Category Archives: Google+ Local

Google and Apple Consolidate Positions in Driving Directions During 2013


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.

Usage-chart

What product or service do you normally use to get driving directions?

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..

Driving Direction Usage changes amongst 18-24 yr. olds

Driving Direction Usage changes amongst 18-24 yr. olds

Driving Direction Usage changes amongst 18-24 yr. olds

Driving Direction Usage changes amongst 25-34 yr. olds

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.

Google Local Carousels MIA – Are they gone for good?


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.

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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.

In my tests today of a range of those different search results that had returned carousels, none were visible on searches as varied as  Fishing CharterGrocery storesCampground RochesterMusic lessons chicago & Kids Entertainment Buffalo.

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:

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Mining for Google Hummingbird Guano in So Cal


guano-miningGoogle’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:

DUI Lawyer Los Angeles

DUI-Attorneys-Los-Angeles

To see more examples: Continue reading

How Do I Merge Two Google+ Page Pages? A Very Common Question


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.

How Do I Merge My Google + Pages? Usually You Can’t, Now What?

Google Search Quality Issues Dogging Local Results


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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

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 8.37.10 AMThis 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.

Hummingbird Poop

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 8.48.29 AMHummingbirds 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.

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 8.57.29 AM

Un-Knowledgable Graph

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 8.57.50 AMSeaworld 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 Google Places Dashboard And Listing Ownership


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.

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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.

Google MapMaker Update Summary: One Database to Rule Them All


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.

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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.

Continue reading

Google Intros the Mother of All SMB Review Monitoring Systems


Google has announced on the Google and Your Business blog today that they have rolled out what appears to be the mother of all review monitoring systems today.

The system, a new module for the updated Places for Business Dashboard, not only shows Google based reviews to dashboard owners and managers, it shows every review that Google has found from the thousands of review sites that it indexes. In addition Google is providing review analytic reports for both the volume and rating stats of reviews from Google and across the web.

Google has also integrated the owner review response option directly into the dashboard and will now be showing those responses in the review panel on the front page of serps

Other Items of Interest

  • The rollout is global and will be available by days end to all new Dashboard users
  • The reviews from around the web are presented in snippet form
  • Yelp reviews are not included in the reviews from around the web view
  • Reviews can be seen and responded to by both account owners AND managers
  • The ability to respond in dashboard is limited to businesses with a fully social Plus page.

What’s missing

  • The functionality has not been added to the mobile version of the Places Dashboard for Android
  • There is no ability for a business owner to flag a review as inappropriate from within the dashboard. He/she must still visit the About page for the business to flag reviews.
  • There is currently no active feedback alerting the SMB to new reviews
  • There is no ability to limit whether a manager has access to provide responses or not.
  • No enterprise abilities to rollup reports across locations

Help Files - the updated Google Places Help Files covering this product:

What’s Important About this Announcement

For the first time since the dashboard was created Google is providing small business owners and their managers a reason to return to the dashboard periodically. The ability to monitor reviews from both Google and around the web, easily respond to the those reviews and quickly access those on other sites are all features that leverages Google’s strengths and provides a basis for Google engaging with more SMBs on a regular basis. Products of similar ilk have cost SMBs from $30 to $200 a month.

The rollout, one in a string of several recent upgrades to the new dashboard, indicates that not only is Google able and committed to adding new functionality to the dashboard on an ongoing basis, it signals that they are prepared to provide significant ongoing value in doing so.

The Places Dashboard has long been a once and done experience for SMBs. The analytics were the only reason for regular visits.  These analytics have been less than inspiring and often didn’t function leaving SMBs baffled and frustrated. Once a listing had been claimed and photos added there was little reason for a business to revisit the dashboard. The addition of social functionality, now provided automatically with every new claim, doesn’t occur from within the dashboard and while it might increase engagement for some SMBs it is not appropriate for all. Reviews are important to a much broader swath of the market.

Here are screenshots of the features: Continue reading

Google, Google Plus, Dog Food & Politics


A reader pointed out to me that Google themselves do not seem to think that local Google + Pages for Business are all that important as they have not upgraded their page to social. They in fact have not even claimed the page as of yet. Certainly no consumption of their own dog food there.

He also points out that equally interesting is that the “profile photo” was a community contributed photo…a political protest photo at that, posted by Brad Johnson. Brad is a political activist who has been critical of Google’s climate change efforts in general and specifically critical of Google corporate moves that support climate change deniers.

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The use of Google Maps as a platform for political commentary is not new with reports from as far back as 2008. I have myself occasionally used these tools to make a point.

Google has long relied on the power of the group as a low cost way to get things right in the world of Mapping. While there was a certain democratic populism that informed many of Google’s early decisions to open up their tools and business listings for users to edit there was also a clear economic rationale. It is interesting to observe the tension that exists between policy that allows for community edits and the needs of Google as a corporation where they have to explain to corporate advertisers why their + Page is littered with reviews from protesters.

Despite the fact that I often sympathize with the messages of these protesters, I have never felt that small businesses were served by Google’s loose policies in these areas. In this case, the user simply uploaded a photo, in the absence of corporate ones, that the algo seems to think is good. No little irony in that.

Tips for Your New Google + Cover Photo


Early this week Google updated the layout of the G+ Pages. They also updated the imagery and maps at the top of the pages moving away from the ever slithering image that continually changed in size to one that was relatively stable. They simultaneously moved the details about business location to the area to the left of the image.

Some notes about the image

The aspect ratio of the cover photo is not changing. It’s still 16:9.

  • The size of the cover photo shown depends on the browser width.
  • According to Google the entire cover photo is shown unhidden on > 95% of desktop displays.
  • When part of the photo is hidden, it is roughly hiding 10% of the length of the photo from each side of the photo
  • The actual image display size ranges on the desktop from 519 x 294 pixels to 1081 x 608 pixels. The text area to the left adjusts both the width of the area and the font size as the screen width increases
  • The navigation bar is now below the cover photo on the desktop (but not on mobile phones).
  • No changes to the mobile design.

Here are some notes about the cover image that might not be obvious at first glance:

Cover-Image

When the image is cropped at certain screen sizes roughly 10% of the image content is lost from each side of the image.

Best Practices

  • The intent of the change was that all current cover photos will work with the new design however if you were an early adopter of the +Page and retained the thin image from prior to May, 2103 it will now be bordered on both top and bottom to fill the space. It works but it is ugly and will motivate you to replace it.
  • Consider how your current cover photo will render in this new design. When a user navigates to your Page, they will see the entire or most of the entire cover photo image.
  • If you choose to upload a new cover photo, make sure it has a 16×9 aspect ratio with a minimum upload size of 480px x 270px. Maximum pixel size is still 2120 x 1192 but the largest actual image that I found displayed was 1081 x 608 pixels so really anything larger than that will do. Note that I was only able to test up to a screen width of 3200 pixels so the image might get still get larger in very limited circumstances.
  • Given that on certain display sizes the left and right edges are trimmed by about 10% each be sure that there is no critical content in the edge areas
  •  On a Nexus 4 the image shows at full width. However on an iPhone the smaller cropped image is shown and on the 5s a small portion at the very top of the image is not visible in the Google Plus app so you probably do not want any critical detail at the very top of the image.
  • I have seen some very nice examples of cover images where smaller images were imbedded in the larger image. They looked great on the desktop but due to the small size of the embeds they did not resolve well on mobile screens. Be sure to check your cover photo on those smaller screens as well.
  • Note that the dashboard profile photo, still round, will reside with above the name and address block when the page is displaying 2 columns or more.
  • When the display is a single column and on mobile phones the profile image will be centered on the middle bottom of the cover image.  Half of the profile image is above and half below the bottom of the cover image. This image will be 123 x 123 pixels. Not enough pixels to resolve any amount of detail so keep the image close and simple.
  • When the display is in two column mode, the profile image is displayed at 71 pixels allowing for even less detail but returns to 123 pixels when the display is wider in 2 column mode and in 3 column mode.

Here is a table that delineates the changes to the image at different desktop screen sizes: Continue reading