Category Archives: Local Search

General information about Local Search techniques, technology and trends

Old News But Interesting News: Merchant Circle Pays $900,00 To Settle Alleged Unlawful Marketing Practices

I spend a lot of time reading about and writing about the Local Search industry so I am not sure how this one slipped by. I was poking around the BBB of San Jose and came across a notice of government action indicating that Merchant Circle had settled an allegation of unlawful marketing practices from the Santa Clara District Attorney. A quick check showed that the settlement occurred in May of this year. From the release:

Agency: District Attorney
Description: NEWS RELEASE

MERCHANTCIRCLE PAYS $900,000
FOR UNLAWFUL MARKETING PRACTICES

Santa Clara County District Attorney Dolores A. Carr announced today her office has settled a consumer protection lawsuit against WYBS, dba MerchantCircle, an internet social networking company for small businesses. The action arose out of an investigation by the District Attorney’s office.

The District Attorney alleged that from 2006 to 2008, MerchantCircle engaged in improper automated telemarketing campaigns which violated California “live voice” requirement for automated calls. Some of those calls also contained unverified statements that the MerchantCircle website had reviews, ratings, or video footage of the recipient business.

Without admitting wrongdoing, WYBS, dba MerchantCircle, consented to a judgment entered in Santa Clara County Superior Court requiring it to pay $700,000 in civil penalties and $50,000 in investigative costs. MerchantCircle with also pay $150,000 into the Consumer Protection Trust Fund, a trust used to fund investigation and prosecution of consumer protection law violations statewide. MerchantCircle cooperated with the investigation, has brought its telemarketing practices into compliance with California laws, and has agreed to implement additional procedures to ensure future compliance.

“These penalties should remind any business engaging in telemarketing in California that this state has strict laws requiring the use of an actual person to allow call recipients to ‘opt out’ of the message.” said District Attorney Dolores Carr.“These business are also placed on notice that any statements they make to consumers must be true and verified.”
Date of Action: 5/20/2010

Merchant Circle has been criticized here and elsewhere (here, here and here) over the years but complaints had been quiet of late. No wonder.

Yahoo Local Filled with Locksmith Spam

I look at Yahoo Local rarely and report on it even less. However, my lack of attention to it doesn’t mean that Locksmiths are not interested in playing there. And while this is old news, with Google Places having become a difficult place for them to play, locksmiths have moved on (for the most part) to the next easy pickings. I am sure that the exposure is not as great but a small fish is better than no fish at all and one can still marvel at their audacity.

Jeff Magner of Trumpet Local Media pointed out this search for watch repair in Boulder, co at Yahoo that turns up locksmith spam even in categories as unrelated as watch repair. When you do search on Locksmiths the results are “impressive” with the top 4 listings each showing more than 450 reviews each.

Since Yahoo’s algo so heavily favors review count, they appear to be in an arms race with number 3, Boulder Locksmith Service 24/7 having gathered over 400 reviews since the first of August… a clip of almost 7 reviews a day…. The number of their reviews alone amount to 1% of all households in Boulder. The top 4 listings have procured reviews from over 5% of the households. No small task that. :)

Obviously, as Jeff pointed out in his email, this decay doesn’t just affect the locksmith listings but has moved out and is polluting other categories as well. I recognize that Yahoo has other things on their plate. But unless they are going to proactively manage local they should be selling it off to Microsoft as well.

Google Places Coupons Now Integrating Coupons from CitySearch

It appears that Google is bulking up Places Pages with coupons from CitySearch. I had not seen any third party coupons in Places previously but according to Google the ability for “various partners to make coupons and other content available on the Place page has been available for some time”.

I ran across the coupon sharing when the owner of the La Quinta Inn Sedona in Arizona noted in the forums that:

I’ve got a citysearch coupon showing up in my coupons section. I did not authorize any city search coupon and it is a SCAM and its causing problems with customers because they are seeing this stay for $45 a night coupon valid through to sept 16th. IF this is what things are going to be like when you sign up for google places then no. I will end the account today I will not put up with crap like that. These are dishonest b/s scam ads that are placed in a coupon section knowing it will cause problems.

Obviously not all of the kinks are worked out just yet. CItyGrid has noted that: “The coupon in question was created and approved by La Quinta Resorts corporate offices via their digital advertising agency. All offers created by Citysearch are approved and authorized by advertisers before loaded in our system.”

One of the interesting points about the coupon from CitySearch is that it is created using the Open Graph Protocol, (although apparently that is not used by Google, see below) a microformat that was originally announced by Facebook in April. This is the first use of the protocol I have seen in Local (although I must say, I hadn’t been looking). The initial version of the protocol is based on RDFa and it allows for location & human readable addresses (although it is not clear that this coupon did so):

The Open Graph protocol supports the ability for you to specify location information for your object. This is useful if your object is for a business or anything else with a real-world location. You can specify location via latitude and longitude, a full address, or both. The property names used are defined within the Microformat hCard.

Whether Google is using the Open Graph format to insert the coupons is unclear. Citysearch sent me the following: We wanted to clarify that Google is not scraping our content; we provide them with a feed to our data.

Chris Silver Smith noted the following:

Citysearch is apparently a data partner with Google Maps, so it isn’t clear to me that these pieces of data are being harvested via the semantically-marked coupons on Citysearch — they could be getting fed via Google Maps’ partner data format protocols.

It’s possible that Google Maps could harvest Open Graph content, and I’d even expect it might well happen, considering Google’s desire to get Facebook data by hook or by crook.

However, unless we can find instances where Google Maps appears to be harvesting Open Graph data from someone who isn’t formally a partner, I’m not sure it’s happening yet. I could be wrong. I don’t know of a way to easily tell the difference between data harvested through parsing a semantically formatted page versus through a separate data format like XML. The resultant data is generally the same either way..

For a good summary of the history of RDF & microformats, how they play into the web of things and how the Facebook Open Graph format fits into all of that read Facebook Open Graph: A new take on semantic web.

Integrating Your Bike Into the Local Social World

I am an avid biker. A low tech, drive an old clunker, commute 9 miles on a back country road to work kind of biker. But a biker none the less. I really love my 33 minute commute along the Allegany River every day on my way to work.

Going home at the end of the day is another story. I would never (well mostly never) use something like the Copenhagen Wheel to power my way too work but I would definitely consider flicking that switch after a long day.

What is even more intrguing to me is their attempt to totally integrate the device with not just your bike but with your iPhone and your social network… I have trouble imagining myself ever checking in someplace but I can imagine my bike doing it on my behalf. The idea of switching the focus of the social activity from the person to the object with which they have an affinity is an interesting shift. It is a switch that many would find more comfortable than the idea of the self absorbed check in.

The types of data that would be accumulated to the network and the value of the interaction in the local environment would be immense. Ah the internet of things will be an interesting place indeed (assuming they work and are not just one more thing that in the end slows you down).

Getlisted Local U: Denver is Next

We are very happy to announce that the next GetListed Local University is going to be in Denver and will be held Thursday, October 21 at the Sheraton Denver Tech. Pricing for the event is $129 and with the discount code: MBDenver your cost will only be $89. There will be morning and afternoon events and you may sign up for single tickets here.

The event is being coordinated by the folks at seOverflow and sponsored by Bing, Localeze, UBL and Deluxe. The speaker line up includes the usual suspects of great speakers: David Mihm, Matt McGee, Mary Bowling, Maryam Gholami (Bing), Ed Reese and myself.

Like all previous Local Universities, this event is specifically targeted to local small businesses. One of our primary goals is to connect attendees with reputable local marketers to help answer questions and improve their visibility long after the conclusion of the seminar. We realize that when we are long gone from Denver, these folks will still often need the assistance of professionals in their local market.

To serve this need we are offering a great opportunity for local agencies to expose potential clients (and junior staff) to the concepts and ideas of Local University with a specific package targeted to their needs: the Local University Group “7-Pack”.

Local University Group “7-Pack”

Tickets for each of our Local University events are available in blocks of seven at the discounted price of $399 per block ($57* per ticket).

    7-PACK BENEFITS

  • • Over 50% off each ticket (normally priced at $129)
  • • Increased credibility among clients & attendees
  • • Inclusion of your logo & website mention as a Local U partner
  • • Special reserved seating at event
  • • Inclusion of your company/organization logo in rotating partners deck
  • • Networking with presenters and other attendees

Reserve Your 7-Pack Today »


*Larger blocks of tickets are also available at this same $57 rate. Inquire for more information

I am looking forward to meeting you in Denver!

GetListed Local U Cleveland Wrap Up

Local University Cleveland went off incredibly well despite some unexpected speaker changes. Mary Bowling was laid up with a health problem and Google was not able to attend at the last minute due to some confusion or another. But David Mihm, Matt McGee and I held down the presentation fort with the more than able bodied & insightful support of Anita Campbell of Small Biz Trends/BizSugar, the effervescence of Maryam Gholami of Bing and Geoff Karcher of the Karcher Group.

GetListed Local University is always a fun event for me (despite having to redo my presentation at midnight the night before due to the Google no show) because I get to spend time with great people. The most fun is that I meet other business owners and practitioners that have been reading my blog and I get to meet the folks in Cleveland that were so very helpful putting on the event.

Anita Campbell of SmallBizTrends/BizSugar, Collyn Floyd of the Karcher Group, Brad Nellis of NEOSA/COSE, John Denny & Julie Provins of Cleveland.com/Advance & Joel Libava, The Franchise King all did an incredible job of executing the event and attracting attendees. Google, Bing & Universal Business Listings provided much appreciated sponsorship support. We could not have done it without all of their help.

Always astounding is that other professionals are willing to travel to join the session. Folks came in from Pittsburgh, Detroit, Hamilton, Minneapolis, NJ, and Kansas.

To all, I say a hearty and heartfelt THANKS!

For those of you that couldn’t come, here are some photos that I took of the event.

Here are some other round ups of the Local U:
Jim Rudnick: #LocalU Conference a Cleveland Success, eh!
More Photos From GetListed.org Local U Cleveland

Yelp Reviews Back in Google Maps as their .COM Growth Stops

Yelp’s relationship with Google Maps has been off and on again. Their reviews have disappeared and reappeared on Google Maps over the past 3 years as Google’s and Yelp’s relationship has waxed and waned. But the relationship now seems to be on once again. About 10 days ago Yelp’s reviews again started showing up on Places Pages. I would posit that this reinclusion reflects Yelp’s need to buttress and improve their traffic short haul while they implement the changes necessary to fend off the location based startups.

Yelp has been the hot local site from 2007 through last year and their Compete.com numbers reflected their meteoric growth on the desktop. But their .com growth in unique visitors and page views started to decline last August and has continued downward throughout this year. At the end of April, Compete shows their unique visitors to be in the 25 million range, down from the 30 million last August.

Some of the slowdown on the desktop has been taken up with growth in mobile and particularly the iPhone. Yelp notes that they had 1.4 million visitors over the past 30 days via their iPhone app. That amounts to ~3% of their total visitors and does not make up for the almost 20% decline in their .com usage.

(click to view larger)

The numbers and their decision to allow Google to include their reviews suggest that Yelp’s transition to a general purpose review site has not taken off as they had planned. Long haul, Yelp does need to keep their eye on the many location based competitors. That being said, it seems even more important that they keep their eye, short term, on their main competitor in the review space, Google Maps. It appears to me that their need for growth and traffic has won out over their obvious points of contention with Google.

From a practical viewpoint, it demonstrates why any SMB needs to continue to gather reviews from a wide range of sources as the vagaries of these corporate relationships change, you don’t want to be caught in the crossfire.

Introducing the Hot New Social Network, PhoneBook

Allows User to Call Friends, Speak to Them

SILICON VALLEY (The Borowitz Report) – A new social network is about to alter the playing field of the social media world, and it’s called PhoneBook.

According to its creators, who invented the network in their dorm room at Berkeley, PhoneBook is the game-changer that will leave Facebook, Twitter and even the much anticipated Google Buzz in a cloud of dust.

“With PhoneBook, you have a book that has a list of all your friends in the city, plus everyone else who lives there,” says Danny Fruber, one of PhoneBook’s creators.

“When you want to chat with a friend, you look them up in PhoneBook, and find their unique PhoneBook number,” Fruber explains.  “Then you enter that number into your phone and it connects you directly to them.”

Another breakout utility of PhoneBook allows the user to arrange face-to-face meetings with his or her friends at restaurants, bars, and other “places,” as Fruber calls them.

“You will be sitting right across from your friend and seeing them in 3-D,” he said.  “It’s like Skype, only without the headset.”

PhoneBook will enable friends to play many games as well, such as charades, cards, and a game Fruber believes will be a breakout: Farm.

“In Farm, you have an actual farm where you raise real crops and livestock,” he says.  “It’s hard work, but it’s more fun than Mafia, where you actually get killed.”

This article is reprinted with permission of Andy Borowitz. For real-time fake news updates, follow Andy Borowitz on Twitter. You may subscribe to his daily Borowitz Report here.

Search & Social Awards – Vote for Your Favorite Blogs

Search & Social Awards
Social & Search is holding a contest to introduce the search marketing & social media community to multiple blogs in various different genres and online marketing disciplines.

Understanding Google Maps and Local Search has been nominated in the Best Local Blog category along with:

The final tally will be taken on May 1st and then winners will be announced on May 3rd, during an awards ceremony at the Search & Social Spring Summit in Tampa, FL.