Now that MapMaker is back online, I wanted to understand the recent changes to MapMaker in the bigger context, how the changes related to the Places for Business Dashboard, the G+ Pages for Local and when it still makes sense to use MapMaker.
I asked Dan Austin to write up his understanding of the changes from the top down and to “school” me. That he did. This article is chock full of useful information so print it out and read it while your relatives are watching football games tomorrow. You will be glad you did.
Recently, with this announcement, Google Map Maker embarked on a project to move their databases into one Maps database, shared by multiple services. Previously, each service (and this is by no means an exhaustive list, just what is publicly facing), including MM (Map Maker), Maps, Google+, and the Dashboard, all ran separate databases, and it was the job of the various sync bots to carry over changes from one database to the next, which they did not always do successfully. While it’s not clear as to how the databases have been integrated, for most changes to the base Maps data, there is now one database that holds these change, and the various UI (user interface) can make visible and affect the data in specific ways, according to the limitations of that particular product. It’s now more appropriate to view the various Maps UI as skins on top of the base Maps data, with various user limitations that control what can be changed. Google still retains much more sophisticated tools to manipulate the data, which, of course, are not publicly available.
Over the long term, as is the case across a lot of Google products (especially with Google+ and a single sign-on and commenting system, most recently seen on YouTube), Google has been working toward adopting a more integrated user interface, to ensure the consistency of user experience and the data they’re attempting to present on Google Maps. To this end, Google has adopted a MM-lite UI for Google+ Edit Details (aka Maps Report a problem), and has slowly been deprecating features on MM that previously gave MM editors discretion as to the popularity and accuracy of geo data. Those options, through lack of use, a misunderstanding as to how features should be presented, and/or a decision by Google to trust their own algorithms, internal processes, and the accuracy of the data as it’s now viewed, are now gone from MM. What we’re left with is a much more simplified MM UI, and we’ll explore some of the changes that might affect SEO operators who work from MM.
Google has announced on the Google and Your Business blog today that they have rolled out what appears to be the mother of all review monitoring systems today.
The system, a new module for the updated Places for Business Dashboard, not only shows Google based reviews to dashboard owners and managers, it shows every review that Google has found from the thousands of review sites that it indexes. In addition Google is providing review analytic reports for both the volume and rating stats of reviews from Google and across the web.
Google has also integrated the owner review response option directly into the dashboard and will now be showing those responses in the review panel on the front page of serps
Other Items of Interest
The rollout is global and will be available by days end to all new Dashboard users
The reviews from around the web are presented in snippet form
Yelp reviews are not included in the reviews from around the web view
Reviews can be seen and responded to by both account owners AND managers
The ability to respond in dashboard is limited to businesses with a fully social Plus page.
The functionality has not been added to the mobile version of the Places Dashboard for Android
There is no ability for a business owner to flag a review as inappropriate from within the dashboard. He/she must still visit the About page for the business to flag reviews.
There is currently no active feedback alerting the SMB to new reviews
There is no ability to limit whether a manager has access to provide responses or not.
No enterprise abilities to rollup reports across locations
Help Files - the updated Google Places Help Files covering this product:
For the first time since the dashboard was created Google is providing small business owners and their managers a reason to return to the dashboard periodically. The ability to monitor reviews from both Google and around the web, easily respond to the those reviews and quickly access those on other sites are all features that leverages Google’s strengths and provides a basis for Google engaging with more SMBs on a regular basis. Products of similar ilk have cost SMBs from $30 to $200 a month.
The rollout, one in a string of several recent upgrades to the new dashboard, indicates that not only is Google able and committed to adding new functionality to the dashboard on an ongoing basis, it signals that they are prepared to provide significant ongoing value in doing so.
The Places Dashboard has long been a once and done experience for SMBs. The analytics were the only reason for regular visits. These analytics have been less than inspiring and often didn’t function leaving SMBs baffled and frustrated. Once a listing had been claimed and photos added there was little reason for a business to revisit the dashboard. The addition of social functionality, now provided automatically with every new claim, doesn’t occur from within the dashboard and while it might increase engagement for some SMBs it is not appropriate for all. Reviews are important to a much broader swath of the market.
A reader pointed out to me that Google themselves do not seem to think that local Google + Pages for Business are all that important as they have not upgraded their page to social. They in fact have not even claimed the page as of yet. Certainly no consumption of their own dog food there.
He also points out that equally interesting is that the “profile photo” was a community contributed photo…a political protest photo at that, posted by Brad Johnson. Brad is a political activist who has been critical of Google’s climate change efforts in general and specifically critical of Google corporate moves that support climate change deniers.
The use of Google Maps as a platform for political commentary is not new with reports from as far back as 2008. I have myself occasionally used these tools to make a point.
Google has long relied on the power of the group as a low cost way to get things right in the world of Mapping. While there was a certain democratic populism that informed many of Google’s early decisions to open up their tools and business listings for users to edit there was also a clear economic rationale. It is interesting to observe the tension that exists between policy that allows for community edits and the needs of Google as a corporation where they have to explain to corporate advertisers why their + Page is littered with reviews from protesters.
Despite the fact that I often sympathize with the messages of these protesters, I have never felt that small businesses were served by Google’s loose policies in these areas. In this case, the user simply uploaded a photo, in the absence of corporate ones, that the algo seems to think is good. No little irony in that.
Early this week Google updated the layout of the G+ Pages. They also updated the imagery and maps at the top of the pages moving away from the ever slithering image that continually changed in size to one that was relatively stable. They simultaneously moved the details about business location to the area to the left of the image.
Some notes about the image
The aspect ratio of the cover photo is not changing. It’s still 16:9.
The size of the cover photo shown depends on the browser width.
According to Google the entire cover photo is shown unhidden on > 95% of desktop displays.
When part of the photo is hidden, it is roughly hiding 10% of the length of the photo from each side of the photo
The actual image display size ranges on the desktop from 519 x 294 pixels to 1081 x 608 pixels. The text area to the left adjusts both the width of the area and the font size as the screen width increases
The navigation bar is now below the cover photo on the desktop (but not on mobile phones).
No changes to the mobile design.
Here are some notes about the cover image that might not be obvious at first glance:
When the image is cropped at certain screen sizes roughly 10% of the image content is lost from each side of the image.
The intent of the change was that all current cover photos will work with the new design however if you were an early adopter of the +Page and retained the thin image from prior to May, 2103 it will now be bordered on both top and bottom to fill the space. It works but it is ugly and will motivate you to replace it.
Consider how your current cover photo will render in this new design. When a user navigates to your Page, they will see the entire or most of the entire cover photo image.
If you choose to upload a new cover photo, make sure it has a 16×9 aspect ratio with a minimum upload size of 480px x 270px. Maximum pixel size is still 2120 x 1192 but the largest actual image that I found displayed was 1081 x 608 pixels so really anything larger than that will do. Note that I was only able to test up to a screen width of 3200 pixels so the image might get still get larger in very limited circumstances.
Given that on certain display sizes the left and right edges are trimmed by about 10% each be sure that there is no critical content in the edge areas
On a Nexus 4 the image shows at full width. However on an iPhone the smaller cropped image is shown and on the 5s a small portion at the very top of the image is not visible in the Google Plus app so you probably do not want any critical detail at the very top of the image.
I have seen some very nice examples of cover images where smaller images were imbedded in the larger image. They looked great on the desktop but due to the small size of the embeds they did not resolve well on mobile screens. Be sure to check your cover photo on those smaller screens as well.
Note that the dashboard profile photo, still round, will reside with above the name and address block when the page is displaying 2 columns or more.
When the display is a single column and on mobile phones the profile image will be centered on the middle bottom of the cover image. Half of the profile image is above and half below the bottom of the cover image. This image will be 123 x 123 pixels. Not enough pixels to resolve any amount of detail so keep the image close and simple.
When the display is in two column mode, the profile image is displayed at 71 pixels allowing for even less detail but returns to 123 pixels when the display is wider in 2 column mode and in 3 column mode.
Here is a table that delineates the changes to the image at different desktop screen sizes: (more…)
There has been some conversation and consternation (free membership required) of late when Google seemingly arbitrarily replaces a business owner selected profile photo in the main search results knowledge panel or carousel with a different photo perhaps provided by a third party. Like all things in local its not random. It’s the algo. And like all things in local, you, as the business owner, are only able to suggest but not control what is displayed.
Choice of the profile photo, like everything Google does, is not dictated by random chance but by an algo. Their image processing algos have gotten very sophisticated and they are implemented in this situation to show the images on the front page that Google prefers and that they think provide the “best customer experience”.
We do not know much about this selection algo yet but we do know a few things about how the image is selected.
Preference appears to be given to the listing owner, Trusted Professionals, 3rd party photos in that order.
If the Listing owner has selected a photo via the setting “profile photo” in the dashboard Google will generally use that UNLESS it doesn’t like the photo for reasons defined by the logic of the algo.
One known and lightly documented “dislike” is logos. Google seems to think that logos do not offer a good user experience on their front page and frequently will choose something else if a logo is identified as the “profile photo”. You can read Jade’s comment about logos here. This predilection was confirmed in other conversations at LocalU in NY.
But anecdotal experience would indicate that the preferences of the algo goes beyond just nixing logos. For example Google seems to prefer exterior shots (this makes some sense since they are coming from a mapping background). See this search: restaurants utica ny. Perhaps exterior photos are the only ones Google can find but I have seen this in other searches as well.
My suggestion for being sure that your photos are the ones used? Provide high quality images with a range of internal AND external shots of your business. Include both people and product shots. Pick the one you prefer (not the logo) as the profile photo and hope that Google respects your choice.
As a side note, all bets are off with the old dashboard.
Besides deep sixing logos have you seen any other signals that would provide clues to Google’s image preferences in the local search results?
It seems that the new layout first reported on October 23rd is now rolling out world wide. As noted at the time
The big difference is that the page now can be displayed in either a single, two or three column layouts depending on browser window width as opposed to the current fixed two column display. Reviews will now follow the same columnar structure as the rest of the page and will not be limited to a current one column display. While this view is not yet visible in mobile, one assumes that if the view were to become universal it would likely push to mobile as well.
The page adds three iconic based calls to action near the top; review, directions & photos. The review summary has been moved up the page and photos have been moved down the page. Geo information including street address, category, hours, description and map are now consolidated into a single card near the top titled “Contact Information. “Similar Places” from around the web no longer show and “reviews from around the web” have been moved up the page to be nearer the top.
However it also appears that Google, in making the change, has lost, at least temporarily, a number of reviews. The forums as well as some of my clients noted a severe decline in review counts or wildly inaccurate review counts. Barbara Oliver & Co Jewelry in Buffalo dropped from 65 to 38 reviews. Her local competitor lost roughly 30 as well. I assume that most of these lost reviews will return once the upgrade settles in.
This is not a problem that is likely to strike the mom and pop local listing or even the local listing for major brands. But if you are a highly prominent “entity” and have a local presence, it could happen to you. It can totally hose a brand’s image with its quirky bugs:
(click to view larger… all of the funky, Google images are for properties owned by Seaworld)
The various and sundry Seaworld theme parks (Busch Gardens, Aquatica, Seaworld etc) fall into this category of business that has both a local listing and a knowledge graph. This is similar to museums, famous art galleries and colleges which are local businesses but also can show knowledge graph results. Some searches bring up their knowledge panel and some bring up their local panel. As best as I can figure out the Knowledge panel has some sort of pipeline that feeds it photos added via the new dashboard. The problem is that if one of these famous local businesses upgrades their listing from local to social, that pipeline seems to break resulting in the display you see above. No warnings, no documentation. Its fun for me to discover a bug, not so much for the business.
The answer when you call local support: “They system will get the photos straightened out…. in about a month”.
So far, it’s been 20 days.
I am not even sure how to refer to Google’s “default” image. Perhaps you could suggest a name.
Google has never fully supported multi-lingual listings in Places very well. At one point Google was suggesting that you create a separate listing in a different dashboard in the alternative language. Unfortunately Google was unable to keep those listings from merging and the practice was ultimately prohitibited. The current dashboard offers no real alternative. MapMaker however does offer limited support for multiple languages in a single listing. While the user experience with this is still not ideal (for example you can’t direct a user to a specific landing page) it is better than leaving the translations to chance. I asked Dan Austin to write up a guide to using MapMaker. Here is a link to a PDF Cheat Sheet (without images) of the process.
As a side note, MapMaker is not for the faint of heart and is very quirky and often bug ridden. Caveat emptor!
If your listing has international customers or your country is bilingual, a good way to attract their favorable attention is to add accurately translated names to your listing. These will show up in the search results better, since the searcher may be viewing your listing through their native language web portal.
I’ve selected a famous brand listing, The Hilton Club New York, in a world-renowned city that brings a lot of tourists from around the world to illustrate what you can do to enhance your listing with additional languages for display on Google Korea. I’m going to use Google Map Maker to do this, since it offers an opportunity to not only explore MM but also enhance your listing in a way that your Dashboard or Support may not be able to accomplish.
2. Find the listing by typing it in the search field (the more details, the better)—it works just like Maps.
2a. (Alternately, find the listing in Google Maps then open it in MM by clicking on the Edit in Map Maker link on the bottom.) If you can’t find it using search, use the address, then right click, Find near this point. It will usually turn up.
3. Click Edit, Edit this place.
4. Click on Name, then Add more names below that.
5. Click on +1 (or more; total number can vary, from 1 to 100) more names if it’s available (that shows all the names)
6. Start adding names, or correct existing names/tags. Each name should be language specific (English: The Hilton Club of New York), and should be tagged with the following tags:
Primary (the name it’s more commonly known by for each language type—there should be only one for each language type).
Local (the language most predominant in the region—for example, if the hotel is in NYC, it would use Local for all the English name tags; if it’s in Tokyo, it would use Local for all the Japanese names; only one set of Local tags for one language type, so all the English names in NYC are Local, but none of the other languages use the Local tag),
Obscure (the name it could be known by, but isn’t used very often).
Official (whatever the official name is on the hotel, usually visible on the website or building or promotional literature).
Abbreviated (the short name for the hotel, usually something like HCNY).
Using the above system and the example, I would create something like the following for the English and Korean languages:
English: The Hilton Club New York (Local, Primary, Official)
English: Hilton Club New York (Local)
English: Hilton Club New York Hotel (Local, Obscure)
Google translation (not necessarily accurate, but used as an example) of the above names, in order:
You can have as many translated names as you want, for either the specific language or languages in total (provided that Google supports that specific language), but you can only have one name as Primary for any given language.
(Note: If you hit a hard limit on the total number of names you added (Add more names disappears; sometimes you can only add 5 new names), you can save the edit, as below, and then re-open it, and add more names.)
If, as in the case of this listing, you find a bunch of names that are wrongly tagged in a different language than the provided “translation”, either correct them by accurately translating the names or delete them. For example, (Spanish) Hilton Club New York (Primary) probably isn’t the Spanish translation of that name. MM doesn’t provide an easy way to organize names, and it’s not always clear if there are redundant translated names (for example, two Norwegian tagged names). Not infrequently, to get a sense of the redundant names, I’ll either start over by deleting them all, and adding new ones, or copy/pasting them into a separate document (like a spreadsheet) to see all the names. Maps often adds these non-translation translations to popular features using a separate data feed, even though they’re not ‘translations’.
7. Click Done if that button is visible. If not, skip and go to step 8.
8. Add an explanatory note in Comments, if necessary, and select Correcting Poor Data as the reason. Since GLEs (Google Listing Editors, from the Maps team), rather than GRs (Google Reviewers, from the MM team) often review claimed POIs (point of interest), it’s helpful to add an explanatory cut-and-paste generic note (i.e. I’m adding additional foreign translated names, and correcting the tags for the English names so they appear correctly on Maps.) and, if necessary, alert Support in advance that you’re going to be fixing some of your POIs from MM.
9. Click Save.
10. Wait. Usually a few days to a few weeks. Pending edits stays under the My Activities, In Review (or Everything, for everything) As noted before, the edit can be Denied, Accepted,or Approved. If it gets Denied or Accepted (without approving the changes—check in the Details, History and/or Published to ensure that all your changes were accepted), then save the link from your MM sidebar (My Activities, Everything) or the email you’ll get, and contact Places Support to have them override the GLE (or GR) and approve the rejected changes. Approved is the most desirable state of affairs, although as often the case, the review process can be occasionally chaotic and erratic. (Note: Accepted is just another way to reject your edit without affecting your approval rating, visible as a percentage if you hover over your profile name or picture. Lower percentages can send your edits into moderation, and is a measure of your trust in the system.)
Avoid using any misspellings, w*ird [sic] characters, ALL CAPS, and anything else that marketing suggests to increase the name presence of the POI on Maps. Names should be accurately and reasonably spelled. Google is really good at providing suggestions for misspelled words.
If the listing is Locked (example), you can’t edit it in MM (and it’s not really clear you can edit it in Maps using Report a problem, but you can try). Contact Support to unlock (they can do this, even though they claim they can’t, for various policy and technical reasons). Locked are usually high value or frequently vandalized POIs which you should be able to freely edit if you own the listing.
You can also use Report a problem on Maps to add additional names and tags, which uses a simplified version of MM, and follow the steps above.
For additional guidelines, see MM Help. They have excellent visual guides, and frequently, YouTube videos.
You can add translated categories, like ?? (Hotel) but I usually avoid that, since Google automatically (and accurately, for standard cats) translates those categories based on the specific language that each country is using. You can also add custom categories, but I also avoid that for claimed listings (unless no equivalent category is available in Places), as that might cause issues with claimed listings on the Dashboard, due to Google’s restrictions on custom cats.
If a country uses multiple official languages, use one Local language that best suits that region (example: Canada, which has two official languages. Use English as the Local language in Vancouver, BC, and French as the Local language in Quebec.
Don’t use Google Translate. It just doesn’t work for formal names, and it’s becomes increasingly inaccurate the longer and more complex the word clusters are.
While you’re working on the listing, take the time to note any additional points that should be corrected or enhanced for your listing. Since it’s usually claimed listing, the fastest and easiest way to correct the contact information and categories is to do so from the Dashboard, rather than MM in order to avoid any of the above moderation hurdles. For example, in the case of this particular listing, categories like Luxury Hotel or whatever you think is appropriate could more accurately direct Google Maps searches to this POI.
A Googler has a G tag next to their name. GLEs are usually, but not always listed as Listing Editors or similar. Google Reviewers usually use Google Reviewer in their name and a badge on their profile. GLEs will not have a Google tag on their profile. Why is this important? In the review process, each has their separate reviewing responsibilities and belongs to different Geo teams, and depending on who reviews your edit, this may affect the outcome of the edit (GLEs are not well-regarded in the MM community, as they often make incorrect reviews, and it’s an outstanding ‘bug’ that MM is working to fix)
If done right, your visitors will be able to quickly and easily find your listing in their native language when they search for it on Google Maps.
I don’t search on service area businesses very often. But doing client work today I did and I noticed that for the first time that service areas are prominently displayed in the local branded knowledge panel.
I have no idea when this was implemented but it indicates that Google has increasing trust in the data if they are surfacing it to the front page. Historically this information was buried in Maps and rarely seen by searchers.
How long has the service area been displaying in the panel results? Is this part of the recent updates to the local displays?
It also points out that you really need to pay attention to your settings. Otherwise this might occur:
Google rolled out a series of new photographic tools on Tuesday that they hoped would make them as cool as Apple but it seems that all folks are talking about is the new “custom” URLs at Google Plus.
Here are a number of factoids, observations & issues in relation to the latter:
“Custom” is a misnomer. Assigned is more like it. Custom implies that you have some input into the process which is fully automated. You pretty much have to accept the URL given or keep your number.
Any brand or business that has a linked website or is a verified local business can claim a custom URL for their Google+ page. Link and verification info is available in the Google+ Help Center: http://goo.gl/RMpxP
Even though there appears to be an appeal option the decision is for the most part final on the new URL.
From Google: At this time, we do not allow you to appeal your assigned Custom URL. Based on user feedback, we’ll determine any necessary updates to this process.
Google will use a number of signals, including the name of the page/profile, and the website associated with the page to determine the given URL.
Businesses with multiple locations are being assigned a URL like BusinessNameLocation as in plus.google.com/+PizzHutOlean
When the domain is NOT .com Google seems to be adding the TLD to the end of the URL. Business with .net or .org will have those added to the URL.
This applies to international domains as well. So folks in France are getting URLs with FR appended to the end. This is an aestetic problem but apparently becomes more so if you live in Cook Islands, and the websites end in “co.ck“. (Is this real?)
John Mueller noted that the “vanity URLs also work on any Google TLD”. They thus can be shortened from plus.google.com/+MikeBlumenthal to google.com/+MikeBlumenthal and it will still work.
Barry Schwartz noted that the Google’s TOS regarding Custom URLS indicate that Google “are free for now, but we may start charging a fee for them. However, we will tell you before we start charging and give you the choice to stop participating first”. Wow would that be a mess.
Glenn Gabe noticed that Google is 302′ing the old # URL to the new name URL. Strange but according to John Mueller noted in the comments that “Google treats it like a redirect. [and] Yes, you can use rel=author with these. You can also use the numeric ID” and thus should have no affect on existing author links. There is a good discussion of this at Cyrus Shepard’s G+ Post.
As in all change the real question for me is who really benefits? Clearly this is a win for Google. It is ironic at one time Google only sent traffic to your website and now you will be sending traffic to Google.
Cyrus Shepard noted that the new URL structure would likely cause G+ Pages to show more visibly for branded searches at Google. I suppose that might shift some traffic away from the directories to SMBS so that would be a net benefit if the SMB maintained a decent Plus Page.
My biggest concern though is that SMBS will not think through how this should fit into an integrated on-line marketing plan and that they will send folks willy nilly to their new and shiny google.com/+MyBusiness page. If this comes at the expense of building out their own web equity and losing the ability to track, analyse and convert new and existing customers it would be a shame.
Social media has a roll to play in SMB marketing but it should supplement a sound plan not replace it.