Category Archives: Google+ Local

Apple Maps Now Testing TripAdvisor and Booking.com Reviews

It appear that Apple, at least in the hotel world, is testing the use of reviews beyond their traditional partner Yelp.

AppleInsider reported this morning the appearance of reviews from TripAdvisor and Booking.com on a limited number of hotel listings within Apple Maps.

image3

image2

image1

It makes sense that Apple would expand their review partnership beyond Yelp. While Yelp has a great many reviews in restaurants, their presence in hotels is not as expansive as either booking.com or TripAdvisor.

What is not clear is if this a test or a final solution. There are, more questions than answers. It is an option for certain hotel chains, will TA reviews will just be used on hotels and will, at some point in the future, multiple review sources show?

This does though show how Apple, unlike Google, will partner with market leaders rather than trying to either take the reviews unbidden and not compete directly by trying to do it themselves. Its not that they wouldn’t do it themselves if it becomes necessary or beneficial to do so, its just not the default setting.

If you have Apple Maps on your desktop this link will take you to an example.

Greg Sterling has good coverage of this move vis a vis international searches and notes that TA and booking.com are predominantly visible outside the US.  He notes:

A search for “restaurants, Prague” or “restaurants, Mexico City” show Yelp results, while restaurant searches in most European capitals show TripAdvisor content. It’s not clear whether Yelp is simply better in these cities or whether Apple hasn’t yet gotten around to replacing the Yelp content.

It goes on: a search for “hotels, Vienna Austria” displays reviews from Booking.com while “museums, Vienna Austria” continues to show Yelp results.

Yelp has good European restaurant reviews coverage. However in a majority of cases Apple appears to have entirely replaced them with TripAdvisor reviews. Yet TripAdvisor probably has more comprehensive and better hotel reviews coverage than Booking.com. It strikes me as odd that Apple would use Booking.com instead of TripAdvisor for hotel reviews — unless the capacity to book directly through the latter is being valued. (TripAdvisor is predominantly a lead-gen site for other booking services.)

TripAdvisor has always been important to hotel operators but now it must become a new focus for restaurants outside the US (if it wasn’t already). And Booking.com gains new prominence among hotel review sites.

New Google Support Option Offers A Form to Contest Reviews

One option in the new Contact Us process that appears to be an improvement is elevating a form to contest reviews.

The form, previously buried, has in the recent past sent a review removal request into the queued email response system and typically generated a human and intelligent response. This contrasts with the pissing in the ocean review flagging process typically encouraged.

reviews

In the field asking for content of the inappropriate review, one might actually be able to add a comment.

In addition to a form to contest reviews there is now an obvious option to ask for them to be moved from one listing to another. Moving reviews previously had a help page but no action associated with it. In this new context the process for resolution is clear.

Google My Business Help Now Segments Support Questions Prior to Calling

Google recently upgraded their site wide Help pages with a new material design them and more context sensitive help.

Today they have also changed the Contact US option available for My Business listings to attempt to segment certain problems and direct users back to the Help files.

Depending on the issue chosen, the user will either be presented with the option to receive a call back, choose between a call back and chat support or to visit the help pages. This is a change from previously when users that selected the contact us link were asked a few brief questions and then allowed to choose between the call, chat or email option.

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 2.21.49 PM
User must select an issue prior to proceeding – click to view larger
Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 2.22.02 PM
Depending on the issue, the user might be present with a call or chat option – click to view larger
Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 2.22.12 PM
Certain issues will lead back to the Help files or possibly over to a different section of the Google Help – click to view larger

From an efficiency point of view it makes sense to attempt to direct users to the best spot to be helped. That being said, Contact US has a very specific meaning and I think it both bad design and frustrating for users to arrive at that point to then be lead elsewhere on the site.

The Annual Print Yellow Pages Page Count And Other Anomalies

It is that time of year when I usually am beating a dead horse or three. With the arrival of my annual SuperPages Yellow Page Book(let?) I gleefully get out my ruler, Excel and last year’s book to see whether I can once again make fun of lament the decline of the one of Local’s historic marketing franchises, the print Yellow Pages.

image-croppedShock of shocker though when I realized that this year’s book actually showed an increase in total page count for the first time since I started on this masochistic documentarian exercise. Last year I did note that the rate of decline had slowed. For the 2015-16 book there has actually been a 6% increase in page count from 86 to 91 pages in my local book.

I studied the book to make sure that they weren’t just fluffing the book with filler ads for appearances sake and it does seem that there has been an actual increase in the size (and perhaps the count) of the display ads. While it seemed on casual observation that the truly local ads had often decreased in size there were a number of new, national ads.

YP page count 2015

In a book of so few pages it would only take a few additional ads to lead to this page count increase and obviously my sample size (~n=1) is on the small size. Thus it is hard to know whether the page count in one book in rural upstate NY reflects a larger national trend or is a statistical outlier.

It could be the result of a single more aggressive sales person, it could be that they got tired of me making fun of them and put a push on this edition, it could be an outlier and be masking a continued decline.

Or it could, maybe, possibly indicate that the print YellowPages have stabilized for a while. That really is the best that the industry can hope for; a stable, predictable (albeit smaller) revenue source that can create enough cash flow for them to fully make a transition to digital realities.

In related local news BA/Kelsey reports that overall radio revenues held steady during 2014. Although even there fragmentation of the radio market is bound to lead to future deterioration.

 

Google My Business Improves Contextual Help – Tests Integration of Call Back

help-boxGood News Bad News Update Monday, 9:00 am: Good: The Phone (and occasionally the chat) interface attached to the help link within the dashboard shows during business hours for support. Bad: It doesn’t appear to be working and you should continue to use the “old” way of clicking on the Contact Us link in the Google My Business Support area to get phone support.

Update Monday, 1:30 PM Apparently the phone contact option has been removed from the help screen.

It appears that Google is improving access to their Help files from within Google My Business and is apparently testing moving access to phone support directly into the GMB dashboard. Apparently, in checking with international friends, this feature is currently US only.

This is a screen shot of the new Help panel from within GMB today:
without-phone-option

As you can see from these screenshots taken yesterday, Google is also obviously testing moving both phone contact and chat support directly into the GMB as well. I learned about this feature when a client couldn’t figure out why Google wasn’t calling them back when they requested phone support. Since it was there yesterday and not working and gone today, it is not clear if they will in fact move phone support into GMB. They should.

showing phone

phone details

Google’s integration of help and support into the business center had long been a cobbled affair, often requiring long circuitous routes for the SMB to get support. This reached its nadir in 2011 and I penned Google Places: What might customer service look like, which was a reprise of an article that I first wrote in 2009. Continue reading Google My Business Improves Contextual Help – Tests Integration of Call Back

Why Suing Over A Review Is Rarely a Good Idea – The Case Of Dog Tranquility

shooting-footDave Oremland sent me a Washington Post article last week detailing a case where small business owner Colleen Dermott of Dog Tranquility in Burke, VA was suing a client for $65,000. The client had left bad reviews on Yelp and Angie’s List. She claimed that the client,  Jennifer Ujimori, in leaving a bad review, had made statements that were false and damaged her small business, which had had great reviews until that point.

The facts, as far as one can tell, are that the customer was requesting a refund and the owner, on the basis of a signed agreement, refused. The customer wrote reviews critical of the business owner on several fronts and the business owner then sued for defamation.

According to the Washington Post the business owner had attempted several different ways to satisfy Ujimori — including offering a credit for a future class — but the offers fell short of a full refund and the customer refused.

Not only has the client refused the offers but she has started significant pushback against the lawyer letters and suit. First responding to the letter publicly on Yelp and then apparently taking her case public. She is asking the state to pass anti-SLAPP law to protect her 1st Amendment rights.

The Post quotes the owner as saying “It had a significant impact in that I’m a small-business owner. I have to rely on these review sites as a major source of advertising.”

I marvel at the many business owners like Colleen that seem to be willing to continually shoot themselves in the foot over reviews. Clearly both sides have gone all in. The problem though is that the business has much, much more to lose and very little to gain. This would appear to me one of those cases where even if the business wins they will lose.

While I think that there are likely two sides to this story, let’s for a second assume that the owner is totally in the right on this and that there should be no refund of any amount, the customer knew what she was getting and that the sale was final. I don’t think that but for arguments sake let’s take that position.**

How does the owner possibly come out top by filing a suit?

-She will be out thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 4.54.45 PM
-She will become has become the target of the scorn of the internet hordes who will think her evil*.

-She will get press and lots of it. It is not clear to me though that it is the sort of press that will serve her business.

Most importantly, future customers, those that care deeply about their dogs will perceive this person as inflexible, petty and vindictive. Is that the person that you want training your dog?

Assuming that the owner was not going to give a refund, what could she have done besides suing?

In her case there was plenty.

-She could have started by getting a listing at Google, which as far as I can tell she doesn’t have.
-She could have gotten some additional reviews at Google, Yelp and Angie’s list.
-She could have done some basic local SEO on her website and actually got it to rank. Her home page title tag reads: <title>Home</title>.
-She could have done limited reputation management and built out her profiles at Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere.
-Christ for the cost of the suit she could have done all of that and had plenty left over to spend on a significant marketing campaign both off line and on.

This case is interesting. It shows how, if a business digs their heels in “on principal” they can easily end up with a much bigger battle on their hands than they ever could have imagined.

It’s fine and even sometimes appropriate to stand on principal (although you might want them to be better founded). But as a small business owner, once you do, think carefully about your next steps and how you want to spend your time and your money to try to improve the situation.

Here is the Yelp review posted and an update posted 1/28 followed by the owner response describing the situation:
Continue reading Why Suing Over A Review Is Rarely a Good Idea – The Case Of Dog Tranquility

Yext PowerListing Scoring Gets Worse When Listing Gets Better?

Yext Power Listing tool has often been useful to me to find bad NAP. I would caution others though that it is primarily a selling tool not a diagnostic one. And one that seems to be manipulated to increase your sense of discomfort EVEN when there is improving NAP.

By Yext’s measures 18 Listings improved, 4 stayed the same with totally wrong name, 6 had the right name or close to the right name and showed no change between October and now.

Yet in October 2014 it was scored at 37% error rate at Yext and in March 2015 it was scored with a 61% error rate DESPITE improving NAP (around the locations new name).

Go figure.

New Port Comparison Yext

Continue reading Yext PowerListing Scoring Gets Worse When Listing Gets Better?

FTC Staff Findings Contradict 2013 Antitrust Decision

Inside the U.S. Antitrust Probe of Google (paywall – to get to it use this search result to get through)  is a look by the Wall Street Journal at the FTC staff report inadvertently released to them under a FOIA request. The staff findings “concluded that Google’s conduct has resulted—and will result—in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets.”

That is a stark contrast to the final early 2013 ruling by the FTC that put an end to the investigation

I have long been a skeptic of antitrust cases and decisions that take place in our “democracy”. It is a democracy predicated on the one dollar one vote ideal of modern capitalism. The process is typically started by self interested companies that often gang up against a bigger self interested entity. This was no exception. However some of the findings divulged in the report were of interest.

“Data included in the report suggest Google was more dominant in the U.S. Internet search market than was widely believed. The company estimated its market share at between 69% and 84% during a period when research firm comScore put it at 65%. “

Many of us in local have long held that Google’s share particularly in Local was in the 85% range. It may even be higher now.

“It cited one instance when Google copied Amazon’s sales rankings to rank its own items.”

It is my belief that Google is still doing that albeit in local. Particularly with the Local One Pack in secondary markets where there is a dearth of user data.

“The report said Google ‘adopted a strategy of demoting, or refusing to display, links to certain vertical websites in highly commercial categories.'”

OK, so what else is new? Oh there is something new. Google is now doing the same thing with individual small business websites with the new Local Stack results. The page is dominated by either ads or the stack itself which leads back to Google. And in some cases it leads to 100% monetization above the fold.

The revelations confirm for me the way things actually work. These cases are not brought on behalf of consumers (although there may be some tangental consumer benefit in a decision against Google) and the outcomes are dictated by realities other than their well being.

The whole thing reminds me of the version of the Farmer in the Dell where the Farmer hits the wife. The consumer is the cheese.

There are no heroes here. Yelp? No way, they are just further down stream. And beat up SMBs.

Likewise there are no devils. Is Google evil? No way. They are protecting their interests. The FTC? Likewise.

But there is a lesson as we get to see how our regulatory sausage is made. The mythology of our childhoods, that government in our society is elected by us to protect our (the citizen’s) interest, is not how it actually works.

Let’s leave the mythology behind as we discuss stark reality of how our world operates.

 

Yelp – The Story that Won’t Die

The Bold Italic is reporting on a film maker that is attempting to tell the Yelp is a bully story via a documentary.

Yelp gets zero stars in an upcoming documentary by local filmmaker Kaylie Milliken. Her film, Billion Dollar Bully (which is halfway done, according to the International Business Times) focuses on complaints from restaurant owners about Yelp’s business practices.

The doc contains interviews with business owners and lawyers who believe their ratings and those of their clients were affected by how much they were advertising — an allegation that, as SFist points out, Yelp vehemently denies

The release date has not been set. But Bold Italic reports that the filmmaker, Kaylie Miliken plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money to finish the product.

Google Maps Upends Primary Data Suppliers – YP.ca is Out

yp-gone-circleIt has been confirmed that YellowPages.ca  (YP.ca) is no longer Google’s primary data supplier for business listings in Canada. But the story appears to be bigger than that and likely includes new terms in many countries whereby Google is now owning rather than licensing their business listing data.

Google has, over the past year an half, apparently renegotiated a number of their worldwide business listing licenses with their primary data suppliers. This has lead to new deals and, in a number of cases, changes as to who provides Google with data.

Late last week, I noticed that YP.ca, long a Google data listing partner in Canada, was no longer listed within Google Maps as providing business listings to Google. A link to the YP site had been visibly listed at the bottom of every page of Canadian results within Google Maps. I also noticed that they were not listed in Google’s Legal Notices Page for Business Listings Data. My inquiries confirmed that they were no longer providing listing data to Google.

Those knowledgeable about the situation said that beginning in fall of 2013 Google started to renegotiate licensing deals in many countries, worldwide. Google was modifying the arrangements so that they purchased the listings outright as opposed to the annual licensing deals that had been previously set up. They wanted to pay a fee for each listing and then pay only for the delta in listings that occurred with updates. Google would then own the listings and the data would be unencumbered & show without any need for attribution.

In examining the list of licensees my source noted that some country partners are gone from the list that were known to previously have licensed their data to Google. In some cases the same companies are still providing Google with data but under the new terms and without attribution. In other cases Google is sourcing the data from new companies. According to my source, apparently some that are still shown as licensing have switched to the new purchase agreement but the plan has not yet been implemented.

When comparing Google’s legal notices for business listing data both currently and historically (via the Internet Archive) the change seems to have started showing in November 2013 when Google moved the notices to a new page. At that time, Google added a significant number of new licensees but there was one obvious deletion: InfoUSA and Acxiom. I have prepared a Comparison of Business Listing Data Partners from Google’s website in Excel so that you can see the changes over time.

While I do think that InfoUSA is still providing data to Google it is likely under the new terms. I have no clue one way or the other for Acxiom.

This reported timeline is consistent with the last year’s email alerts alerting businesses in Australia and Canada with GMB claimed listings that if they didn’t “review and confirm the information in your Google Places account, we will no longer be able to keep and show it to Google users”. At the time I speculated that this had to do with with local licensing issues. That now appears to be the case. Either Google was trying to update as many listings as possible to minimize their costs under the new arrangement or proving to existing partners that they had a right to retain the listing in their database.

I would further speculate, based on what is known, that Google actually implemented the new data arrangement in the US, Canada and Australia first but has delayed implementation in other countries where the new agreement is in affect.

In the case of Canada, we do not yet know who replaced Yellowpags.ca. If you have any insight into that please let me know.

These changes reflect both Google’s power in the local marketplace as well their desire to not be encumbered by licensing agreements. That is likely as much about their freedom to use the data as they see fit as it is about costs. With the move towards wearables, in car and in home presence Google, with ownership rights, would not be constrained where, when and how they displayed local data.

Here is the Tl;dr in bullet form:
Continue reading Google Maps Upends Primary Data Suppliers – YP.ca is Out