Last week Greg Sterling noted: … Yelp and Google. They’re like Spain and Portugal in the 15th Century — rivals trying to carve up the local globe.
The analogy seemed wrong to me as Spain and Portugal were to a large extent equal in their strength. I noted in the comments that “I see the analogy as more like the US vs the Taliban or perhaps Grenada rather than one of equals like Spain vs. Portugal“.
Is Yelp, as Greg portrays, a powerhouse in local search? Or is their position more one of a far distant second to Google as a general local search site with little hope of competing? Or is the answer more complex than that?
On the surface, my recent consumer survey would indicate that Yelp is running a far distant second (or third or fourth) to Google with little chance of competing:
Yet the answer is more nuanced and complex than that. When you parse the data by age, region and urbanicity the picture changes. Much more favorably for Yelp but even with those changes does the data rise to level of proof of Yelp as a general local search engine?
As you know I have been a fierce critic of the badlocalresults that came out of the Hummingbird update. Search terms that should have returned lists of local businesses would often return a branded one box that often would be complete spam.
When it was critical for a client, I reported the bad results and they would disappear after the second or third report. Often after writing an article, some would magically disappear. But I was tracking several as markers that I hadn’t reported and those are now gone.
I am curious if others are seeing the same thing. Have the s$%%^&y Hummingbird One Boxes disappeared for you? Has Google final solved this problem? Can I finally put a lid on (at least for now) the toilet humor?
Or was it just the few that I was monitoring have disappeared and there is still the problem of brand being such a strong signal that spam will surface?
Can you let me know if you are seeing fewer of the Hummingbird precipitated branded one boxes?
Update Friday 2/21 7:30 PM: Some comments that Google has noted that we care share about the Canadian Places Warning:
The February 21 deadline only applies to users to whom Google has sent emails.
If a user sees the message in the dashboard (but no email), deep breaths. It will be okay. There is no imminent threat. Just follow the instructions and the scary message will go away.
If a user didn’t get an email nor does he/she see a message in the dashboard, there is no action required.
To all my friends in the 51st state: Everyone stay calm. The Placopalypse is not about to descend.
Chris McCreery has reported in Linda’s blog that Canadians with the new dashboard may be receiving the “To Keep your listing live” message from Google. This is the same message that was received in Australia earlier in the month.
Colan Nielson the Local SEO Manager Imprezzio Marketing noted: “Saw my first example. Hit the Submit button. Message went away”. Chris McCreary noted that his listing went to an “In Progress” status.
These sorts of messages from Google, given the lack of detail and color, seem to cause a certain hysteria. For whatever reason Google rarely tells the whole story and rarely explains these things well to the public which seems to further the hysteria.
I speculated at the time of the Australian email that “whether it is an effort to clean up listings after the upgrade or has something to do with local licensing issues, no one really knows“.
Regardless all that is necessary is that when you receive the email (or before) visit your dashboard, do the null edit and move on.
Question for those of you with Canadian dashboard and who have received this message; What verticals are you getting the message in?
I feel safer with potential competitors than I do with the incredibly incompetent Google, who can’t manage to maintain fairly static and benign listings without them ‘accidentally’ disappearing and reappearing with no explanation (as happened to a friend of mine over the weekend), while at the same time they’re doing everything in their power to encourage the proliferation of spam.
I think there’s an element of good faith and fair play, when the marketplace is fair. No one is out to screw you if everyone feels like the “cops” are working to resolve and prevent crimes. You can compete on your own merits. That is not the current state of affairs. Google doesn’t care about your listing, they certainly don’t care about you, you’re the product they’re selling to their advertisers.
That being said, I don’t anticipate that they’ll make it any harder than it is. I think they just need to tighten up their guidelines and actually enforce them, particularly for business segments that are incredibly spammy. Locksmiths listings are 95% spam. Lawyer listings are 70%. That is bad. They can all be verified fairly easily. I think I can say with some confidence that I have about a 99% success rate in identifying spam. I have taken down good listings by mistake, but I worked incredibly hard to get them back up as soon as I realized or was made aware of my mistake.
Let me put it another way: what’s to stop a competitor from bombing your listing with bad, fake reviews? You can retaliate, of course, which is the risk they take, but most of the bad faith I can see in previous situation isn’t between legit business owners, it’s between Google and the business community they purport to cater to. They’re coddling the spammers and destroying our confidence in their reporting mechanisms. If they want to fix it, they can, as easily as they removed the spam POIs.
Google has announced an update to their Places Guidelines and now is explicitly allowing owners to add a descriptor, via the Places or Plus Dashboard, that helps people locate the business or describes what the business offers. From the post (bold is mine to highlight the significant change):
Your title should reflect your business’s real-world title.
In addition to your business’s real-world title, you may include a single descriptor that helps customers locate your business or understand what your business offers.
Marketing taglines, phone numbers, store codes, or URLs are not valid descriptors.
Examples of acceptable titles with descriptors (in italics for demonstration purposes) are “Starbucks Downtown” or “Joe’s PizzaDelivery”. Examples that would not be accepted would be “#1 Seattle Plumbing”, “Joe’s Pizza Best Delivery“, or “Joe’s Pizza Restaurant Dallas”.
Obviously for Google to make this change, they must think that they can control the inane and insane abuse that is likely to occur. Either businss name is no longer so important in defining search results or the descriptor (which can only be added via the dashboard) is ignored or Google is so confident that they know what the business name is that they can penalize abusers.
Or none of the above and the recent decline in the quality of their local index will continue to new lows.
Update: Google has taken these down. My sense is, in speaking with him, that @maptivist views that as a challenge.
Nyagoslav Zhekov wrote a blog post yesterday detailing a long standing MapMaker abuse vector. The person claiming to be responsible, @maptivist, reached out to Darren, Nyagoslav and myself with some more examples of his MapMaker “work” which I present to you here:
If you don’t the borg’s machine will vacuum up whatever it finds and will show what it thinks is relevant; like this photo from one of the business’s wordpress content sub directories on their website.
Link to your local Google+ page Business name (as it is in your account): Bakersfield Funeral Home Business location: 3121 19th Street, Bakersfield, CA 93301, USA Business telephone: 661-871-8080 Business category: Funeral Home Website: www.bakersfieldfuneral.com
An ex employee is trying to hurt the business after being fired for unprofessional misconduct. They made a fake google account and posted an abusive comment on our google listing and Google+ business page. Can you remove the comment and block his IP address from posting on our listing and Google+?
I followed the link to the local page and found this devastating (and only) review:
He is in the funeral business so the obvious advice of asking your clients for additional reviews seems to be (wildly) inappropriate. “Gee I know that your loved one just died but if you were happy with the funeral would you mind leaving us a review?” or “Rate your funeral on a scale of one to ten, ten meaning you are willing to leave us a review.” A clear non starter.
The only idea that struck me as reasonable was to encourage the businesses he does business with to add reviews from the G+ Pages per this David Mihm suggestion.
As Miriam Ellis noted to me in an email: Okay – that is truly terrible! Kind of made me wonder, if this is an ex-employee, if they actually made all of these details up or if any of it was true.
Which is exactly the problem with this sort of review (assuming it is by an employee). It leaves the impression that it could possibly be true which really complicates the matter. Because of the way it was written it is very unlikely (although possible) that it would be removed by Google. If it is a fake employee review then the ex-employee really knew how to write it in a way that would be convincing.
Let’s assume that it is an employee. And that it is untrue.
What would you would suggest?
Is there a possible response that can be crafted to the review? What would it be?
Is this the rare time that legal action might be recommended?
In local, Hummingbird has produced a number of terrible search results. With its obsessive preference for brand as a search result, even when a searcher is obviously looking for a range of businesses, the algo often still returns but a single spammy result. I guess I am lucky that there are so many colorful synonyms for feces.
Today, Conrad Saam of Atticus Marketing, noted one such low quality website that Google is highlighting with these type of crappy results.
The search for Dui Attorney Los Angeles led to this search result and the website that Conrad wrote about. As these results have been reported Google has been manually deleting the results.
Problem is the results still seem to be widespread on high value terms. And they show up even more frequently when the searcher location is set to a given local market.
The marketing on the website that Conrad mentioned may be horrible and even deceptive. Its still must be generating a fair number of calls for the lawyer given Google’s willingness to show this type of result front and center on their front page for high value search terms.
But the reality is that Yahoo hasn’t really had the lights turned on in local for several years so this announcement that effectively kills their review business should come as no surprise. This recent move was foreshadowed by their rollout of the Yext based Localworks service last year.Given that Yahoo has had so little presence in local search for the past few years it will have little impact one way or the other on most small businesses looking to search for customers. But the move does reflect a deeper reality of local search.
I see it as part of a larger trend where companies like Yahoo have essentially finally realized the futility of their local effort and have exited what was traditionally the local search space. It has become a two part world: Google and everyone else. Most of the “everybody but Google” (EBG) crowd finally recognize that they can’t individually compete (or even survive) head on with Google in this space. Now they are starting to protect what small part of the market they have left with these sorts of sharing deals while they figure out how to compete going forward.
The reality is that these sharing deals could have been made from a position of greater strength several years ago and would have freed precious capital and development energy. At the time of the Bing search takeover at Yahoo, I suggested that Bing should consolidate their local search as well to attempt to achieve some scale. It obviously didn’t happen. A number of years ago I was involved in an effort to get these other players like Citysearch to participate cooperatively to gain economies. It wasn’t going to happen even if they had to cut off their noses to spite their faces.
The original model behind local search was that each directory site would allow for an SMB to claim their listing, contribute some current information to the local search results. This would form the basis of a relationship between the SMB and the directory leading to future sales opportunity.
Turned out that it was expensive for the directories to manage this process. More importantly it was difficult to gain any ongoing relationship with the SMB in a way that secured enough (or any) revenue to cover those costs. Companies often leveraged these businesses listings in SMB antagonistic ways to garner some profit. Or resorted to strong arm sales tactics. A few figured out a niche from which to eek out enough income to stay in the listing game.
But competing for every small business listing on a world wide (or even country wide) scale against Google has become a non starter for most of them.
Last year Marissa Mayer, in recognition of this fact, noted: “I really do love [local], but it requires a deep investment, a lot of energy and time to build terrific listings. We already have some products in this area. They’re good at the moment, but it’s hard to take that next step. We don’t expect to make changes in the short term. It’s not an area where we’re going to make significant investments right now.”
In this new realty of the EBG world, listing management is often being outsourced to Yext (Yahoo, Mapquest, Local.com) and review content is being outsourced to Yelp (Bing, Apple, Yahoo).
Even so, there is no indicator that this outsourcing will guarantee their survival let alone their thriving in local search. This holds true as much for the licensors as the licensees.We can only just imagine that Yahoo figures out a successful way to reenter the local market place in a successful way in the future that benefits the small business and themselves. And creates a meaningful marketing platform that is a win-win-win – for the searchers, the business and for Yahoo.