Category Archives: Google+ Local

Google+ Local: Moving Locations? New Procedure

Preparing-Move-Your-BusinessThe way that Google has been encouraging SMBs to move to a new location has long been a kludge. Last night Google announced a somewhat more intuitive procedure although it still has a touch of kludge about it.

From the forum post by Jade:

Verified business owner of a page, and is your business moving locations? Here’s what you do.

Edit your address in Google Places for Business or in the Google+ page admin area, whichever you are using to manage the page. This will either make a new page or edit the address on the existing page. It may take a week or two after editing your address before you see an update. At this point, you may need to go through a verification process again. Don’t worry — this is normal.
If you see a page that’s still got the old address, click on Report a problem and mark that location as closed. Provide the link to the new address or information about the new location if possible. You can find more instructions on closing a location here: http://goo.gl/YZIjq

Previously it was necessary to create a totally new listing in the dashboard, reverify it,  remove the old listing and then using the “report a problem” feature to report it as closed. Recently Google added the ability to indicate, when reporting, the new location so that the closed listing would point to the new listing and indicate that it had relocated.

The above, if I read it correctly, means that sometimes the intuitive act of changing the address in either the  dashboard or the G+ Page for local admin area will properly update the listing and sometimes it will create a new listing that leaves the old listing open. It appears from the above that  Google may or may not require reverification as well. Regardless the process still requires that the listing owner needs to keep a watchful eye on their listing in both the dashboard and the index for three or so weeks and if there is still a listing at the old address proceed to using the report a problem.

I am sure that Google knows but this is still too complicated and unpredictable for most SMBs to get right. Its better but still not where it needs to be. It would be nice for the listing owner if 1)the procedure was consistent across all listing closing situations (or warned the business what was going to happen) 2)was able to be managed within the management dashboard alone and never required an SMB going to the report a problem area and 3) had a consistent outcome in the index.

In some ways it appears that the system mimics the practice & outcomes that have long existed in MapMaker where you could change an address as long as it was in the same city and the move was not too far.

None of this changes the fact that the business needs to not only change their information at Google but several weeks ahead of that change their information at the primary data suppliers and other claimed listings.

Let me know if you have to close a business and what actually happens to your listing.

Google+ Local Quality Guideline Update Allows for Multiple Departments

Google has just rolled out an update to the local business listing guidelines that once again allow for support of individual departments within hospitals, universities, local governments AND businesses as long as they have unique phone numbers and a unique forward facing presence. In other words the emergency room no longer needs to be listed via the main number or the Community Development agency can now have its own forward facing presence. And the men’s clothing deparment at Macy’s can now be the Men’s Clothing Department at Macy’s. This policy is actually a return to the original policy that was upended about a year ago vis a vis hospitals but opens up a new opportunity for multi department businesses. It also opens up the possibility of spam and new enforcement from Google.

The additional update in regards to individual practitioners is a formalization of a policy that has existed in Places but not in MapMaker. If you are a practitioner that works out of several offices you are now formally permitted to have a practitioner listing at each location but for just the hours that you are actually present there. This statement from below: “The practitioner should be directly contactable at the verified location during stated hours.” if not followed to a T could lead to the listing being rejected for non compliance if Google were to call or find that you show yourself as being in two places at once.

  • Do not create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts.
  • Individual practitioners may be listed individually as long as those practitioners are public-facing within their parent organization. Common examples of such practitioners are doctors, dentists, lawyers, and real estate agents. The practitioner should be directly contactable at the verified location during stated hours. A practitioner should not have multiple listings to cover all of his or her specializations.
  • Departments within businesses, universities, hospitals, and government buildings may be listed separately. These departments must be publicly distinct as entities or groups within their parent organization, and ideally will have separate phone numbers and/or customer entrances.

Compare the New & Old Guidelines:

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LocalU Advanced Coming to Baltimore March 8-9th

LocalUlogoWe just finished up a great LocalU in Austin and we are moving on to Baltimore. In addition to  presenting a basic LocalU (use discount code MB2013) on the morning of March 8th we will also be offering our LocalU Advanced session.

Starting the night of March 8th with a mixer and following up with a full day agenda on March 9th that is chock full of new content. This is a deep dive into all aspects online Local marketing.

Our regular lineup of David Mihm, Mike Ramsey, Mary Bowling, Will Scott, Ed Reese, Aaron Weiche and myself will be there. Joel Headley of Google will be there to answer all questions about Google+ Local and the keynote will be provided by Bill Slawski of SEO by the Sea. Bill, one of the first online marketers that I befriended in 2006 when I started my blog just happens to be one that I have never had the opportunity to meet. I am incredibly excited to both meet Bill in person and hear his keynote talk at the Advanced session.

He will be discussing Google’s geographically-based patents, which provide a great deal of insight into how Google Maps/Places/Local+ functions. Topics include location prominence, rankings in both Maps and in Web results, recent patents on identifying spam in local directories and databases, and how Google might determine whether such a local source might be trusted or not.

He’ll also explain recent patents and papers that provide hints and insights into the workings of Google Maps categories for queries and businesses, and the associations that Google might make with specific sites when indexing them.

Join us for the evening of March 8th and the day of March 9th as we delve deeply into all aspects of Local search and Local marketing. The pricing is $899 for the event but if you sign up before February 14th you will gat the $100 Earlybird discount and a free pass for the basic LocalU on Friday (ping me if you want that pass).

Hope to see you there!

Guest Post: Dan Austin on Google Mapmaker Categories

Categories have been a mess in Google Map Maker for years, as well. GMM Issue Tracker allows you to add categories for potential inclusion into GMM (which hopefully bleeds over into Local): http://goo.gl/OT3VO and star for the ones you like the most. Unfortunately, GMM, like so many other ‘community’ initiatives they’ve sponsored, largely ignores the input of mappers in favor of big bug fixes, UI upgrades, pet projects, and of course, figuring out ways to lessen the people part of the GMM community, whether it’s through limiting communication with mappers (that seems to be a big initiative, right now, especially in the forums and on individual edits) or increasing the bots ability to manage the system independently. AKA havoc!

Anyway, mappers have been requesting that Google re-organize the categories into a better system, clean up the categories, add more categories, restore missing categories, correct buggy categories, and create a category hierarchy, which you can see reflected in this forum post: http://goo.gl/GddFb; this spreadsheet: http://goo.gl/M4XMX by a power mapper (not Google); and this Facebook discussion: https://www.facebook.com/groups/mapmaker/ which Rich Hintz manages, and who discusses GMM category problems a lot.

This is complicated by the fact that Local has its own set of categories, some of which are ‘invisible’ in GMM and vice versa, and some of which can only be edited in one interface or the other. Local adds its own categories automatically, for example, turning Park into Park, Parks. There’s a longstanding bug or ‘feature’ that appends gcid:[name of category] to categories that you add through Report a problem, which don’t appear that way in Maps, but are visible as such in MM. I assume that this is because the Maps categories, even the ones you select from the dropdown, are not recognized as such standard categories in MM, so it appends gcid: to indicate it’s a custom category. As happens all too frequently, the POIs in one database can become out of sync with another, resulting in islands of categories, and trying to get them to sync can be a real chore.

There has been an effort toward changing the UI for Maps community edits to be more like GMM, but it will also end up orphaning categories that are only visible in the current UI scheme for community edits, making them inaccessible to everyone but Support.

Additionally, GMM has a Primary category, and Local doesn’t (just like GMM has a field for suites, and Maps basically doesn’t), so arranging the categories can be a delicate affair, especially if you want one of two categories visible on the Local page. (Good luck with that, as whatever you change in GMM appears first).

Last, some categories are locked in GMM and Maps (like Locksmith and Military Area), locking the entire POI from any kind of editing on any interface except for the Dashboard. So basically, you have to use Report this in GMM and try to explain what you’re trying to do in order to ‘fix the categories’, or Other in Maps Report a problem. Sometimes this works, sometimes this doesn’t.

So, usually what I do is go through and try to rationalize the categories myself. If it’s claimed (and this is not always clear from GMM, since there’s no indicator that a page is claimed), I try to mess with the categories as little as possible unless there’s category spam, in which case, I’ll delete and/or replace with more appropriate categories, including custom categories. I try to use standard categories whenever possible, set a primary category that explains what the business primarily is, and then build out custom categories that exceed the five category limit if the listing mandates it. Since all those categories are searchable in Maps, even if they’re not visible, it can enhance a business listing’s ability to turn up. And even when I make all these changes, business owners of claimed listings may not approve of the changes, so that can end up screwing up the categories even more as the changes may not sync back to GMM.

Between the bots adding junk categories (that has been a big problem with hotels in Vegas, as bots aggregate tons of bad categories from unrelated features to the larger hotel POIs, resulting in a big mess of categories), clueless business owners listing product types rather than what they do (i.e. Swatch instead of Watch Store), and Google’s inability to rationalize categories and harmonize all the different databases with different category types, you have a lot of problems.

Google+ Local on Suspensions – The Algo Did It!

All too many Places dashboard users are seeing this message of late: Account suspended. Make sure your listings meet the quality guidelinesCathy Rhulloda of Avante Garden, a long time user and promoter of the Google Places and extremely knowledge about local marketing and the google Places Dashboard, was one of them. Her account was unceremoniously suspended despite a listing that was clean. This has happened to a number of listings of late in both the Dashboard and G+ Page for local environment. The problem however is that in the Dashboard the reinclusion process doesn’t work.

She reached out to Joel Headley via a G+ post and the forums where she noted:  I logged into the Places dashboard last night and received a red message across the top saying ‘Account Suspended’. This listing has been verified for many years. Google photographers have even visited my flower shop (twice!) and shot our location. The images and tour are visible on our G+ page (under Photos -> View All).

Joel’s response on both G+ and in the Forums was illustrative and helpful:

Hey Cathy – account suspensions are best dealt over email. I sent you one. Hang in there, and we’ll get this sorted out. 

 Of note – the phone call had nothing to do with the suspension. As far as I can tell, you didn’t do anything wrong. Instead, for your case, it looks like it was an automated process gone awry. We’re looking into that general problem to see what fix can be made. 
If anyone wants their account fixed after seeing the message below, please email our support team though the Google Places for Business Help Center and we’ll look into it. 

I have run into several of these account suspensions over the past few weeks that appeared to be erroneously applied. In several the account was reinstated. In the other the client received  the dreaded support email that the account could not be reinstated and to start a new account. It is not yet clear why support would say one thing and Joel the other…. we are still working on that.

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The Pendulum Swings On Google’s Review Spam Filtering As Google Relaxes Filter

rockGoogle has announced in the forums that some of the reviews lost to their review filter will be returned. Apparently it will also be slightly easier for new reviews to be left as well.

Last year with the rollout of G+ Local, Google implemented a much more aggressive review filter. Many businesses, particularly in certain industries like legal and dental, saw massive review take downs. Many SMBS had difficulty  even getting any new reviews to show. Complaints amassed in the forums as businesses small and large were stung with massive review take downs and consumers could not understand what had happened to their reviews. The consolidated post that I created last July in the forums now has 743 posts alone and there were many, many additional posts as well. Clearly Google’s aggressive filtering had hit a nerve. As result consumers AND businesses felt that they were now between a rock and a hard place.

While we don’t know exactly the degree to which the filter has been loosened yet, along with a recovery of some old reviews, new ones that comply with the rules and don’t trigger the algo should be somewhat easier to place. Any old reviews that are no longer filtered should be showing up over the next 24 hours. Obviously for old reviews to come back they need to meet the standards defined by the new algo mentioned below. If a businesses reviews still do not show there is no review reconsideration process.

During the many months of discontent Google refined their review policies but did not loosen the filter:

What led them to ultimately relax the filter is unclear. But the recent effort at education in the policy changes noted in this posting are commendable.

Here is the announcement in full:

We’ve made some recent improvements to our spam detection algorithms that have increased the number of reviews that appear on some local Google+ pages. We hope this improves your local experience!

Online reviews have been in the news a lot recently, and we at Google are committed to helping people to get ratings, reviews, and recommendations that are relevant, helpful, and trustworthy. To protect both business owners and customers from spam reviews, we have systems in place that may remove individual reviews.

No one likes spam, and we’d like to talk about what you can do to make sure all of the reviews on Google+ Local are useful, honest, and written by real people!

For reviewers:

  • Make sure you’ve taken a look at our review content guidelines.
  • Sometimes you may want to review multiple locations of the same business, such as your favorite fast food chain. Just remember to tailor each review to the specific location. Others will want to know what sets that location apart – be it the super friendly drive thru person, or maybe the unexpectedly awesome lake views.
  • Don’t write reviews for your current employer. We don’t allow reviews from current owners or employees.
  • Spam bots use URLs to redirect to other sites or potentially spread malware. We won’t show reviews with links, so, don’t put URLs in the text of your reviews

For business owners:

  • Be wary of an SEO or reputation management service that promises to generate reviews for your business. We’ve seen companies make up fake glowing testimonies — and we’ll take them down.
  • We don’t take down negative reviews for simply being negative for anyone, regardless of any other relationships with Google. Instead, we encourage you to utilize the owner response functionality to respond to the review and address the user’s concerns.
  • If a third party claims that they know how to remove reviews from Google, don’t believe them. Google does not work with any third party reputation management companies and we certainly don’t remove reviews unless they violate our guidelines.
  • Don’t set up a computer or tablet device in your place of business for customers to leave reviews on site. Consider printing out a QR code or sending a reminder e-mail so customers can review on their own time.
  • Remember, we don’t allow you to give customers free gifts or discounts for leaving reviews.

For SEOs:

  • If a business accepts paper comment cards it might be tempting to collect them and “digitize” them by posting the reviews on Google+ Local. We ask that all reviews come from first hand experience and do not allow posting reviews on behalf of others.

For everyone:

  • If you see a review that violates our policy guidelines, you can report the review to us by clicking on the gray flag icon next to the review in question. You’ll be taken to a form where you can tell us why you’re flagging that review. Please note that we won’t follow up with you individually, but we do review every piece of content that is flagged.

 

Google Local Announces Upgraded Phone Support

Last night Google announced that they had formally upgraded their Local listing phone support rolled-out in January to include data issues in addition to the previous phone support that had been added for verification issues. Commenters have previously noted that Google support personal had responded to requests for data fixes on the call line but the process is now formalized via the Help System Fix a Problem Troubleshooter.

While it is possible to get support without filing a “report a problem” first (by telling a little lie), Google has suggested that the problem is likely to be resolved more quickly if you file the report and only call if the issue has not been resolved in a week or so. I think that the reason for that is that the phone support person uses the same back end support infrastructure as the “Report a Problem” process.

To initiate a support call back select the troubleshooter: My listing has incorrect information, highlight the radio button for “Listing data, including title, address, phone, URL, “at a glance” terms, categories, hours, description, or coupons”, indicate yes to question as to whether you have reported a problem and click on the link to call us.

The limits:

  • Click to Call is available weekdays from 6am – 5pm Pacific Standard Time.
  • Google “restrict[s] phone numbers to the US, US business hours, and English, the team should be able to work with any location where Google Places for Business is”

I am glad to see that, despite my initial skepticism, the call support system is being expanded to cover more problems.

Here is a screen shot of the My Listing Has Incorrect Information: Continue reading

Google+ Local Categories Inadequate for the Job

In rolling out the update to the editing interface for business listings claimed into a G+ Page for local Google has fixed a longstanding problem with the G+ local product and answered (inadequately) a long standing question.

The problem they solved was adding the capability to add categories to listing that had been verified in the G+ Pages for local environment. One reason I have not recommended the switch away from the dashboard was that this functionality has been missing from the first several iterations of the G+ Pages for local. If you verified your business’s G+ Page there was no option to add category information and you had to add or manage categories via either MapMaker or the old Dashboard. Both kludgey and complicated solutions beyond the reach of most SMBs. While I still am recommending caution in claiming the business in Google’s social environment at least one of the barriers to making G+ Pages for local a functional environment has been removed.

The long simmering question that now also appears answered is whether Google will be supporting custom categories for local listings. The answer seems to be an emphatic NO (at least in looking at the interface). When you attempt to enter a custom category you are told that “We didn’t understand your category. Please select from the suggestions that appear when typing”.

Why is this a problem? Because Google’s category system is woefully inadequate at its job of indicating what a business actually does. Categories are a critical piece of how Google determines the relevance (not rank) of a listing in local search and there are so few categories that the consumer search results will likely not show businesses that should be shown. For example some jewelers specialize in engagement rings, some in glassware, some in antique jewelry restoration, stone setting or hand carved designs. Google’s categories capture none of these nuanced specialities. Making Google a less rich environment for both the searcher and the business owner.

Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 3.22.12 PM

Categories have never been a strong point of Google’s local products. In the early days there were only ~450 categories in total. In an upgrade in 2008 Google increased the number of categories to roughly 2200. Still woefully inadequate given the varied nature of business Google initially offered the option to have all of the categories as custom and then limited it to one standard and four custom categories.

Usually I don’t make technical recommendations to Google as they have more brain power per square foot than I could ever muster. I am making an exception in this case because I see the direction that they seem to be choosing as inadequate in serving the needs of small businesses.

I recognize that there are taxonomic problems with custom categories and that they can be messy.  I recognize that their has been category abuse leading to spam. But the world is messy and full of variety that it should be Google’s charge to capture that variety. And they should be able to deal with the spam as they have done over the past several years.

How might Google handle this better?

1-They should increase the number of categories. Many IYPs have at least 8000 categories. Some have as many as 12,000. The ~2200 in Google’s category list come no where close to describing the many types of businesses that are out there.

2- I can understand the potential taxonomic issues dealing with custom categories. But who better than Google to solve this problem? If four custom categories are too many then Google should offer at least one or two. Then a small business with a really unique service might have some chance of being found in that specialized niche and equally important Google would have a dynamic resource for category data.

3- Google should allow for more than 5 categories for each listing. If you want to understand how a business sees itself then don’t force it to fit itself into 5 slots. If there is an issue with abuse then require that the business prioritize the most important ones. The Bing Business Portal does an excellent job of that. This solution obviously only works if there are significantly more category choices than there are now.

It feels like Google is taking a step backwards in their move towards offering a fully functional local search product. It’s a step that I think it unnecessary for them to take and one that will hurt both searchers and small businesses.

 

Google Upgrades the G+ Local Editor

Google has announced an upgrade to the Places Dashboard G+ Local Page editor that moves it closer in design to the G+ Pages editor. As Jade noted the quality checks remain the same (and the time to live is likely the same as well).  This upgrade removes one of the bugaboos of the G+ Page for local in adding the ability to add categories. Here is the link to the Updated Help Center Content

Jade’s post in the forum:

We’ve made some updates to the verification and editing experience for users managing pages in Google+ (in the Local Business or Place category). Take a look by visiting the page for your business, navigating to the About tab, and clicking Edit Business Information.

What’s new?

- better status updates that tell business owners if their edits are pending or rejected

- progress bar to help business owners fill out the most essential information

- can now add categories via Google+

- updated look and feel (tell us what you think!)

Turnaround time for quality checks on edits will remain the same but we’re working hard to improve this experience as well. We hope you enjoy the new business information editing experience in Google+!

Here is a screen shot of the new interface:
Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 2.55.19 PM