April 10, 2013
Jade noted in the forums that:
Just letting you know that we’ve found a technical issue last week with reviews where some were incorrectly taken down. We’re working on fixing the issue, so sit tight!
This was in response to the spate of reports of reviews being taken down last week in what appeared like a reincarnation of the review spam algo from hell.
Barry Schwartz noted that he felt that Google was confirming a bug. A bug implies to me an error in underlying code that causes an error. These take downs looked so much like the previous level of take downs with the review algo last fall, that I think assuming it was a bug would be making too many assumptions. Note that Jade said “we’ve found a technical issue”. That could be anything from the janitor tripping over the cord to an engineer turning a switch that cut a new review algo loose again. A more likely explanation in my book is that Google was “upgrading” the algo and it was more severe than had been predicted.
Regardless it does appear that many of the reviews that were taken down will hopefully coming back similar to those returned at the end of January. Remember though that not all of them returned.
April 9, 2013
Google has just notified me that the new Google For Business Dashboard is now available to ALL NEW dashboard users in the United States.
Although I am not yet seeing it on the accounts that I manage. I missed the new dashboard users part and mistakenly thought it was all users. Mia Culpa… its late here. Sorry.
Last week when the product was rolled out Google announced that it would be phased rollout and said “Please know that the update will be gradually rolling out to existing Google Places for Business users like you in the coming weeks”.
Along with the new Dashboard, Google is changing their marketing message as well. In doing so they are making a clear distinction between free and paid premium services.
Given how fast this has moved, I would assume that the rest of the world is not far behind. I would also assume that there are more features coming sooner rather than later. It can’t come soon enough for me.
Other posts about the new Dashboard:
Google rolling out new update to Google Places for Business - Me
Visual Guide to the new Places for Business Dashboard - Me
Categories in the new Places for Business Dashboard - Me
Analysis: Google Places for Business or G+ Pages Lite? - Me
More details about the improved look and feel of Google Places for Business - Joel Headley
BREAKING! Brand New Google Places Dashboard – All-in-one Local Listing Management - Linda Buquet, Catalyst Marketing
10 Things SEOs & SMBs Should Know About New Google Places Dashboard - SearchEngineland
Google Upgrades Its Google Places Dashboard With Google+ Local Integration - SearchEngineland
April 7, 2013
Several items of interest.
Dates & Scores No Longer Showing on Google Reviews. Chris Campbell on Twitter and Jack Thornburg on G+ pinged me that date and scores on individual reviews on the business G+ Page had stopped showing. It had been reported on April 4th in the forums. Google has said that they are looking at this. It could be a bug or it could be a new feature. Always hard to tell with Google. Update: These seem to have returned. Here is a screenshot of what they looked like over the weekend.
Google Review Filter Turns the Screws Once Again. A bug or an update, again it is not clear. But there have been numerous reports of reviews having gone missing since April 5th. We have not seen this many complaints in the forums since the filter was relaxed in late January.
Canadian Businesses May Show Up in the New Dashboard. Last week Google noted that the new Places for Business Dashboard was US only. There were however several reports from Kerry Fager of them showing up for Canadian businesses. Google’s Joel Headley made this comment at Linda Buquet’s forum:
New users — with US-based IPs — may be granted access to the new interface as it rolls out more broadly. If these users happen to have a non-US business already created in Google+, it may appear in their dashboard; however, new listing creation is limited to US-based addresses.
Also, Offers and AdWords Express may not be ready for prime time for non-US listings. If you’re seeing issues, feel free to send us feedback by clicking the Send Feedback link at the bottom of the page. We’ll review all these reports for any potential bugs.
Better Business Bureau Sucks – So What Else is New. This came to me via David Mihm: Why the Better Business Bureau Should Give Itself a Bad Grade. Apparently Time Magazine has figured out that besides outright corruption that there is an intrinsic conflict of interest involved in the way that the BBB is paid for by businesses but theoretically handles complaints as an independent agency from consumers. Review sites can not put these guys out of our misery soon enough.
April 5, 2013
David Mihm just did a great Whiteboard Friday on the evolution of the local ranking algo. In the article he speculated about the future of local signals:
And just to speculate a little bit, because I love to speculate, going forward I also think we’re going to see Google potentially integrating some offline information into the local rankings. So what do I mean by that? As we get more and more comfortable, we as a society get more and more comfortable with things like Foursquare check-ins or Facebook check-ins, using our phones to make mobile payments, using Google Wallet, or companies like Square or LevelUp, these types of things, loyalty programs, Google has acquired a company several years ago that focused on digital loyalty cards, these types of offline signals about how we’re actually engaging with businesses in the real world, I think there’s no reason that they wouldn’t try to incorporate those into their local rankings going forward.
I would suggest that the future is now and that Google is currently using some mobile signals in their current ranking algo. Certainly, as David points out, Google has invested in a number of technologies (Coupons, Wallet, Offers, PunchD, Talkbing, check-ins) that will give Google on the ground signals as to whether a consumer actually visited a location and consummated a sale. Most of these have not achieved any sort of scale and are forward facing investments that attempt to close the “search to sale” loop for analytics. All could also provide popularity signals to Google when they do achieve some scale.
But Google has two very widespread highly trusted technologies, Driving Directions and Android, that function at huge scale and could be providing signals now.
Alex Garrido (aka Alex Webmaster) has done some interesting local research that seems to indicate that mobile click to calls do in fact affect ranking.
He worked with 5 local clients ranking in the lower spots on front page Google 7-Pack results. Over a two week period he had his 40 research participants do a keyword + city search on their mobile phones and click to call the specific businesses. Two clients were scheduled to receive 40 calls over that period, two were to receive 20 calls over that period and one was used as a control. His conclusion:
To our surprise it turned out to be a major ranking signal often improving the position of a local business by several spots.
Discussion: This is a small scale study and as is always the case in such situations it is hard to know that correlation is in fact causation. It is also the case that correlation studies are problematic in studying search results. There are a lot of moving parts in the local algo that we can not see and that could have influenced these results. Obviously it is worth carrying out this experiment in several markets over several time frames to see if their is similar impact on rank. Correlation if it happens enough and is consistent enough can then be assumed, with greater confidence, to have some causal relationship.
If it is causal, and the click to calls do in fact improve rank, is the effect permanent? Clearly these results need to be tracked over time as well. And similar work would need to be done in more competitive markets to see if the effective impact is similar i.e. if there are other strong signals maybe this one just doesn’t have much impact.
That being said there is every reason to think that Google might now be using mobile signals in ranking results. (more…)
April 3, 2013
April 2, 2013
The upgrade to the Places for Business is an upgrade that is hard to get terribly excited about although it does give hope for the future and there are some plumbing issues that have finally been put to rest. The dashboard seems more focused on commerce than content and offers little in the way of allowing an SMB to really explain who they are and what they do.
Given that Google has had 7 (or is it 8 years?) to come up with a dashboard replacement it is hard to accept a replacement that contains fewer input fields than the broken dashboard that it is replacing. I have such high hopes for local and Google’s role in it that it is hard for me to find much excitement in the late arrival of such a limited product.
What is wrong, missing or otherwise lame with the update?
Categories: The removal of custom categories, while understandable from a taxonomic point of view, leaves a lot to be desired. Google’s limited range of categories leaves many businesses without adequate choices. This has always been more true overseas but applies to a large extent in the US as well. Google will now allow 10 categories and they are noting that they gather this information elsewhere on the internet. That however will put very small SMBs that can’t afford adequate SEO at a distinct disadvantage if Gooogle doesn’t expand the list of categories.
One of the big changes in the rollout of the new Places for Business Dashboard is a change with categories. Categories have long been a key factor in Google’s determination of relevance of a listing. Google has added some additional categories, changed how categories are handled as well how many categories a business is allowed to have.
The bad news? The big change, predicted for some time, is the elimination of the option of custom categories. Google has moved to a fixed list of choices.
The synonym feature is also missing. Thus a user that doesn’t know exactly what they want in terms of categories will find it very hard to locate the correct categories.
The good news? Up to ten categories are allowed. Google has noted at the most recent LocalU seminar that categorical information about a business is retrieved from across the internet. Exactly what web based resources are likely to impact this are not totally clear.
The category list is a dramatic improvement over what is/was available to businesses that verified via the G+ Page local interface and the list is very similar to those categories previously available to users of the current Dashboard.
There appear to be some additional categories in the new list, particularly in the area of restaurants. Upon an initial and superficial check I could not find additional categories in other areas besides restaurants although there may be a few. In the previous category list there were 76 types of restaurants. In the new category list there are 230 restaurant types. For example Google added the following restaurant types (amongst others):
Southwest France Restaurant
I am curious whether a “Tongue Restaurant” is what it sounds like? Why exactly do we need the category “Southwest France Restaurant”?
The new list contains a total 2295 category choices. I am including the complete Places for Business category list (US only) here in HTML format and hope to have the list integrated with my Google Places category tool in the near future.
Google rolling out new update to Google Places for Business
Visual Guide to the new Places for Business Dashboard
Analysis: Google Places for Business or G+ Pages Lite?
Here is a comprehensive visual overview, with comments, of the new Places for Business Dashboard. I was provided with a test account by Google.
The new interface takes “widget” approach to all functionality. Editing data is a widget as are G+, Adwords Express and Offers. That implies that many more “widgets” will make their way in the new Dashboard:
Click through to see the full range of screens from the new product.
Starting today at ~1 pm PST, Google Local is rolling out an upgraded interface for Places for Business that will replace the current dashboard*. The rollout is staged and will be initially made available to a small number of US businesses and businesses newly claimed via the G+ Local page.
Over the near future the rollout will accelerate to include all U.S. dashboards. The international rollout will then continue across the 136 countries that currently have the Places dashboard. The exact timing of the rollout is not being made explicit.
The rollout is one more step towards the integration of local with Plus. While the feature set is neither expansive nor comprehensive, the product release does account for service area businesses (SAB) who can now get a Plus page for the first time. The product is currently targeted for single location businesses with bricks and mortar storefronts and SABs but still has limited provisions for multi location businesses and does not support Bulk uploads.
Once an account is transitioned the dashboard account will be automatically redirected to the new interface. If that account has a Plus account the option to edit the Google+ page will appear in the interface. But a G+ profile is not required to interact with the business profile. All that is needed is the existing Google ID/email. The business will be required to obtain a G+ personal profile if they want to add the additional features (social stream, videos) of a full G+ Local page.
When this rollout is complete there will be only two types of local pages: verified and unverified. Each business can decide whether they need the social and video features or not.
Google has noted that the purpose of this rollout is to address usability issues for the SMB in terms of UI, data push speeds, better notifications, reduced data integrity issues and improved integration with other Google products.
The product will retain the current Places for Business name although it really is more of a Google Plus lite than a Places Dashboard equivalent.
For more information see these related posts:
Visual Guide to the new Places for Business Dashboard
Categories in the new Places for Business Dashboard
Analysis: Google Places for Business or G+ Pages Lite?
* Unlike yesterday’s post this is actually true. And I must admit I much prefer my vision.
April 1, 2013
The newly appointed head of Google Local Product Manager Brian Fitzpatrick today announced the rollout of a completely revamped local product to replace the Places dashboard. As written about in the Wall Street Journal in June, 2012 the product is called “The Business Builder”. With the rollout of the Business Builder Google Local is announcing a totally rebuilt local product that offers the best of local and social as well as easy to use self provisioning of sophisticated Couponing, Adwords, Offers and other paid options.
National multi-store brands as well as single storefront businesses will be able to take advantage of this new functionality with the free local and social products as well as the easy to deploy paid products for their locations. Local analytics have been totally revamped as well. With the rollout of the new couponing product Google will be able to offer search to sale tracking analytics in an easy to use reporting format that can grow in sophistication with the business user and use cases.
Fitzpatrick, a dynamic multi skilled developer in the world of Maps, noted “It was a great relief to finally get the merged and updated product out the door. The reason for its long delay was our commitment to make the product bug free the first time and not have to push weekly updates and bug fixes. We think we have met that milestone. The days of lost reviews, lost listings and unfounded closings are behind us.”
“More importantly we will be holding public monthly briefings going forward laying out upcoming developments in our local products. This will allow for businesses, big and small, that depend on our Business Builder products to better plan their SEO and SEM activities in Local.”
Brian Fitzpatrick is a the newly merged head of the Local & Maps division within the web search team. His duties, roughly akin to those of Marissa Mayer who left for Yahoo last July, had previously been filled by a troika of individuals.