Category Archives: Google+ Local

Don’t Go Looking for a Mobile Phone Store On Google

Dave Oremland has pointed out recently that searching for mobile phone stores Vienna Virginia produced terrible results. Tim Capper, another TC in the Google My Business forums, noted that they are terrible world wide. So for now don’t go looking for a mobile phone store on Google unless of your you think it is your lucky day… It’s not just Vienna, Va that offers up screwy results. The search for mobile phone stores plus just about any city produces very bizarre results.

In the search for mobile phone stores Rochester you get everything from a flag store to a fixture store and everything in between (like an adult shop). The searches in NYC, Chicago, Tokyo and Paris are equally bizarre.

Who knows what you will get in Rochester NY when you go in search of a mobile phone store on Google?

Snak Pack Rolls Out Interface Update

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 9.36.25 AMGoogle seems to have finally finished rolling out a Snak Pak update that layers a Hotel Finder like experience on all hospitality, food and entertainment searches. Colin Neilson wrote about some of the tests in early July as did Brad Brewer. Barry Schwartz noted the rollout in hotels several days ago. It appears to be international in scope as Petra Kraft noted that it is in Austria and likely all of Europe as well.

The interface, which I am referring to as the Local Finder,  is a vast improvement over the recent past and actually allows for both relatively easy recovery as well as discovery of new related opportunities.

Since its introduction last fall, the Snak Pak has been a poor user experience with a very modal feel on the desktop. It mimicked a mobile experience and the user had to drill into a single record and then back out again and in again if it wasn’t what they were looking for. As Dave Oremland has noted, it sucked.

The new interface, while still not showing critical contact details on the front page (and I thought Google was all about answering questions? Go figure.), does take the user into a functional list + Map view that allows them to get specific details as well as explore other locations.

The view is very similar to the one that used to be in Maps with the exception that 1) it offers a list view of 20 businesses and 2) the search bar if used again takes the user automatically back to the main page of search.  It is an interesting balance between the carousel of old, maps and search.

Although for my tastes, I would prefer a way to stay in the Local Finder view with new local searches rather than once again bouncing back out to the main search results page.

While I don’t like the fact that critical contact details are not divulged on the first page and there is no way to stay in the view for additional related searches, it is a vast improvement over the display that we have lived with on these types of searches for the past year.

From a strategic point of view, it would appear that it is one more reason NOT to visit Google Plus for these additional details. Or into Maps for that matter which has, with its recent interface upgrades, forgone its discovery capabilities. This is effectively a lightweight, fast Local Finder.

If you are interested in exploring which terms trigger the Snak Pak, you can find more information here.

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 9.37.10 AM
Food & recreation searches deliver the Snak Pak which when now selected take you into a Local Finder interface

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 9.36.40 AM
If you select the “Restaurants near buffalo ny” link you see the list with a Map and have the ability to drill into each listing for more information
Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 9.36.25 AM
If you select a specific restaurant from either search for the Local Finder you will see the Knowledge Panel overlay the Map area.

On a related note, Moz Cast picked up what looked like serious testing of Google showing the Snak Pak across a broader range of searchers during that this same time period.
Continue reading Snak Pack Rolls Out Interface Update

Google MapMaker Soliciting Regional Editors

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 4.33.02 PMIn anticipation of the re-opening of MapMaker as announced last week, Google is now actively soliciting applicants to become regional editors.

Here is an email that I just received asking me to apply to be a regional editor.

Subject: Invitation to become a Map Maker Regional Lead

Date: July 17, 2015 at 2:59:19 PM EDT

As you may have seen in our forum announcement, Google Map Maker will be reopened for editing in early August, and we’ll be relying on trusted users in specific regions to help us make decisions on edits submitted in their regions. To enable this, we’re selecting users who have a long history of making high-quality edits using Map Maker and inviting them to become a “Regional Lead” for their region.Based on the contributions you’ve made to your region, you have been shortlisted for consideration as a Regional Lead. As a Regional Lead, you will have the power to approve or deny edits made in your region. While Google operators may still moderate edits, the Regional Leads will predominantly determine the outcome of many edits. In short, you become part of an elite team of Map Maker users that lead mapping in your area. You also receive access to regional forums to interact with mappers in your region and a private forum where you can interact with the Google Map Maker team.Please indicate your interest to become a Regional Lead by filling out this application form (link removed). This application will be open until July 22, 2015. We will evaluate users who express interest and select qualifying users as Regional Leads. We will get back to you by July 27, 2015.To keep up with the spirit of this program, we will require you to sign a “Non-Disclosure Agreement” if you are selected. This means you agree to keep the contact information and substance of your discussions with the Map Maker team confidential, unless stated otherwise.

Last but not least, we want to reiterate the high level of trust we place in our Regional Leads — our most committed users — regarding the edits you make or approve. You’ll be the front line of the Map Maker community to prevent spam or abusive activity that will lead to poor experiences on Google Maps. We will also be monitoring closely for spam, and any users found engaging in such activities will be blacklisted and may lose their ability to use Map Maker. We trust you to exercise sound judgment as a Regional Lead.

Thank you for your continued support and patience. We look forward to hearing from you soon!

Pavithra KanakarajanProduct Manager, Google Map Maker

The note is interesting in several ways. Firstly, while I have done a ton of Map and Mapmaker edits I have avoided being too involved with the MapMaker community because the technology was so arcane with no simple path to learning but even more so because the other volunteers did not seem collegial.

Also in reading the note, there is no description of their expectation of this new category of volunteer. How much work is needed to be considered active? How much work is there? What is a region composed of? What tools will we have available?

Lots more questions than answers at this point.

Google Upgrades Mobile Browser Display to Allow Reviews

iphone-reviewLeaving a review for a business on Google via a mobile has long been a pain. However starting in early May on Android 5 and gradually working its way across Google’s & Apple’s mobile browsers, users can once again leave a review for a business using almost any mobile browser. This includes Safari and Chrome for iPhone as well as the mobile browsers for Android 4 and 5.

Since 2012 when the mobile web version of G+ had its review link removed, the only way to leave a review was to use the Google Map App or to do an ugly work around using G+ local search. With the advent of this search display update users can once again leave mobile reviews  across both major platforms and browsers by simply searching for the business, selecting the more info button in the Knowledge panel, scrolling down to the rate and review area and selecting a star rating. Thus one of the easiest ways to get a customer to leave you a review is to just ask them to search for you on Google and either click the “write a review” link on the desktop or select the more info button on mobile.

Life just got a lot easier.

Here is a video showing the process of being able to leave a review via Safari on the iPhone. It works similarly on Android 5, Android 4 and iPhone Chrome. It does not yet work on Google Now for the iPhone but I presume that will follow shortly.

Update 7/9: If you would like to read some ideas on forming the “perfect URL” for this project read my recent article at LocalU: Use This Link to Ask For Google Reviews on Mobile (& the Desktop)

Disclosure: I am a principal partner in, an online solution to reputation building and review acquisition. So I suppose it is necessary for me to alert you to the fact that writing about reviews might server a larger, more self interested objective. :)

Google Finally Announces Use of Google Local Reviews in Adwords

Google has finally acknowledged publicly that they were now adding Google Local reviews to Adword ads that use Location Extensions. These were seen in the wild starting several weeks ago.

emmets_NexusTablet_v3These reviews can be seen instead of seller ratings from 3rd party sites. Previously it was only possible to get Google Local review stars if you were using AdWords Express. Typically they would show if you had at least 3.5 stars and some minimum number of reviews. In the case of seller ratings that number is 30, I am not sure how many are required to show the Google Local review in Adwords.

Here is the Google Adwords post:

Location extensions can now show ratings from local Google My Business listings

Last year we made it easier to manage location extensions by automatically linking your Google My Business location information to your AdWords accounts ( Starting today, ratings from your Google My Business listings are eligible to appear in ads with location extensions enabled on desktop and tablet. People increasingly rely on the opinions and experiences of others to help make decisions like which pizza parlor to visit, where to get your tires rotated or which dentist to make an appointment with. Local ratings make your ads more useful to consumers searching for local information, and can improve your ad performance. To showcase your Google My Business reviews in your ads, make sure to have location extensions enabled in your account. Learn more (

Here is an example of an Adwords Ad showing on a branded search for a competitor. According to Dave Oremland, the ad placed for Professional Bartending School, has seen increased CTR in general. Showing up against a competitor might not deliver lots of click throughs but it sure is visually impactful:


Full disclosure: I am principal in, a product designed to help location based businesses understand their quality performance and earn more reviews.

Google Local Updates – Review Stars in Adwords & Amenities for Hotels

Photo Courtesy of Graham Johnson of PcRepair Croydon

Joy Hawkins reports that Adword customers that are using Location extension that are synced with GMB are now showing their review stars in the Ads. Previously this feature was only available via Adwords Express and to get the stars you needed to work with a 3rd party review site like TrustPilot.

I first saw these show up last week but couldn’t find any documentation about the feature. Still can’t. It is not clear how many reviews a business needs to have, what star rating they need to be or any other requirements.

Annie from Acorn pointed out something that I had noticed out of the corrner of my eye that Google was now displaying additional details about hotels and B & B in the Local Stack (Snack Pack) and Knowledge Panel.


It is not at all clear what source Google is using for this data although early money is on that seems to have embedded themselves into the booking tool. Several other oddities are that Google seems to have the data in the expanded Knowledge Pack but doesn’t always display it as in the Hyatt above. Note too that if the third listing displays the amenities they seem to get cut off in the main search result display.

The amenities also show up in Maps when you roll over the pin:

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 3.12.47 PM

Update: Google has published a Help Page on Amenities and notes that there is no way to directly impact the content of the display and if it is wrong to contact support.

Uber Hires Brian McClendon, (ex) Google VP of Maps

alumni_03Re/code has just reported that Uber has hired Brian McClendon, the former co-head of Google Maps. McClendon has a storied history in the mapping world having created Keyhole and Google Earth and having marshalled many of the technical developments at Google Maps over the past 10 years. According to Wikipedia he holds 12 Map patents including 7 related to KML.

I understood that he and Jen Fitzpatrick co-ran Google Maps and the Geo technologies at Google.  Apparently, last fall, Jen Fitzpatrick was put in sole charge of Maps.

Uber isn’t wasting any time building out a significant mapping and self driving car infrastructure. They are obviously very serious about having gutted the Carnegie Mellon research labs by hiring away many of its engineers earlier this year, acquiring long time mapping, driving direction & routing company DeCarta and having made an offer to purchase Here (aka Navteq) from Nokia.

Horace Deidu has pointed out  that creating and operating a mapping company costs $1-$2 billion per year. Because there is obviously little value in licensing of the data there needs to be another model for making money off of the investment. Google does so by selling advertising against the map, Apple by selling devices on which users expect a navigation system. He posits that Uber’s interest reflects a third business model where the large expense of mapping can be supported by transportation services where accurate maps are the key to autonomous vehicles.

Clearly Uber has the resources and they have the chops to make a significant move in Maps. For Apple, Google and now Uber, it appears that a billion or two a year is worth it. But mapping is haaaard…. Particularly at the level of the self driving car and it will not happen overnight. Uber won’t have any easier time of it than it did at Google or Apple.

The implications of the further “privatization” of Maps are not totally clear. Other local search companies and consumers will rely on sole sourced mapping technology that for competitive reasons is kept close to the companies controlling it.

Will our world be a better place for having three companies each dumping $2 billion per year into a Map race, the benefit of which is largely kept for the sole use of the companies acquiring the data?


Facebook Makes Retail Beacons Available for Free

Re/Code reported yesterday that Facebook is expanding its Place Tips program and  making free beacons available to retailers. The program, first tested in Brooklyn 6 months ago, installs a beacon into the local business and pushes current posts and photos for the business to your phone while you are in that location.

If you are standing in line at a participating retailer and engage with Facebook you will see “more info about places you visit, including your friends’ photos, experiences and moments from that place” and be prompted to like the business’s Facebook page.

fb-exampleAccording to Engadget you will experience “a “tip” notification for the place that you’re at when you launch Facebook. Tap it, and it’ll show a series of cards about the place. Not only will you see the aforementioned posts and photos from your friends, but you’ll also see basic info about the business”.

While the capabilities of the program are currently somewhat limited from the retailer POV and no advertising is permited, it pushes the retailer posts directly to the users stream and is delivered on an opt out basis to users. The potential seems huge given Facebook’s reach.

Facebook determines your location with a combination of cellular networks, Wi-Fi, GPS and Facebook Bluetooth® beacons. For now Place tips are limited to the Facebook app for the iPhone and Location services must be enabled for place tips to work.

This marks the first time that beacon technology to interact with customers is being made available at scale to every business. While it might not appeal to a Macy’s that can implement their own beacon hardware and software stack, it now makes the option available for every Mom & Pop to participate with in-store customer interactions.   And I see no reason why even Macy’s would not use the Facebook program to compliment their own. As such this makes the program important. Facebook is the first to push the technology out to such a broad audience.

Here is the form to request your free beacon. I would love to hear from folks that implement or have implemented this with your observations.

Update: Sandro was kind enough to provide a screen shot of Facebook’s SMB promotional push along this front:



Google Photos- A Visual Graph of People, Places and Things. Can It Become Their “Everything Graph”?

Google Photos, positioned by Google as a GMail for photos, is an incredible product. Incredibly amazing, incredibly scary. It does well what Google does well.

Update: If you are interested in learning more about the technology behind Photos and what it is capable of read this article: How Google’s New Photos App Can Tell Cats From Dogs.

It provides unlimited storage for all of your photos and then proceeds to organize them for you. For the first time, probably in your life (at least in mine), you actually have a library of photos that has been organized in some meaningful way. All organized in much the same way and with the same connections that you have in the real world…

Let’s leave the very obvious and significant privacy implications aside and the fact that our government is likely in possession of similar technology and look at the way the product is organized and how it very well could influence the future of search.

People, Places and Things is the main organizing metaphor for Photos.

Screen Shot 2015-06-06 at 12.43.07 PMSound familiar? It should as it is the same organizing principle of Google Plus and of the Knowledge Graph, the tech underlying much of Google’s current advances.

Google manages to (mostly) successfully arrange every photo that you have ever taken into the right category… and often at an incredible level of granularity. And I have taken a lot.

People. Google’s ability to recognize people is amazing. They can pick out a person that is in the far distance or on the periphery of a busy scene. Clearly they can find faces and match them to a known set with very little data and from a photo with a lot of noise. Google is able to match the person in different photos despite bad lighting, partial side views, headwear and glasses that are not normally there.

Here is a range of photos from which Google was able to “pick” out my sister successfully whether covered in a medical gown, displaying black eyes, under exposed in the back of photo or in a crowd:

Places. That’s the relatively easy one. 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 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.

Things. Google is able to characterize a wide range of entities from food to weddings, from ruins to statues. All automatically and all with a fair degree of accuracy.

Continue reading Google Photos- A Visual Graph of People, Places and Things. Can It Become Their “Everything Graph”?

Google Now Requiring Null Edits to Keep GMB Lisitngs Active in US

Update: Google has posted at the forum with an explanation

Update: Google has added that it is not necessary to do a “null edit” just be logged into GMB. 

First reported by Integrated Marketing, Google is now requiring that US accounts periodically go to a given listing and do a null edit to prove that it is active. In the article, Integrated Marketing noted that support informed him that if the account was inactive for 6 months this process would commence. I assume that Google support may be overstating this timeframe. Regardless Google will provide a 2 weeks notice of the pending unverification via email.

Here is an updated comment from Google: “We may contact Google My Business users via email to confirm that they are still actively managing a business page. If a user is unresponsive to our attempts to contact him or her and has not logged into Google My Business for a significant length of time, then we may unverify pages in the account. We’re doing this in order to continue to provide users with the best experience when they’re looking for local businesses like yours. If you find that a page in your account has been incorrectly unverified, please contact support to get assistance restoring verification. ”

Here’s a copy of the warning email –

Important information about your Google My Business account

Dear business owner,

Thanks for being part of the small business community on Google. This email requires action from you so your Google My Business pages can maintain their current ‘verified’ status. It’s very quick—it shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes.

We’re doing this because we haven’t heard from you in a while, and we want to make sure that people looking for your following businesses find the most up-to-date information on Google:

• Googleplex (business name)

Simply follow these three easy steps:

1. Sign in to your Google My Business account. Click here if you have any trouble signing in.
2. Review and update your information for each page.
3. Click the “Done editing” button.

That’s it! Please note that if you don’t take action before May 29th, 2015, you’ll have to verify your pages again for future updates to be shown on Google.

If you have any questions, you can contact us anytime. Thank you for helping us make Google Maps better.

The Google My Business Team

This is consistent with previous Google actions in Australia and Canada in February of last year (As well as the UK and Germany earlier this year). I assume that it keeps their list more up to date and helps purge stale listings that have gone out of business which otherwise could not be pruned because they are verified. It might also have to do with Google’s current plan of “owning” the listings rather than renting them.