Category Archives: Google+ Local

4 Ads At Top And Local Search

There has been much written about Google now showing 4 ads at the top of search.  Mostly about its impact on bidding and ad costs.

Given that Google tests these things and likely has a good handle on the income implications, we can rest assured that they have not made any changes that would reduce their income. I can’t speak to whether this change will make it harder for small businesses to compete although that has been an on-going trend.

In all that has been written about the change I have yet to see notice of its non-ad impact on Local search. IE the amount that it further pushes local results down the page and below the fold.

Here are two screen shots of the same search done on my Mac 13″ display, which has an effective web resolution of 1280×800. The impact is present even when Google shows only 3 ads because the ads all now can have extensions with sitelinks, reviews etc which also take up more space.

Local Search with 3 ads BEFORE
Local Search with 4 ads AFTER
Local Search with 4 ads AFTER

The affect of this is particularly noticeable when Google includes product search to the right.

4 ads with Product search
4 ads with Product search

Here is a screen shot from my home computer with a 1440 x 900 pixel display and only 3 ads. Note that the 3 ads and the many Adword extensions push the pack out of sight even on a larger display:

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 10.19.05 PM


Click to Call Phone Numbers in Mobile Organic Results

Ryan Schilling of Lead Hub, noted (h/t Barry Schwartz) on Twitter having spotted click to call phone numbers in mobile organic results.

The snippets are appearing in both organic and YouTube universal results on the iPhone. To see these results you need to click through to page 2 of the search results on mobile only (let me know if you see them on Android).

Given that they are buried on page 2 it is very likely that they are a test. That being said, it is a test that if successful could lead to further reduction in pack results.

24 hr ac repair Corpus Christ (mobile only)


Jewelry buffalo (mobile only)


Local U Deep Dive in Local – The Role of Links in Local SEO

Our Local U Advanced is rapidly approaching. We still have seats left if you are a last minute type. To sign up visit our Eventbrite page. With David Mihm, Mary Bowling, myself as well as Andrew Shotland, Google, Joy Hawkins and the rest of the Local U gang it promises to be a great event.

As a lame alternative you can watch Mike Ramsey and myself discuss the role of links and link building in  local search optimization  our Deep Dive video series:

Screenshot 2016-02-29 10.52.13


Review Stars, Zen and the Art of Local Search

A very brief history: Rich Snippet review stars have had a tough week. Starting last Wednesday I noticed they were missing on a few searches I was using in a demo. By Friday, the reports of their disappearance were widespread.

Interestingly not all instances of the review stars disappeared, even during the “darkest” hour.

Many in the industry were asking about them being missing and wanted to know what could be done. There was, as is often the case, a certain intensity and near panic about the situations.

I assumed that it was one of Google’s many re-calibrations and that Google was once again “clearing the clutter” that was accumulating in the search results.

Yesterday they started returning and today John Mueller has noted that there was a bug and their massive decline was a mistake.

Zen: I often tell people that the best thing to do in Local Search when the s%$t hits the fan is to take two beers and call me on Monday.  I need to take my own advice more often. This was one of those cases where Google was having a “rankbrain fart” and the rest of us were along for the ride.

We live in a Google world, where they ship products early, iterate often and leave bugs for years. They test changes in real time on the real products and these “rankbrain farts” are not uncommon. We have to all remember to take a few days/weeks and assess the next step before conclusions are drawn.

Local Search: Local search is hard, always has been and always will be. Not only is it an amalgam of multiple algos its an area of heavy experimentation by Google.

That being said if you keep in mind some general principals you can minimize the impact of these changes on your business.

1- Communicate early and often with your clients when they come on board about the fact that Google changes frequently. Prepare them for the inevitable.

2- When issues like this crop up, be out front of the issue and alert your bigger customers and communicate to staff what they need to know to answer the inevitable questions.

3- Be prepared for change. Be sure that you are leveraging multiple local marketing tactics so that one change is not the end of the world.

4-Always keep an eye out for the next marketing opportunity that might help that customer and be ready to implement if things change.

5- Stay on the right side of ethics and best practices behaviors so if things go south, you are not the one responsible.

Review Stars Best Practices: Clearly review stars are a valuable asset and as much as possible you should craft your client strategy around them for longevity and visibility. This is an opportunity to review your practices and make sure that they have staying power. Here are some thoughts along those lines:

1- Use review rich snippets on original content. While this is no longer explicit in the guidelines as it once was, it makes sense that Google wants fresh and original content. Simply slapping Schema on Yelp reviews is a likely scenario for failure in the future.

2- Use the aggregate review snippets to inform customers NOT to try to game the search engine. Don’t just slap it on your home page in an effort to get Google to show them in the results.

3- Stay on top of and follow Google’s rich snippet guidelines.

4- Put your reviews and testimonials on a page that is of value to your readers. Burying your testimonial page deep in your site and expecting that page to show review stars is unrealistic.

5- In the case of multi location businesses consider putting them directly on the local landing page. For single location businesses consider putting them on the home page.

barbara oliver Google Search6- Testimonial pages that had significant internal and external SEO continued to show in the search results. This indicates that some form of page prominence is likely the variable as to whether they show and that you want to consider both internal and external linking to the page.

Don’t assume just because you have rich snippets that Google will show them. Or that just because Google has shown them in the past they will continue to do so. At a minimum, as adoption of reivew rich snippets moves across the web it is likely that we will see periodic recalibration on the part of Google. Put in place a sustainable plan now.

Full disclosure: I am a founder and principal in and  as such you need to view anything I say about reviews and rich snippet with that in mind. 🙂



Apple and the Court of Public Opinion – Do 51% Support the FBI?

Opinion polls are an ever present part of our society. All too often, in the absence of real democracy, they seem to take on the role of the “people’s voice” in public debates.

I was fascinated by the recent headline from the Verge declaring More than half of Americans think Apple should comply with FBI, finds Pew survey and from the NY Times declaring In Poll on Apple, Public Sides with F.B.I..

Clearly the people had spoken. Or had they? Firstly Apple is a global company with 2/3 of their sale from outside the US. So it isn’t clear that the opinion of its US customers should come before those of other countries.

But more importantly polls are just samplings with their own biases. What did it mean for the NY Times to declare that a majority (51%) of the respondents sided with the FBI when by Pew’s own admission they had 24% of respondents admitted to knowing nothing about the case.

I decided to run my own survey of the US internet users as well as adult internet users in Canada, Australia and the U.K. In an attempt to replicate Pew’s results I made the question exactly the same. Unsurprisingly the answer to my survey did not produce a 51% majority and is much more ambiguous with ~32% holding no opinion:

Screenshot 2016-02-24 08.19.37

We see even more ambiguous results in the UK with ~47% expressing no opinion

Screenshot 2016-02-24 08.22.31

Similar results from Canada

Screenshot 2016-02-24 08.23.41

And from Australia

Screenshot 2016-02-24 08.24.40

In all four countries, the percentage of people that thought Apple should unlock the phone was in the mid 30’s and very close given the margin of error noted in the survey (in parenthesis for each result). But in no country was their a clear majority favoring Apple unlocking the phone.

And given the high percentage of folks in all of the countries that had no opinion including the US, it seems premature for the NY Times to declare that More than half of Americans think Apple should comply with FBI. 

Why the differences? Polls are not science. A lot depends on the context and presentation. Even the questions create bias. I, in emulating Pew, asked simply about unlocking the phone. The actual request is much more complicated than that and in fact Apple needs to create a custom version of their OS. Perhaps if I had asked that the answer would have been more definite one way or the other.

As much as possible pollsters attempt to remove their own biases but even things like the way a question was asked or the order that it was asked can impact outcome. For example in the case of the Pew survey,  there were 6 questions asked prior to asking the principal question and we have no idea what five of them were. The sixth question immediately preceding the main question could also have set the stage for an inflated answer:

Screenshot 2016-02-24 08.33.00

All surveys have a margin of error built in based on how large and representative the sample is. In the case of Pew, they asked 1000 people which is large enough to be sure that the margin of error is reasonable but it was not stated as to how much it actually was. That being said, making definitive conclusions as they do about attitudes of sub groups within the sample becomes much less reliable and will likely have a much greater (but non stated) margin of error.

Pew for example found no significant age preferences while the Google survey found a very strong age based preference:

Screenshot 2016-02-24 08.39.13

Finally methodology affects outcome. My surveys were done using Google Survey which admittedly only sample the US Adult Internet Population.

So has the US public decided? Has the greater global public decided (which is really Apple’s audience)? As much as Pew proclaims that they have I would assert that the court of public opinion, like our Supreme Court, is pretty evenly split and nowhere near a majority.

Here are the links to my surveys so that you can examine the results for yourself:

US Survey

UK Survey

Australian Survey

Canadian Survey

Google My Business Categories By Country

With the release of V2 of the Google My Business API, Google simultaneously released categories for each of the 135 countries currently supported by the GMB. I noted it at the time but it was lost in the article but I wanted to be sure that folks so these categories and downloaded them if they needed to.


The category files list all of the business categories used by Google My Business. Download category files for the countries in which you are interested in creating locations. Each country has a different set of valid categories.

The list of available categories may change at any time.


Google MyBusiness Now Surfacing Web Verify Option

If a local business had a website verified in the Google Search Console  prior to verifying in Local, Google would on occasion auto verify the local listing without the need for a post card or phone call.

Previously this would just happen with no forward facing interface and would often be a surprise to the claimant.

Now, according to this screen shot captured by Avinash Murthy (@avinash4dvg) it appears that there is now a viable interface choice to allow for instant verification when it is available.  

This option has not been readily available to most businesses and even those with a common log-in and a verified Search Console site were not always offered the option. Here’s hoping that this new interface upgrade means that Google will be extending the program more broadly.

Local U Advanced in Historic Williamsburg – Early Bird Special is Ending

Our spring Local U Advanced in Williamsburg is one of my favorite conferences… its laser focused on Local search, the group is intimate and collegial, the content is state of the art…. And this year, David Mihm claims that the IPAs will be to die for (you won’t be able to tell by me).

All of the regulars will be there including David, Mary Bowling, myself, Mike Ramsey & Will Scott and more. We will be joined by Andrew Shotland who will be speaking about Apple local search and Joy Hawkins who will be diving deep (very deep) into problems and solutions with Google GMB and listings.

Early Bird Pricing Ends at Midnight – Only $699

Whether you run an agency that serves brick-and-mortar businesses, work in-house for a large brand or Internet Yellow Pages publisher, or are trying to find the hottest opportunity in the bloodiest of all bleeding edges in search marketing, you won’t want to miss Local U Advanced Training.

Early Bird Special pricing of $699 ends tonight at midnight and you can still get hotel for $121 a night (plus fees). Book now! 


NY Attorney General Comes Down on Review Abuses – Again

Today, NY attorney General  Schneiderman announced a  settlement with four companies in regards posting fraudulent content in the form of reviews and pay for play testimonials. Penalties ranged from $20,000 to $50,000 and included both NY and Californian companies.

Schneiderman has led the states in enforcement in this area having previously settled similar review abuse cases in the fall of 2013. Settlements were announced with four companies; Machinima, Premier Retail Group, ESIOHInternet Marketing and Rani Spa.

Machinima, Inc. is a California-based online entertainment network that distributes video content relating to video games that paid “influencers” to endorse the Microsoft Xbox and certain games. In return for free and pre release access, the influencers posted YouTube videos and received as much as $30,000 in payment but failed to disclose that Machinima had offered compensation in exchange for creating and uploading the videos.

Premier Retail Group, Inc. is a chain of cosmetic and beauty supply stores with locations throughout the US and NY “solicited reviewers through advertisements posted on to write positive reviews in exchange for free samples, free vouchers or other compensation. There was no requirement that the reviewer visit a Premier Retail Group location or that the reviewers disclose that they were compensated for the review”. The company paid reviewers $25 for each review link submitted and an additional $50 if the review was still standing in two weeks. They paid for “over 30 fraudulent reviews” and incurred a fine of $50,000. $30,000 of that fine is suspended if they comply with the terms of the agreement. (some quick math: 35 review cost 35 X $75 +$20,000 for a net cost of $646 per review).

Here2Four, Incorporated, d/b/a ESIOH Internet Marketing, is a California internet marketing company that “solicited over 50 freelance writers on websites such as and to write over 200 fake reviews of its small-business clients for $10 to $15 per [ficticous] review”. Apparently some of which were filtered by Yelp. Their fine was $15,000.

Rani Spa operates several locations in NYC and on Long Island that contracted with a Canadian businessman  who “offered to boost Rani Spa’s online reputation by posting fictitious positive reviews on”.

“[He] explained in an email how he only posts one review per day so as not to ‘make it look suspicious’ and get past Yelp’s spam review filter”. He charged “$300 per month. Not $300 to get 4.5 stars because of the difficulty”.

Rani Spa agreed to stop posting fake reviews and agreed to a fine of $50,000. $48,000 of that fine is suspended assuming compliance and in consideration of the “financial condition of the company”.

Obviously, NY State is NOT fake review friendly.

In the spirit of full disclosure I am a principal in the reputation development company

JC Penny’s Offers $500 Sweepstake Entry for a Review – Is it legal?

My wife is redoing our living room and recently ordered replacement curtains from JC Penny.  As you know I also helped create GetFiveStars (although I am not helping with the living room) but anything in regards to reviews gets my attention. So I was surprised last week when JC Penny asked me to write a review about the curtains.:

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 12.37.19 PM

Several other things about it surprised me as well. One was that the call to action to write the review link was tiny, effectively buried in the bold red graphics. And secondly it surprised me that there was a sweepstakes contest at all. Aren’t contests for reviews illegal?

I dutifully clicked the link to be brought to a review and survey page that could only have been written by a committee with more requests for more types of feedback, reviews & ratings than any one human is likely to ever complete. Although now the stakes seem to have been raised to $1000 from the original $500.

Submit a new review-without-highlight
Click to view larger
Ever curious, I continued to scroll down the page trying to figure the whole thing out when I saw, far down the page, that I needed to opt in to the sweepstakes via a check the box to be eligible:

Submit a new review copy-check-box

Never one to be slowed by a long form and what turned into an even longer set of rules, I clicked the See Details link and started reading the rules required for me to enter into the contest. As I read through the 2051 words that made up the guidelines I came upon the one nugget detailed about one fourth of the way in that lead to the epiphany:


Effectively that buried requirement would mean that 1)the contest was in fact legal 2)that very few souls would actually enter the contest by checking the check box and that 3)even if they did, they still wouldn’t know they needed to have the “secret code words” in their reviews to enter the contest. Those users that did check the box and dutifully wrote the review would not realize that they were not in the contest. The way its arranged JC Penny might not even be out the $500 (or is it $1000?).

The legality: Why did this make the review incentive legal? Incentives per se are not against the FTC rules. What is against the rules is not noting the incentives in the reviews so that readers would know that the reviews may have been influenced by money. These reviews would clearly indicate that.

The unlikely outcome: Given the length of the form, the almost hidden requirement for the opt in and the arcane requirements for entry mean that most reviews will not in fact be eligible to win the contest. But, because those users that did write reviews but didn’t make the Sweepstakes Entry comment weren’t actually entered into the contest, they were likely legal.

This “crafty” program will mean JC Pennys will get lots of reviews with promise of reward without the users actually entering the contest or being eligible for the reward.

Illegal? No or probably not. Totally disingenuous and deceptive yes. A plan that was likely concocted by a Reputation management expert and a lawyer. What a combo.

But I persisted. And I am now one of the (likely) few entrants in the contest. I will let you know if I win (and how much).

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 2.12.25 PM