Yelp has started implementing active monitoring of businesses that become the target of political reviews due to having their story go viral. While I think that the business’s behavior in this case was reprehensible, I find Yelp’s new approach to be appropriate. Google and Facebook would do well to follow the policy.
Google has yet to make any announcements vis a vis providing business photos to the Knowledge Panel via Image Search rather than from the GMB and Google Maps. Whether the change is permanent or “just a test” we do not know. It is very widespread though and appears to be the new normal. Google’s new normal is always more than a touch abnormal and this case is no different.
But we do know that there are problems with using Google Image search in lieu of business provided photos, some of which probably can be resolved and some of which can not.
Here are some of the issues that I see:
1- Google is very good on parsing user intent on partial searches and delivering the One Box when appropriate. However these same partial searches might return total crap for imagery. For example if you search for “Barbara Oliver Jewelry” and you click through to the images, you will get mostly relevant images. But if you search on the more common but less complete “Barbara Oliver” and click through the profile photo in the One Box with the specific intent of seeing more photos you get totally irrelevant photos:
2- When a user does a local keyword search and clicks through to the Local Finder and explores the profile images, Google is still presenting the traditional More Photos view with images from the Google My Business Dashboard and ugc from Maps. Should a business be expected to manage and monitor images at both the GMB and Image search?
3-Google My Business has provided a structured, relatively easy place to add photos that would be one click away from your Knowledge Panel. A business could put a stake in it and, for the most part, understand how to use it and have some modicum of control over the images that showed. Should small businesses now have to learn about Google Image Search SEO to have control over the images?
4-Some listings, mostly larger brands and hotels, are still delivering the “original” See Photos option. Is that because they are using bulk upload? Will that continue to be the case? Will brands with bulk be handled differently than SMBs?
5- Some local listings from the same company have it one way and some have it the other. In the case of Busch Gardens, which has two locations, one goes to Image Search and the other to the See Photos box. What gives? Is it because they are slightly different types of Knowledge Panels? Will a business have both types to deal with?
Google, in typical fashion, is not making life easy but worse they are not communicating about what is going on with one of a business’s most important digital asset, their Knowledge Panel. (Oops I forgot it’s not the business’s, it’s Google’s.)
Google, Google, Google. Complexity instead of simplicity. Change instead of consistency. Insular instead of communicative. Its no wonder that most businesses throw up their hands in disgust.
While the image that you chose as a profile photo might show, now when you click on it, you are taken to Google Image search, rather than to the businesses chosen photos for that business that were uploaded via the Google My Business Dashboard.
If the listing no longer notes “see photos” in the lower right of the Knowledge Graph profile image then the images, when clicked will take the user to Google Image search.
The images showing in Google Image search may or may not be very relevant. In my case I am seeing images for my long dead father, a politician named blumenthal, a uniform stored named Blumenthal, some images from blog posts and who knows what else.
If this is a new feature, I can sum up my thoughts on it very succinctly:
A business should be able to put photos of itself and they should have some measure of control over those photos. Taking users to random photos is bad for everyone. Do businesses need one more reputation management/(stupid) SEO task on their plate?
If this is more than a test then shouldn’t businesses be advised? At some point, this change MIGHT make sense.
But businesses that have focused on uploading images to the GMB now need to think about being sure that their images on their website are actually the ones that Google should show. It seems a lot to ask of most small businesses. And they need to be aware that images from around the web could be showing thus creating both a new SEO obligation PLUS a new reputation management concern.
The change has not occured to hotel Knowledge Panel images nor big brands like Target and Best Buy. And for now, images in the Local Finder still reference the GMB and Maps images. The change seems to be impacting SMB Knowledge Panels only at this point.
The wild uptake of Pokemon Go over the weekend demonstrates in a show not tell way the power of these sorts of virtualsegmenteddetachedalienated “augmented”* reality experiences to create real world buzz and traffic.
If you are not familiar with it (hard to believe that it was actually competing for news cycles), it is essentially a version of Pokemon layered over Google Maps that takes place in the real world by allowing you to capture Pokemon, level up etc by throwing a ball at a Pokemon figure that has been over layed on the real world in front of you on your mobile screen ….
Google (actually John Hanke’s Niantic Labs) is collecting a ream of local geo data, Pokemon, with its stock at a long time high, is collecting money with in app purchases and you (or hopefully your customers) are collecting virtual Pokemon in proximity of your business. Near perfect symmetry that portends the coming age of virtual gamefication of life in a (dystopic?) consumer world.
OK so its weird, its social, it takes place in a nether world between the screen and reality and it might be hard to get the attention of someone whose eyes are glued to their screen but it is worth thinking about, perhaps jumping on the bandwagon and at least being Pokemon friendly if not Pokemon alluring.
And thinking about how and how soon Google will figure out a way to insert local AdWords units into the game play.
I am curious if anyone has actually tried it in their business? Or if you have ideas on how you might use it in your business? Please let me know.
*Augmented? Augmented my ass. What marketing double speak for being engaged in something other than reality. A brilliant term for an experience that is anything but “augmented”.
Updated 11:21 Note the 404’s issues were mine
Updated: 11:30 It does work on Android Updated 7/12: The help page has been removed but the technique still works.
Google has added a new help page Create a link for customers to write reviews which explains in detail how to use the Google Maps API to generate a URL that can be used to solicit reviews. (NOTE: this page has been removed as of 7/11.)
The page is interesting for two reasons.
One it explicitly provides a Google approved way of generating a URL string for asking for reviews. While Google has acknowledged in the forums that is ok to ask for reviews there has never been a specific help page nor an “easy” method for generating the review URL.
Two, the method doesn’t work very often and only appears to work on the desktop some of the time. Go figure.
The steps Google recommends generate the review URL (these steps still work even though the help page has been taken down):
To create a link, you’ll need to get the Place ID for your business. To get your Place ID:
Unfortunately, at least for now, the URL that Google is providing doesn’t always work or doesn’t work in different browsers or doesn’t work in mobile. Exactly when and why it fails is not clear.
For example the example link above works in Chrome on my Mac but not from Safari and not on my iPhone in either browser. On Safari on the my desktop it generates the Knowledge Panel but not the review box. This is likely due to Safari’s poor handling of redirects which this URL does.
I hear from Helmut that the URL does work on Android. I still can not get it to work on iPhone on either Safari or Chrome but it does appear to be working on Google Now for Android. Would love others to test.
I have observed in the past that features and new search parameters (like /local/writereview?placeid) do not necessarily roll out to all browsers simultaneously. If we are lucky Google will be fixing this and rolling it out across all browsers on all platforms. For now it just as easy to copy the URL that Google generates from the Knowledge Panel or use one of the many tools to generate the URL.
Local Guides will be able to have photos that they are taking of local businesses “automagically matched” and added to the business listings from their Google Photos collection. The feature, first released on Android but soon available on iOS, only requires you to “turn on the back up and location features in Google Photos to have your photos of places appear in the Contribute tab of Google Maps.”
When Google Photos was introduced a year ago I noted in my article Google Photos- A Visual Graph of People, Places and Things. Can It Become Their “Everything Graph”? : Almost every photo these days comes geotagged so Google knows, at least within a 100 feet or so of where it was taken. They don’t yet auto assign a specific [business] location but they show incredible accuracy in auto assigning the photos to a city level. I assume that Google has more granular insights but has not yet turned them loose for fear of a privacy backlash.
So much for that fear.
Google Photos is one of those brilliant tools that shows Google at its very best and its very creepiest with its use of AI, machine learning and the ability to dig deep into your phone to surface additional details about businesses that you are frequenting.
And now with a little gamefication (Local Guide points), the offer of some free storage and some very sophisticated technology Google has unleashed one of the worlds most amazing geo-photo crowd sourcing projects ever.
I have been involved in local search marketing and local seo for much of the last 16 years. I love local seo and would never declare it dead. It has lots of life.
But it has never been harder, once you have nailed the basics, to get an appropriate ROI. The many changes at Google Local, the increasing fragmentation and competition, the every shifting technology and rapidly evolving new interfaces should force every business and agency to assess the role Local SEO plays in your overall marketing plan.
Join Mary Bowling and myself as we discuss the varied and many influences that are impacting the ROI of local seo. Let me know what you think and how businesses and agencies should respond.
Update: Jennifer Slegg has confirmed with Google that this new ad format is actually rolling out.
Last week while in SMX I noticed a new hyperlocal, very contextual ad unit that appeared above the Local pack and looked more like the local pack then an ad. Google has been on a tear monetizing local of late with the new ad units in Google Maps and Joy Hawkin’s uncovering of their plan to monetize the pack as well as possibly removing additional information from pack results.
This new ad display, for nearby businesses, is perhaps a test. And one that pushes the boundaries of identifying the ads as such with just the single notation at the top of the display.
There is obviously a distance factor in what displays but I also noticed that the business had to be open to appear. When I did this same search after 6:00 pm when several of the businesses had closed, they were no longer included. So in addition to ad quality and relevance, Google is adding proximity and open hours as factors in choosing which ads to display.
As Joy Hawkins pointed out in the Local U Forum: I think it’s definitely possible to show in surrounding cities but not as likely if there are lots of good competitors who are actually in that city with great AdWords accounts.
This new ad display though does give some clues about where Google is going with local ads, what pack ads might be like AND provide an indication as to how far out of the radius of the local pack they might be.
With the advent of Pigeon, Google dramatically decreased the radius within which a business might show in the Local Pack. Google effectively started showing different search results every 5 miles or so thereby increasing the absolute number of businesses that displayed in the Pack results and reducing the opportunity for domination by a few companies. By adding radius and open hours, Google dramatically increases the potential inventory opportunities for themselves to display local ads. And one assumes that over time the reach of these ads might mirror the radius of the Local Pack post pigeon.
I was curious in this first go exactly how far afield the Nearby Ads reached so I mapped the area of both the Local Pack and the Nearby Ads to get a sense of that. The Local Pack, in typical Pigeon fashion, showed the furthest result from my location at about 2 miles. The Nearby Ad on the other hand displayed the furthest location nearly 17 miles away. By the same token the nearest business in the ad to my location was only 1 mile away indicating that with more inventory a much tighter display radius is very likely. It will be interesting to see how Adword quality and relevance are valued compared to distance and open hours. And how these types of ads will impact spammy local results like locksmiths and movers (and botox and law and….).
Clearly both these Nearby Ads and the coming Local Pack ads will allow for early entrants to get increased urban and suburban exposure. But as the value of the ads become more obvious and there is more inventory I assume that not only will the cost go up but the radius and display port will become much much smaller.
And Google will continue its growth in Ad revenue. Even if searches do not increase.
Critical to any complaint plan is figuring out the who, when and where of responding to them. I wanted to understand the consumer perspective so I asked two questions:
When you complain to a local merchant how long is reasonable for them to respond & resolve?
If you have a complaint with a local merchant how would you prefer to express it to the business?
I was surprised by their answers. I guess that national firms have conditioned too many consumers to not expect a quick response. That strikes me as a huge advantage for smaller, more agile firms that can respond quickly and effectively.
I think complaint resolution has a huge ROI and the ability to directly impact your future sales. Figuring exactly how your clients deal with it, will make your job much easier.