Category Archives: Microformats in Local

Video Snippets Vs. Author Images – Which Have Higher Click Through Rates?

Matt reached out to me last week with interesting data on the relative value of video snippets vs author photos in search results. This work compliments the research done on lawyer author photos and how consumers find a specialty lawyer last year. The research has implications for local as we have have seen pinned results in the wild that include them. Obviously the relative merits there have not yet been tested.

About the authors: This survey and corresponding write-up were
executed by SEO strategists Matt Green (@MChuckGreen) and John Van Bockern (@JohnEVanBockern) from Ethical SEO Consulting.

**********

The Reeves Law Group has invested heavily in video creation for their website, and have seen a measurable rise in conversation rates as a result. Although the videos have a positive effect on users once they are on the site, the stakeholders at the firm were skeptical that the presence of video snippets in search results would in fact have a similarly positive impact on click though rates (so, actually getting the user onto the site). Accordingly, they commissioned our team to answer this question:

What is the true impact of video snippets on click through rates in searches for specialty lawyers?

Answering this question would allow the firm to make an informed decision on whether or not to implement structured mark-up on their site (which causes the video snippets to be displayed along-side their listings in search results) rather than simply assuming the snippets would have a positive effect, possibly to the determent of CTR’s. Our assumption was that they would increase click through rates, in a similar way that authorship images have.

To that end, we conducted a survey with the intention of discerning the sway that video snippets hold over users searching for local specialty lawyers. The results from the test that we conducted through Usability Hub, which provided an effective survey interface, rendered a glimpse into the impact of these snippets in the highly competitive specialty lawyer market.

The Survey

We wanted to maintain the look and feel of a Google search result page as much as possible in the test, and then let the familiar process of searching guide the survey taker to make their own choice. This way, the design enabled us to keep as close as possible to the look of a search results page in order to most accurately represent click through rates. There were three separate images presented to a total of 300 respondents.

Any media snippet used was placed in the third search result, and only in the third search result, in order to discern the impact of a media rich snippet as compared to a standard, non-media search result.

First, a survey taker was given a brief introduction to the test:

Continue reading

hReview Testimonials from SMB Sites Starting to Show in Places

Since last October when Google noted in their FAQ that Rich Snippet testimonials might flow into a Place Page, many webmasters took the time to mark up their client’s sites in hReview.

As Andrew Shotland has recently noted and my observations have confirmed, these marked up reviews have slowly been making their way onto Places Pages from 3rd party review sites.

However none had been seen from SMB sites until very recently. Since the first of May, 3 examples of SMB website’s testimonial pages having finally shown up on their Places Page. While there are likely to be more in the wild, three examples (from myself, Andy Kuiper & Tyler Robertson) seem to indicate that going forward more are likely to occur:

Testimonial & Place Page 

 

Place Page Screen Shot
Sweet Carolina Cupcakes 

Place Page

Barbara Oliver Jewelry 

Place Page

Electra Hair Laser Removal 

Place Page

Continue reading

Google Places is Adding Upcoming Events To Venues via Rich Snippets

Reader Matt Feldman of Yelo.us has pointed out a new feature in Places where Google is now integrating venue events into their Places Pages. It allows an individual to add the event data to their personal Google calendar and to “invite friends using the ‘Add to calendar’ link that appears alongside the event”.

Google has confirmed that they are adding these events to venues “in a few major cities across the globe, including New York, San Francisco, London, Paris (and others)” and this “information is based on data from rich snippets markup“.

Wcities and Zevents events use the RDFa based Open Graph data structure. Other events appearing on the National Museum of the American Indian Places page from NYC.com are sructured with the event microformat (vcard) formatting. Although it does not seem to matter which format you are using, if you are operating a local site that includes events and you want your event information included in Places, you should be formatting the data with rich snippets.

 

Testimonials as Reviews – A View from the Field

Last week after publication of the new Google Rich Snippets for Local FAQ and follow up comments by Carter Maslan, there was a great deal of discussion about what was best practice vis a vis testimonials on a SMB web site.

Clearly, when you focus on the client, having this type of content can be a good practice and as David Mihm pointed out there are a number of reasons that semantic markup of the testimonial information on an SMB website makes sense going forward, Carter’s ambiguous comments not withstanding.

All that being said, the question of how Google is actually handling testimonial information in Places is still of interest. Are they or are they not including it in the Places Pages as reviews?

The answer is yes, in a limited way.

The Data

I have been looking for examples of Google’s use of owner website pages as reviews since October of 2010. Some of these examples were discovered by research but many are user contributed (I apologize for the lack of credit but I just lost track of them all). I am sure that there are more examples of Google including testimonials on the Places Page and I would encourage you to send them along. It will add to the very limited view we now have of Google’s use of this content in practice.

I am presenting the data in two groups of results, hotels and SMBs, as I think that Google is handling the two cases differently.

Continue reading

Carter Maslan Responds To Rich Snippet FAQ Language Change

I sent the following email to Carter Maslan, Product Management Director, Local Search at Google for clarification:

You have been quoted as saying at Kelsey: “Merchants should be publishing their own reviews and that Google would find them.”

Today I reread the new Rich Snippet FAQ and it says (which is a change from October):

How will Google treat businesses posting testimonials with review mark up on their own site? Will these be treated as a review by the Place Page?

Google’s goal is to provide a comprehensive, unbiased, and credible view of businesses. Reviews should come from an independent source to remain trustworthy. Posting testimonials or using review markup on a business site will generally not improve how its listing appears on Google. As with any form of unuseful content, reviews markup intended to game search results will only undermine the listing’s credibility and may negatively affect its ranking. See our Webmaster Guidelines.

I realize that these are not incompatible statements IF on an SMB website, the owner puts testimonials without hReview mark up.

Is that what you are currently suggesting as a best practice? Will Google on occasion still include them as a review in Places?

Carter’s Response:

Hi Mike -

An authentic testimonial is really nothing more than a glowingly positive user review that the business owner has hand-chosen to feature because it’s speaks so highly of the business. There’s nothing wrong with that – especially if there are avenues to corroborate the authenticity of the author and review (e.g. “reviewer” attribute referencing the hcard of a real person that might have originally posted comments on a blog or review site). The FAQ below was intended to convey that we try to classify reviews wherever they’re found on the Web but that we also aim to protect users from spam.

The use of hReview or other structured HTML formats on any site is just an aid in understanding the page more precisely. Ranking tries to steer clear of suspicious testimonials regardless of whether they’re marked-up or not on an SMB’s own site. Bottom line – it’s not that we always score testimonials on business home pages as spammy but rather that white-hat SEOs might not invest special effort to markup testimonials at this point.

Google’s Rich Snippets For Local FAQ Update

Google at some point over the past four months has changed the Rich Snippets for Local FAQ. These changes to their Help Files are not transparent in the least (boo to Google!).

Google provides no RSS feeds, no history of changes and no date that a given change was published. For a company that proclaims openness and transparency, intentional obscurity of changes to their help files is a curious thing. Clearly, it would seem to be in every one’s best interest if Google’s current policy and best practices were easily tracked. One has to assume that the decision to not include these standard features are an intentional act to obfuscate these changes.

That being said here are some interesting points in the now current Rich Snippets for Local FAQ

Does it matter whether I include multiple telephone types?

You should only provide the phone number for the location of the actual local business. Types of phone numbers that should not be included are: call tracking numbers and phone numbers that are not specific to a business location.

Should the <url> point to my home page or to the location specific page?

The <url> should point to the home page of the business. However, the attribution will link to the source of the crawled information.

Do I need to specify the <geo> lat long or is it okay to only use <adr>?

If you have precise coordinates, please include them. This will help Google display results accurately. If you do not have precise coordinates, then <adr> alone is okay.

What additional types of structured data does Google plan to recognize in the future?

The goal is to eventually be able to recognize all structured data that appears on the Place Page.

If I annotate my site with structured markup, where may results appear?

Results may appear in Web Search, the Place Page, and Video Search, as well as other Google services and services outside of Google. However, Google cannot guarantee by annotating your site that results will appear in any of the above services.

Should business owners be using structured markup instead of Google Places?

No. Currently, Google Places is the only way to verify ownership of a business, update its Place Page instantly, and see the analytics dashboard. Annotating your site with structured markup is still a good idea, and a great way to make sure your website is reliably associated with the places it mentions.

How will Google treat businesses posting testimonials with review mark up on their own site? Will these be treated as a review by the Place Page?

Google’s goal is to provide a comprehensive, unbiased, and credible view of businesses. Reviews should come from an independent source to remain trustworthy. Posting testimonials or using review markup on a business site will generally not improve how its listing appears on Google. As with any form of unuseful content, reviews markup intended to game search results will only undermine the listing’s credibility and may negatively affect its ranking. See our Webmaster Guidelines.

Will Rich Snippets for Local Search be as trusted as Google Places data?

It doesn’t replace verification via Google Places. We’re using this information to allow site owners to tell us about a specific location. Like other information, it will be ranked and displayed algorithmically, depending on its relevance.

If I annotate my site with structured markup, how fast may results appear on the Place Page?

It typically has the potential of appearing within a couple of weeks of your page being indexed by Google. Currently we will only be able to recognize basic business listing information (name, address, phone number) and surface reviews and photos.

What is the optimal way of using structured markup. Should you have a separate “Reviews” page or should you incorporate them within the body of the site?

For “discoverability” purposes, it does not matter much. But from an attribution/link back point of view, having a reviews page might make more sense since Google can point users directly to that page. Having a page for each review might be even better. In the end, you should really design the page in a way that makes sense for your site and your end users’ experience.

Google Places: Testimonials as Reviews Now Viewed As Spam?

In early October, 2010, shortly after Google announced support for Rich Snippets in Local, Google Rich Snippet FAQ noted the following:

How will Google treat businesses posting testimonials with review mark up on their own site? Will these be treated as a review by the Place Page?

Testimonials will be treated as business reviews on the Place Page.

Since that time, I have been tracking the appearance of testimonial pages as reviews in Places. And while I have been finding some they have mostly been non marked up pages and these results have not been coming into Places with more than very sporadic frequency. That being said, they are in fact coming into Places.

Today when rereading the Google Rich Snippet FAQ I discovered this change in Google’s position on this topic (when it occurred is unclear):

How will Google treat businesses posting testimonials with review mark up on their own site? Will these be treated as a review by the Place Page?

Google’s goal is to provide a comprehensive, unbiased, and credible view of businesses. Reviews should come from an independent source to remain trustworthy. Posting testimonials or using review markup on a business site will generally not improve how its listing appears on Google. As with any form of unuseful content, reviews markup intended to game search results will only undermine the listing’s credibility and may negatively affect its ranking. See our Webmaster Guidelines.

Continue reading

Google Places Search to IYPs – What is the Message? Go Microformats, Young Man!

There has been a lot of discussion* (David Mihm, Greg Sterling, Chris Silver Smith, Andrew Shotland) in the local search community about the meaning and impact of the new Places Search organo-local blending of results on IYPs, directories and Review sites. All interesting and all of value. Clearly there will be winners and loosers, clearly Yelp made out better than Superpages. But is Google passing judgement directly on the IYPs and their future?

I would contend not. To me the message from Google to all of these (and other) sites that want to be included in the Places Search results: Send us unique review content about local places. Google has plenty of directory information, they pretty much have figured out location information…. what they want now is reviews.

When you combine this “message” of more reviews with the recent announcements around supporting Rich Snippets in Places and supporting testimonials marked up in hReview format as reviews, the message becomes even more nuanced and is no longer directed at just the IYP sites: Send us your reviews about local places in semantically marked up syntax.

This message applies as much to the up and coming reputation management company that focuses on presenting microformated reviews like Customer Lobby as it does to the small real estate website that has taken the time to properly mark up their testimonial page. Google is saying that everyone, big and small, directory or newspaper, local or national can now play in this arena.

Google has democratized the sourcing of unique review content around Places and has highlighted it front and center with a link. All comers are welcome. You no longer need a unique special relationship with them like CitySearch or DemandForce have. Everyone can play.

But is this just about reviews? I would contend that going forward it will be about other unique, high level information about local businesses…. coupons, sales events, specials… as microformat standards evolve and as microformatted content becomes widely available.

If you are building a site that deals with local, include microformatting as an integral part of the plan now and for the future. Go deep rather than wide as quantity about specific businesses is what will land you on Google’s front page. Keep track of the rapidly evolving world of microformats and be sure to apply it to unique content whenever possible.

——

* Others that have provided excellent high level overviews of Places Search but didn’t address the questions of Google’s “message” to IYPs:

Miriam Ellis – New Integrated Google Local A Game Changer
Matt McGee – 5 Quick Impacts of Google’s New Local Search Results

Time to Reexamine hCard to Solve the Call Tracking Issue in Local

The Problem:

Call tracking is a valuable tool for business. With the advent of VOIP it has become very low cost and its benefits are available to even the smallest business.

The problem is that in Local it can cause much more harm than benefit in the current ecosystem. The use of call tracking numbers at directory or IYP sites can destroy a local business’s primary tool for gaining customers, Google Maps ranking. The negative affects can persist for a very long time in the Maps index. Thus most Local SEO practitioners strongly advise against its use.

The New Landscape:

The evolving semantic web has finally hit escape velocity. Google, providing real world validation of the concept, has announced their of support of hCard and microformats as a means of understanding which business a given web page is about. In that, lies a solution to the nagging problem of using call tracking numbers in Local.

The Solution:

The idea of using hCard to clarify and categorize a business phone number is not new. Chris Silver Smith  has already suggested it as a way to identify a canonical phone number using microformats that would work well.

A slight variation on the idea would be to add a specific definition to the hCard Standard to specify a number as a call tracking number. The hCard format has a property (tel) for telephone number to be defined as part of business listing. The standard also already supports a type product for further refining the type of phone number that is being referred to. Here are the current types of telephone numbers currently defined in the standard:

tel type: VOICE, home, msg, work, pref, fax, cell, video, pager, bbs, modem, car, isdn, pcs

It would seem that it should be a trivial task to indicate to Google and any other search engine scraping semantic content that a number is a call tracking number and not the main number and that it should be construed as such. The semantic markup could make it perfectly clear that the telephone number associated with a given business listing is not the canonical phone number and should not be used to categorize that particular listing. A simple additional type such as “ct” should do the trick.

<span class="tel"><span class="type">ct</span><span class="value"> +1.415.555.1212</span></span>

Regardless of the specific syntax, the difference now is that any solution suggested and agreed upon would be immediately able to be implemented and useful if Google buys into the idea. As Chris Silver Smith pointed out to me this does not solve all of the data integrity problems in Local:

One other aspect that this doesn’t solve is the issue of people using different tracking numbers for different directories which feed Google and other partners via delimited files — not HTML. So, it’d be cool to come up with an industry standard for that aspect of the issue as well.

Thus the use of a call tracking number in certain circumstances could still confuse Google. But one step at a time as they say.

The way forward:

According to Wikipedia the system for creating an add on type for the standard is very open:

Neither CommerceNet nor Microformats.org operates as a standards body. The microformats community functions through an open wiki, mailing list, and Internet relay chat (IRC) channel.[4] Most of the existing microformats were created at the Microformats.org wiki and the associated mailing list, by a process of gathering examples of web publishing behaviour, then codifying it.

Realistically this means that 1)there needs to be some industry input from both Local SEOs and Call Tracking industry at the Wiki to define the specifics and 2) the standard needs to be implemented. Google never likes to “predict a market” but if there is general agreement and usage Google needs to publicly acknowledge that they would read, understand and support the new type.

This simple addition to the standard would allow the keepers of primary local information to keep the record straight, it would open up the world of call tracking to be used by more businesses and in a greater range of situations and it would encourage the Local call tracking industry to refine and develop useful products for even the smallest SMB.

Now that Google has finally adopted rich snippet standards, it is time to make it work for everybody.