the reports were a function of the new algorithm and not a function of the problems that had caused lost reviews in the past. Here are Googler Jade’s comments over the course of the post that provide some (albeit confused) insights into Google’s thinking:

Aug 6: Hey guys — popping in to say that we’re investigating. Thanks for the reports.

Aug 15: Still looking into this, guys. Soliciting reviews is suspect behavior for our systems, so please please please make sure your reviews are legitimate and left by your customers of their own accord.

Aug 15: Well, first — mobile reviewing can only be done through: Google Maps or Google+ for Android, or, Google+ Local app on iOS. (Visiting the page on a browser on mobile does not work!)

The technical issues for reviews still exist — those are more common in my experience with pages that have had duplicate or merging issues in the past. The majority of the reviews cases that I have investigated from the forum and other channels are reviews being taken down for suspicious reviewing behavior.

Aug 16: “Soliciting reviews is suspect behavior for our systems.”

What I mean by this is — it’s fine if you reach out to customers to ask them to review, but I do not recommend that you do this in waves. If you want to reach out to legit customers and ask them to review, I recommend you contact them immediately after you have done business with them.

Aug 16: Well, think about it this way — in our ideas, the “ideal” review is by a customer who writes a review of a place completely by his or her own accord, on mobile during the experience or at home after. This would mimic the regular flow of the business.

On the other hand, some SEO companies that resort to spam reviews to deliver “results” would exhibit different behavior.

It’s a system that we are constantly trying to improve, but for now, this is what I can say to try and help. I really don’t want legit businesses with legit reviews to get caught, so this is our effort. I can’t provide specific numbers (and in fact don’t know them).

If the above seems less than clear, that is because it is. Google, in their inimitable fashion, seems content to roll out a new, much more aggressive change in their review spam algo that seems to nuke reviews bad and good and then communicate little, late and in a less than helpful way. Mitigating review spam is good but Google does so while hiding behind an impenetrable cloak that purports to hide the inner workings of their algo. That is a formula for disaster. Google has, over the past few years, been schizophrenic about reviews. It was only last December when Google publicly stated at one of their Get Your Business Online training sessions that that it was OK to use review stations. Now it appears that review stations and many other practices seem to trigger review take downs.

I think strictly enforced and clearly articulated standards are great in the review arena. The constantly shifting sands of Google’s secret policies are not.