Category Archives: Google+ Local

Loci 2012 – Andrew Shotland

Andrew Shotland is a well-known SEO practitioner and author of www.localseoguide.com and the trendy new applemapsmarketing.com.  His proudest achievement on the Web can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipkSRwgVtpA

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When reflecting on the year, I like to think about it less in terms of specific niches like “local seo”, “seo” or even “local search”.  It’s not that 2012 wasn’t a watershed year for a lot of this stuff, but rather that the forces that are shaping the landscape of these niches are often the same that are affecting the Web as a whole.  So here’s what caught my attention in 2012:

1. 2012 – The Year We Start Paying For It

In 2007, Radiohead released it’s new album, “In Rainbows”, online and offered it at whatever price you wanted to pay for it.  Many opted to pay $0 while some paid more. It was a big success.  In 2011, Radiohead release “The King of Limbs” via their website and this time charged $9.99.  It too was a success.  And there was no record label between Radiohead and its fans.  In 2012, it seemed as if more “creators”, particularly media creators, were experimenting with getting their customers to pay for these creations, thus avoiding business models such as advertising and using distribution middle-men.  My favorite examples of the past year include Marco Arment’s “The Magazine”, Louie CK’s “Live At The Beacon Theater”, show, The Oatmeal’s Operation BearLove Good, Cancer Bad and Andrew Sullivan’s soon-to-be-independent Daily Dish (technically announced in 2013, but the deal was cut in 2012 right?).

While each is an example of a strong voice with a loyal following tapping into their fan-base, I was particularly impressed with the launch of The Magazine, as it stood in direct contrast to the failure of News Corp’s “The Daily”.  It’s a classic story of an independent Web developer who understood the medium and his audience to produce a low-budget, high-quality service while a media giant spent $30 million doing the exact opposite.

And let’s not forget about the millions raised for new projects by Kickstarter.

For me, this trend, along with the continuing shift of our time spent on the Web to mobile and tablets, is critical to my thinking about how I am approaching this year, and how I am approaching SEO for myself and my clients.  After Google’s Farmer (AKA “Panda”) Update in 2011, I wrote a piece entitled “Are You Radiohead?”, where I wondered aloud that with today’s SEO, you need to be the Radiohead of your particular niche to succeed. If I were to write that piece today, I might change the title to “Are You The Oatmeal?”  In other words, ask yourself is what you are doing so great that people want to support it?

And I think this is going to be a key philosophy driving Web strategy, and not just to rank #1 for “Viagra”.

2. Mobile Customer Loyalty Apps Are Da Bomb
Let’s get a bit more down-to-earth on this one.  Sure Google Places + Local had a lot of drama in 2012.  Yes, Apple launched maps, Facebook launched Nearby.  There were a lot of big events.  But to me, the fact that my local burrito joint started texting me with points everytime I bought the kids an Itty Bitty Beanie Burrito and the local butcher shop had a tablet near the register that I could use to check in, was a telling signal to me that this stuff was suddenly everywhere.  For those of you who are not on the local SMB text messaging bandwagon, you are missing out on one of the most cost-effective, high-growth ways to keep in touch with your customers.  That said, I think we are going to see a shake-out of the hundreds of start-ups that are operating in this area, while at the same time, I don’t think we’re going to see any one platform become dominant.

3. Local SEO ToolSets Become All The Rage
As I mentioned in my SEL piece “SEOMoz + GetListed: Let the SMB Toolset Death March Begin”, last year it seemed like everyone I knew was developing some kind of local SEO tool.  That trend is only going to continue in 2013.

4. Google+Local Keeps On Iterating & Irritating
I’ve got to mention Google right?  For SMBs and SEOs that serve them, Google+Local 2012 was an absolute train wreckStill is in many ways.  That said, it seems like Google is slowly starting to improve things.  From actual phone support to the G+ page management you recently reported on, I think we are going to see a continual gradual evolution of the service.  It will still have plenty of bugs.  Data will continue to disappear.  SMBs will continue to be frustrated.  And SEOs will still have a lot of work to do.

5. Apple Maps Will Sneak Up On Us
While my recently launched Apple Maps blog may bias my thinking, Apple Maps’ launch last year was perhaps one of the most significant events in the local search world.  Say all you want about how screwed up the service is, the fact is that even with the Google Maps iOS app out there, I bet millions of people are still using the Apple Maps app.  And the fact that it is baked into all iOS apps that use maps means it’s not going away.  In the long-run, Apple Maps is the biggest threat to Google when it comes to local search.  I expect Apple to quietly improve the service significantly this year and towards the end of 2013 I wouldn’t be surprised if they announced a big update that stimulates a lot of people who switched to Google Maps to retry the app.  It’s still going to be a rough go for businesses that want to optimize for Apple Maps, which of course means more fun for SEOs who figure it out.

6. 2012 – Great Year For Local SEO
I think Aaron Wall said that SEO is getting so tough that in 2013 we will see a lot of consultants exit the business.  In some ways he is correct.  I already see a number of my colleagues moving away from Google Places SEO services.  But 2012 created so much opportunity to help and educate marketers that I see nothing but green field in 2013 for those that have the enthusiasm and think of themselves as the Radiohead of SEO.  Stay thirsty, my friend

Google Rolls Out Adwords Express Plus

With Google’s new Adwords Express Plus rollout another piece of the coming SMB Business Builder Portal has fallen into place. Dan Petrovic of DejanSEO noted over the weekend that Google had started pitching Adwords Express to G+ Local Page owners. It turns out that what they are actually offering is a newly revamped & enhanced version of the product called Adwords Express Plus. The product includes a totally revised interface as well as product enhancements that make the product more functional in many situations than the existing product.

New features:

  • Ability  to identify a radius (up to 40 miles) within which the ad will be shown
  • Ability to send the ad to a custom landing page instead of just the home page
  • More Ad types
  • Ability to preview the ads in a sample page
  • Cleaner and easier to understand self serve interface that is similar to the new G+Page dashboard

 

Step one: Select your audience geography and primary sales category
Step one: Select your audience geography and primary sales category. Note that when you type “engagement rings” it offers top level categories only.

It was never clear in the previous version of Adwords Express that ads would appear on Google’s ad network. That has been made much more obvious in this version with an appealing eye candy to make it seem like a real plus. There is no option to choose not to do so. Thats one way to expand ad inventory at the expense of unwitting SMBs.

Since April when Adwords Express was removed from the Places Dashboard and given its own home as a subdirectory of Adwords, little has been heard of the product. There was no way for businesses to easily access its interface either via the dashboard or the G+ Local social interface. In September the product was promoted via an email & a $100 coupon to businesses that had claimed their listings. It has been assumed but never confirmed by Google that their simplified Adwords product would show up again more prominently once Google had rolled out its “Business Builder” smb social local portal. While that has been a long time coming this AdWords Express upgrade along with the recent G+ page management interface upgrade seem to be part and parcel of a bigger upgrade  and monetization process that is gradually taking shape.

Here are screen shots of the new interface and process:

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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.

What Makes for a Good Author Photo in the Local Results? (Part 1)

What makes for a good Author photo in the Local results?

Author photos are increasingly showing in Google’s local search results. Since first appearing in local results in February of this year, author photos have slowly and steadily increased in frequency. In most markets you may only see one author photo in the local results but in some markets a preponderance of results display them. This blended result from a legal search in the Orlando market, with its variety of images, put the question front and center as to what makes for a good avatar in local results.

The interesting variety in the array of photos in this particular search result – some old, some young, no women, bordered, without borders, bright colors, muted colors, looking left, looking right – immediately elevated for me the idea that click through rates AND conversions would in all likelihood be influenced by differences in these photos. In looking at the results perviously, I had encouraged my client, Moses and Rooth Attorneys at Law, to use an open, friendly close up photograph. But after showing these results to several people I realized it likely that there was more to avatar photo preferences than met the eye. And that the role of an author photo in local might be different than in general search results.

I wanted to better understand the issues with these photos so I embarked on an effort to learn how other experts might address the situation and how consumers might evaluate these photos. I invited Cyrus Shepard, who has done thorough testing of his own author photo, AJ Kohn who has written extensively about authorship and Matt McGee, an editor at MarketingLand that has written broadly about social (and who has the best avatar of all time), to give their opinions as to which of these photos were most effective and why.

The second prong of my effort to understand how these images might influence results was to create a consumer survey using the Google survey tool to ask 1500 adult internet users the question: If you were selecting a lawyer based on these images, which would you select? The results of the survey with comments from Cyrus, AJ and Matt will be published in the very near future.

My goal in doing this exercise was not to profile the ideal avatar photo but to start a conversation to get myself and others thinking about what questions we should ask when creating these photos, how might the role of avatar photos for local differ than that of regular author photos and how to get started advising a client as to the direction they should take. In other words, what is a good starting point for your local author image.

I gave Cyrus, Matt and AJ the following charge:

1) Which avatars in the above search result do you prefer and why?

2) What makes for a good avatar. Are there design principles or other general guidance to use when creating one?

3) I am going to do a Google survey and see what consumers say about this specific group of photos

4) And then show you the results of the consumer survey so you can comment and add additional insights

Before I share the initial, pre survey impressions of Cyrus, AJ and Matt with you, take a moment to examine the avatars yourself and decide which ones you like best, which ones you think would perform best in the real world and why…..

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Google Local: Train Wreck at the Junction

Google Local is a veritable train wreck for business listing management. The Dashboard is in a state of non functioning disrepair, the + Page path to listing management is full of bugs. The current business types supported by the feature set in the +Page environment is extremely limited. The rules for business listings in MapMaker differ from the rules for Places/+Local/Pages and bots there often run amok with listing data. Factor in the technical difficulties of legitimate listings going into “We currently do not support this location” purgatory and being lost for months on end AND the bevy of old issues like merges and duplicates and the wreck starts to take on epic proportions.

The problems are compounded by Google’s unclear complete lack of  guidance as to whether the Dashboard or the social local management environment is the future of their local interface. This adds a level of uncertainty for businesses small and large as to how to proceed with effective listing management. Should a business commit to the new G+ Page local environment? Is this Dashboard being phased out or is it just undergoing a renovation? There are “indications” that both products will exist going forward. Yet Google, rather than laying out a road map so businesses can plan in an intelligent manner, plays 3 card monte with press statements and or makes public utterances that lack clarity.

Has Google Local fallen prey to a failure of management or management turnover?
Is Local under funded?
Is it under focused?
Is it too complicated?
Is the project so big (and incredible) that its gestation period is longer than that of an elephant?
Did the Local team get side tracked by the forced march to social?
Has the strategy of release early and iterate often failed because Google local has forgotten the iterate part?
Are we just seeing a failure of execution?

Who knows. Google is not saying. The problem is that businesses need to plan, they need to keep moving forward on their marketing and unfortunately, for many, Google Local is a key component of that plan.

Here is how I see the situation and my recommendations for the next 60 days as to how a business should proceed given the many, many vagaries of the current situation and why I am suggesting that for most business the best tactic for now is to just sit tight in the old Dashboard and wait:

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Having Issues with Your G+Local Social Merge? My Advice: Don’t

Googler Jade has posted a tip at the Google for Business forums with resources for solving the issues that might crop up if you are doing a merge (hat tip to Linda Buquet for highlighting this). My recommendation: DO NOT MERGE YET. Wait for Google to fully flesh our their product line and feature sets so you can make an informed decision.

Here is Jade’s post:

Issues with merging the local business/place page in Google+ and the local Google+ page (with reviews)?

Wondering whether you should attempt the merge/verification? Read this post first. More information and FAQ on the original announcement post.

  • Help! My social local Google+ page (that I made in the local business/place category) has been verified but doesn’t seem to have merged with the correct reviews.
    • Submit these pages to be merged as duplicates here, selecting, “There is a duplicate listing that I would like to have removed.”
  • The social local Google+ page I made is stuck in verification and still says “In progress” after over a week.
    • A handful of pages appear seem to be stuck in verification, and we’re working on getting them out. Sit tight!
  • The PIN I received isn’t working.
    • Make sure your business location is findable on Google Maps. Go into http://maps.google.com and type in the exact text you have as your address on the page. Make sure Maps can find your location without needing to go through any “Did you mean…?” links.
    • Make sure no information on the page is set to “Private.”
    • Don’t change any info on your page in between requesting the PIN and entering the PIN.
    • Request a new PIN if possible.
    • If you can’t request a new PIN, contact support via the Google+ verification troubleshooter.

Ah… the Irony Of Google Local – International number handling issue is solved, no it isn’t

There has been a persistent bug in G+ Local’s (mis)handling of international phone numbers that Barry pointed out in his blog today. This problem has been on-going for a number of months and Google is aware of the issue.

However I found the irony of these two posts showing together in my G+ stream too rich to not note. As I pointed out in another post that in Google Local:

Google’s policy of release early and iterate often and innovate often, leads to more than its fair share of bugs particularly when they forget the iterate often part.

Google+ Page 500 Error Bug & Work Around

There has a been a persistent, infrequent bug in the management of merged Google+ Pages for local where the owner of the page is unable to access the management of the page and receives a 500 Error from Google. Google knows about the bug but has been unable to quash it as of yet.

Kaleh, a Top Contributor in the Google for Business forum with lots of experience on the Plus side of the house had this to suggest.

Another option to try (based upon a report in a Google+ Discuss Forum topic) is accessing the following modified version of the URL:


The other user’s situation is very different from yours, but I find it interesting that he can perform most management tasks when he has the /b/ in the URL, but can’t even see the page through the page management interface.

If you have experienced this bug let me know whether this work around solves the problem.

Google Adds Mirror Dice to G+ Local Pages

Google has added a new feature (props to Matt Gregory for pointing this out) to the Google+ Local pages that allows a user to add custom fields to any given business listing. You can add things like the name of the person you deal with at the business, their birthday and unique contact information. The final output, a private, personalize contact card, is similar to the details from Google contacts that shows on a G+ personal profile of someone in your circles.

Perhaps I have a lack of imagination but this is one of those features for which it is hard to see its regular use. It could conceivably be part of a CRM system, it probably integrates with GMail and perhaps is a way for Google to draw relationships between the social graph and the business graph. But one has to ask why?

Did you ever ride in a car that had chrome pipes & fancy spinner hub caps but you always felt lucky when you arrived at your destination? And then the owner, for the next upgrade, added mirror dice rather than fixing something substantial? Well that’s what seems to have happened to your Google+ Local page.

Google+ Local pages have plenty wrong with them, significant and substantial problems. This is true whether with you are working the +Local page  via the old and decrepit dashboard or attempting to manage it via Plus… but now Google has added an ability that you are unlikely to use. Go figure.

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