Last week was a busy and exciting week for Local U. It has been our long term dream to provide high quality local marketing training and advise on-line. On Thursday we rolled out the Local University Forums.
The Forums will be place where marketers, digital agencies and businesses large and small can get expert answers, detailed local data not available any where else and an opportunity to collaborate with some incredible folks.
Not just the regular speakers at Local U like David Mihm, Mike Ramsey, Aaron Weiche, Mary Bowling and Ed Reese but also folks like Phil Rozek, Nyagoslav Zhekov, Darren Shaw, Andrew Shotland, Carrie Hill, Dan Austin and lots lots more. For me it is exciting because not only will I be able to help others but I stand to learn there every day.
The forums are intended to be a low noise high information environment where questions about site design, local mobile issues, algo changes and local and international local seo can be asked and answered.
At the introductory price of $99/month for the first 50 members, now is the time to join and take advantage of everything the forums have to offer at the lowest possible rate. After the first few days we are well on our way to that goal. The first month is only $49 so you can try it.
Does a Google Bulk upload create a verified listing or is it in reality just another data feed? Unfortunately it is the latter.
Danny Sullivan and Greg Sterling have been covering the recent multi listing hijacking of hotel pages at Google. The hijackers essentially were able to take control of numerous hotel listings and insert an affiliate booking site URL.
Here was part of my comment to Greg about how this might have occurred:
My working theory is that these listings were either unclaimed or possibly claimed via the bulk upload. Bulk upload is viewed by Google as more of a data feed than a listing verification method and it does not lock out [additional] local claimants. Thus the listings were “eligible” to be double claimed. And claimed into the new G+ Local environment. In theory that requires verification either by post or a call and exactly how this many listings were in fact verified with the new domain is unclear.
In the old Places Dashboard and the previous/current Bulk upload any data that Google received was just that. The data might have given it some preference if it was current but it received very little special treatment over any other data that Google had. If they trusted other data more than they yours that is what would show. Or rather if the algo trusted other data more than yours that was what would show.
The driving directions market, while more fragmented than search or social, is continuing to see consolidation. Google maintained their leading share and Apple gained share while the GPS and other web providers are seeing steady and large declines in usage.
Over the past year, I have continued to survey consumers as to their preferred choice in driving direction platform. Surveys of roughly 3500 individuals were conducted in February, July and October of this year. The surveys were done via Google Survey and the results are representative of the adult US Internet population with a margin of error of ~+ /- 2%.
The survey takers were asked: What product or service do you normally use to get driving directions?
Apple saw a nearly 3% increase in share starting the year at 16.4% and ending it at just over 19.3%. Mapquest/Bing/Yahoo lost 5.6% and GPS lost 3.6% of share. An increase in “other” (not included in the first survey) made up the offsetting gains.
Driving directions seem to be a tool that once adopted are unlikely to change in older populations. That was born out with most users over 35 particularly in the older age cohorts. Google and Apple showed strong gains in the 18-24 year old group. Google however has small losses to Apple in most other age cohorts with Apple showing strong gains in the 25-34 year old group as well. GPS and Mapquest/Bing/Yahoo each lost over half of their share in the 18-24 year old group with GPS losing significant share in the 24-35 cohort as well..
Clearly the numbers reflect the rapid movement to mobile for this activity and away from the desktop and dedicated devices for the task. This is particularly true in the critical younger demographics where a long term behaviors are just being established.
The gains in consumer usage made across the board by Apple, while coming mostly at the expense of GPS and non Google desktop incumbents, reinforces that fact that their Map fiasco is behind them. Whether it was true or not at the time of introduction, apparently large numbers of iPhone and iPad users are finding Apple Maps adequate for the task.
The driving direction market remains fragmented and if you look at the numbers from the point of view of the primary map data suppliers it remains competitive with Google and NavTeq (most GPS , Mapquest, Yahoo) each holding about 30%. TeleAtlas, which appeared to be a lost cause a little over a year ago has moved into a strong third. Navteq, not having a strong consumer facing product showing growth, could be at risk going forward.
The consumer side appears to be moving fairly rapidly towards a bipolar world of Google and Apple. Unless there is a new portable category or some unforeseen event occurs in the mobile space this trend is likely to continue.
It will be interesting to see how the holiday purchases, which are likely to have favored Google and Apple, will further impact shares.
Are Local Carousels on their way out? They are gone today in my browsers. (Note others are not seeing any reduction in carousels).
Which raises another question: Is this part of a larger plan to clean up the look of search results page in general and local search in particular?
Several weeks ago rumors started circulating that the Local Carousels were on their way out and would no longer be displayed for local search results. Today, on my machine, the Local Carousel is gone when searching for hotels and restaurants on all of my browsers whether logged in or incognito.
While this could be a test it could also portend a rollout of results in which local carousels are no longer displayed in local search results.
The Local Carousel rolled out broadly in the US (only) in mid June. There were many studies of how they impacted user behaviors and dominated the screen real estate. At the time we had found over three hundred search phrases that showed the carousel in local results.
The carousel is still visible for Knowledge Graph things like museums and theme parks but is not showing for any Places results that I could identify on the desktop. I am not sure about tablet searches.
When I was asked my opinion several weeks of whether it was likely that they would be going away permanently, I responded that it was consistent with the fact that it had never been rolled out world wide. Google does thing at the end of the day for the whole world.
A number of other recent developments have taken place that have, in affect, reduced the visual artifacts that have accumulated on the search results page in local.
In late October Google stopped showing blended results which often included author photos and a mishmash of business names and title tags. In roughly the same timeframe Matt Cutts announced an upcoming 15% reduction in the amount of rich snippets and authorship displayed in search results. In mid-December there weremanyreports of the reduction of author photos. Not as widely reported but noticed on may testimonials pages was the cut back of rich snippet stars as well.
If this change is more than a test (others are not seeing the results I am), all of these changes would be consistent with visual clutter reduction.
As Andrew Shotland pointed out, this decrease in visual business would also be consistent making Ads more visible and more likely to be clicked.
Here are some more screen shots from this afternoon of searches that yesterday were showing the Local Carousel:
Google’s Hummingbird guano, like real guano, is fertile ground. Unfortunately, in the case of Google’s guano, it is fertile ground for spammers and spam and nothing as productive as farm crops.
Southern California has always been a hot bed of Google local spam particularly in the legal industry. Yesterday I was exploring search results for listings in the criminal defense and DUI area. For the 2 terms in 6 towns I found 3 spammy Hummingbird One Box results. That is a 25% #fail rate. Much higher than I had previously seen and an indicator that this problem deserves Google’s attention. I was going to add the adjective “immediate” to the word attention but since this problem has persisted for 4.5 months already and has been reported on a regular basis, immediate seems, when associated with the words “Google Hummingbird quality in local”, like an oxymoron.
Given the industry and the search phrases these are incredibly high value search phrases. The listings were total crap and yet Google continues to deliver these results which enrich spammers and deny others a place on the page.
I dutifully reported these to Google so your results may vary on the searches today. Taking these results down one by one though hardly seems a solution to a problem that exists at world wide scale.
Here are the searches that returned the Hummingbird guano:
Because of the slow and never ending transition of Places to Plus and because of less than stellar communications from Google since the rollout of Plus, a very large number of small local businesses have ended up with more than one Google+ Page.
Over the past 6 weeks I have received a stead stream of inquiries as to how to deal with the situation. I wrote up my answer today at LocalU.
The front page of Google is where the action is. It’s often where a business has the first opportunity to present their brand, it’s where calls from potential customers start and discovery of a new businesses first takes place. This is particularly true in local search results where your presence and the quality of the images shown are everything.
And yet there have been a number of search quality issues dogging local search results that make that first impression painful, difficult and sometimes impossible. These problems have persisted for many, many months and for whatever reason the Google search team seems unwilling or unable to fix them.
Here is a rogue’s gallery of these problems in order of longevity:
No Entry, No Way
This problem was first reported in the Google Places for Business forums in early July. In mid July Googler Jade noted “The gray circles appear in the place of deleted photos for a while before the photo can be fully deleted from our systems. This is taking a bit longer than usual right now.” For some businesses the problem has been taking months and months. While there is a kludgey fix that works in some limited situations the problem still persists as you can see for the search for Hotels Chicago where Trump International seems to have barred the doors.
Hummingbirds are tiny, fast, energetic and little noticed in the real world. The same was mostly true of the Google Hummingbird update in August. But it turns out that hummingbird poop is as unpleasant as any other poop particularly when it sticks around for months and gets crusty.
The problem in local, first reported in Linda’s forum and updated here, is that spammy local listings dominate head search terms and prevent the 7-pack from showing. Like this search for Chicago Plumber. Some spammer is getting rich. But worse, real plumbers are not showing in the results.
Seaworld did exactly what Google wanted of them. They upgraded their local listings to G+ Pages in early October. Unfortunately for them, it precipitated a bug in the knowledge graph that persistently refuses to show any images in the knowledge graph carousel/info panel but the generic placeholder image. It didn’t affect just one of their properties but all eleven on them. Its hard enough to compete against Disney with an anchor tied to your ankle. This one has been attached for over two months.
Each of these problems has persisted for many months. In the case of the No Entry bug, for nearly half the year. It is ironic that when local support and local listing quality seems to be dramatically improving since the nadir a year ago, that general search quality issues are plaguing local.
Everyone expects the occasional glitch in the display of their listing, they just don’t expect quality issues that have such important effects on their local business to be on going for months and months. Knowledge Graph and Hummingbird may be general improvements for Google but those benefits seem to have not universally filtered down to local search.
The old Google Places for Business Dashboard allowed a listing to be verified into multiple accounts. The new Places for Business Dashboard only allows one verification per listing. This is a huge difference process. It is also an impediment to many listings being moved over to the new dashboard.
Given the ambiguity of ownership in some listings in the old Dashboard Google can’t immediately tell which claimant has the most rights to manage the listing going forward. This has slowed down the transition for some listings. It appears though that Google has finally begun to resolve these conflicts.
Jeffrey Magner of TrumpetLocalMedia sent me this recent Google communication that implies that they have finally bitten the bullet and are starting to pick winners and losers. This should allow the remaining listings to transfer to the new dashboard more quickly.
Exactly who gets control and what rules they use to assign ownership are not known…. but I could imagine some that might work…. email from the same domain might get preference over a listing with a different email domain, a dashboard that has been accessed more recently might get preference over an account that was less active. Obviously there are still many conflicts that could occur for example between franchisee and franchisor that playing dueling listings.
The good news is that now that the new Dashboard is multi-user whoever wins can assign the loser (assuming they are talking) to a manager role or even transfer ownership.
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.