Google Places Adds Nearby Places You Might (not) Like

Will Scott of Search Influence has pointed out a new “feature” on a business’s Places Page that is sure to infuriate more than one SMB. Right below the review section of the Places Page, Google has added a new section titled (with no little irony): Nearby Places You Might Like. This screen shot of the Places Page for a jeweler in Buffalo, Barbar Oliver & Co. Jewelry:

Since it was introduced, Google has promoted their Places Page as an alternative landing page for a business and it was highlighted as such during their Local Listing Ad test last year. There isn’t an SMB in the universe that has invested in maintaining and highlighting their Places Page that wants nearby competitors listed on that very same page.

It is an interesting choice of upgrades to the Places page for Google to make. Clearly, from their point of view, they need to make the Places Page a beginning point to a users experience with Google not an ending point. As they have directeded more traffic internally to the Places Page instead of the list view in Maps, I am sure that they have found that users have no obvious place to go from there. The user interface to view more pages within Maps is not very noticable and most of the links on the page lead off site. Obviously, not a great strategy if selling more ads is the goal.

Google could have chosen, in the past, to highlight a business’s Places Page in the main index but choose not to. Now, when a user does arrive at the page for a business there is a choice to visit competitors Place’s Pages as well as other nearby businesses. In a strange interface convention, the link to a Nearby Places You Might (not) Like is selected it opens a new window in a very un-google like fashion.

Clearly, moving forward, Google is hoping to make the Places Page and elements on it more visible. They are also hoping to monetize this by enticing owners of the pages to either advertise or enhance their local listing. It seems to be an incredible bone head move if that is their plan to wave a red flag in these very same owners faces prior to that move.

This move will be perceived as “evil” regardless of their motivations and goals. One can only hope that it is a test of very limited duration and not a new, permanent part of the Places Page

Google Map Enhanced Listing Billing Tab Visible in ALL LBCs?

Becky of OnlineTrafficDivas.com has pointed out what appears to be a mistake but could be inidicitive of a wider rollout of the Enhanced Listing test. The billing tab for the Enhanced Listing test is visible in every Local Business Center account.

Go to your list of coupons and select the “link” link:

Select the billing tab:

You will be presented with this billing page:

 

Becky has put together this “>screen shot video to demonstrate the step that she used to find the billing tab.

More on Google’s Paid “Enhanced Listing” for Local

Yesterday, Greg Sterling reported on a Google test to allow for a new paid listing type, the “enhanced listings” for showing on Maps. According to Google, the “enhancement” will show wherever your listing is currently showing but will not affect rank or where the listing is shown. This test is distinct from the test for the Local Listing Ads that was run late last year.

Brett Burlson of Burlson Law Office in San Jose sent along the following screen shots, visible on the search san jose wrongful death attorney, from his participation in the program:

 

As Greg noted, the program charges a flat $25/mo. fee and allows the merchant to highlight type of enhancement they would like to show with their business listing, including any of the following:

Website for your business.
Photos of your business.
Videos of your business.
Coupons for your listing.
Menu for your restaurant.
Reservations page for your business.
Driving directions to your business.

In the case above, the link goes to a new video page attached to the Places Page for the business:

 

This test also provides additional enhanced listing activity in the Dashboard:

Clearly, the local market is ripe for a paid product from Google. The reach of the 7-pack is broad and being able to highlight or display in the area will be embraced by SMBs. Google will not leave this significant income source untapped for long and either one or both of the local listing ad or this enhanced listing is likely to find its way onto the 7-pack this year sooner rather than later.

Google Maps Adds Personalized Suggestions; Where’s Personalization?

The Google LatLong Blog has announced that they have added personalized suggestions to Google Maps.

Like personalized suggestions on Google.com, personalized suggestions on Google Maps are based on past searches from your Web History. If you see a personalized suggestion that you don’t like, you can get rid of that suggestion and any others by clicking the “Edit” link at the bottom of the suggestions box, which takes you directly to the Web History removals page. You can also sign out of your Google account to stop seeing personalized suggestions.

 

The question that David Dalka asked me last week though was: If Google offers personalized search (and now personlized suggestions) why can’t they tell that I am searching for the next town over instead of one in England?

I have given Google every clue imaginable about my location. Google knows my searching IP address, they have me located down to the meter with Latitude which I log into every morning, I regularly search for restaurants in Bradford (Pa) and yet when I search for restaurants in the next town over (Bradford), Google and Maps inevitably return Bradford, England results:

I understand that the search is ambiguous and that Bradford, England is a more significant city than my Bradford. But I have given Google possible way to identify my location and my interests and they are still unable to make the distinction on my behalf.

Location in the browser has been on the table for a relatively long time as have Google’s capability for personalizing results. Then why are my local results still so irrelevant?

Loci2009 – Martijn Beijk – A European Perspective on Changes in Local Search

With Martijn Beijk, we are closing out our Loci2009 series reflecting on important events, trends and developments in Local Search last year. It is a dynamic space and one where as many or more changes look to be on the horizon for 2010.

******************
2009 was a year of change. For me personally because I moved back to the Netherlands from Barcelona, Spain to work at the headquarters office of Onetomarket, the Netherlands as an SEO consultant. Specializing on Local Search it has given me the opportunity to start my international speaking career- presenting a local search business case at SMX Stockholm.

Looking back on 2009 I must say that the Local Search game changed. Competition is gaining, spam is raising, guidelines are sharpening, Google is proactively advertising the local business center as a service – probably to grow independent of 3rd party suppliers.

All-in-all it is a great year to look back to and although I had intentions of publishing a lot more than I actually did I do believe that 2010 will be even better.

I have always had a keen interesting in the semantic web and context-awareness and location based services and I trully think that 2009 has set things off with a blast. Services like Layar, Yelp checkins, Gowalla and foursquare are really great examples of how we use the local search space – and how fast we adapt to all these changes.

I have selected a few posts, not all of them local related. In general I think we should really thank David Mihm for his relentless effort in supporting the space. One thing I always enjoy reading are his small is beautiful column’s on Search Engine Land and of course the annual Local Search Ranking Factors

bullet: Further more I wouldn’t have expected at first that my post about tracking local with Google Analytics was received with great enthusiasm and got nominated for a Semmy.

bullet: Although it hasn’t yet received the attention it actually deserves there was the launch of Geositemapgenerator.com. Using the wishes of local business owners with many storefronts and using the building blocks of my article the definitive guide to KML and SEO it has already shown to be a great tool of which we will hear a lot more in the year of 2010! I believe it is a great development that more and more projects are kicking off in Europe, and one of them is this awesome tool of Arjan Snaterse.

bullet: (Self promo) Anyone interested in KML and sitemaps should listen to this radio show on Webmasterradio.fm on SEO 1on1 where I was the invited to discuss the subject.

bullet:Miriam Ellis always amazes me with her perspective on local search stories and I have found this specific post on reputation management regarding reviews very interesting: Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution

bullet: Google has been introducing rich snippets based on RDF in the year 2009, these are the first buildstones of the semantic web and I am very happy that Google is finally openly stating they are using them and encourage others to do so.

bullet: Aniceto Lopez who I consider to be my Obi-Wan Kenobi of the SEO space, now living in Vancouver, CA has written an excellent article on his research about how context influences ranking. In this particular article he describes the actions taken for his migration from Barcelona Spain to Vancouver Canada and how this affected ranking positions. This is web citations in true action!

bullet: Mike’s article on Location Prominence, it is a must read if you consider to take Local Search seriously.

Loci2009: Lisa Barone – Articles from 2009 that Caused Pause for Though

Here are some of the links that made me think this year:

* If I Were Launching a New Small Biz Website Today – Matt McGee
* Why Local SEO Is Important to Non-Local SEO – Patrick Sexton
* Google Place Pages SEO = Yellow Pages SOS & SOL? – Local SEO Guide
* How to Launch That Small Business Website – Outspoken Media
* Do-It-Yourself SEO Advice For SMBs – David Mihm
* Twitter Buys Into Geolocation – ITNews
* Google Local Research Data – Released – Distiled

Nexus One- The Second Coming Part 2

As I pointed out yesterday, the Nexus One is a great phone. Given its limited distribution and status of an iPhone-near-equal, it is not an iPhone killer. That being said, it certainly demonstrates Google’s path to the near future.

Google is, like Apple several years ago, trying to break into an exclusive club…the oligopoly of cell phone service providers that controls access to the mobile internet. For Google, gaining this access is a down payment on their long term need to guarantee their future ability to deliver ads.

But Google is entering a smartphone market that is different than Apple found and it is one that is more and more being defined by Apple. For both Google and Apple, success in the US market will be assured when both are represented at the two major carriers. This is no mean task as the market leaders (ATT & Verizon) really have little interest in ceding any more control of their networks than they already have. Google needs a different path than Apple but their need is no less compelling than Apple’s to “break in” to an internet world that could offer two times the size of the desktop internet.

Apple was able to use the iPhone to break into the ranks of the major cell service provides and in doing so gave ATT the power to attract new customers at a rate faster than Verizon. Verizon, I think, hoped that RIM, MS or Nokia might provide an alternative to the iPhone on their terms but none did.

Verizon needed to stop the bleeding. In a mature phone market with few new customers coming in, nothing is worse than losing customers coming off contract and they were loosing them to ATT & the iPhone. The recently introduced Droid, while not quite the equal of the iPhone, gave Verizon a credible story to stop the bleeding. And it gave Google a needed entree into one half of the the big leagues.

Google still needs to convince the AT&T that it is in the carrier’s interest to play ball in a way that Google wants and needs. I would imagine that for Google to make their Android OS a success, the process of dealing with the likes of Verizon & ATT is part compromise, part bravado and part engineering brilliance.

Google, by creating a phone that is directly compared to the iPhone and being the first company to deliver a phone that is widely considered a contender in this game, has proven that they can offer big cell companies an alternative. Big cell phone companies can’t abide by wannabes. They need winners to attract new sign ups. And Google needed a winner to even sit at the table. Like the iPhone before it, Google doesn’t need to have dominant market share for the phone to be considered a success. At least now, Google has their attention and has successfully positioned themselves as an alternative for ATT.

Apple though, is not a static entity in this complex dance. They can, and will likely soon, add new hardware features that will surpass the Nexus. They can and likely soon will add new hardware that makes their iPhone compatible with the Verizon’s CDMA network. Apple wants and needs additional distribution to keep growing. It is estimated that the iPhone market share could double once they are available on the Verizon network.

Once Apple has in fact delivered a Verizon compatible iPhone, AT&T will have lost its exclusivity. It need to fill the gap and compete with the Verizon that has both an iPhone and the exclusive Droid. In that scenario, the Nexus One becomes a reference platform that can provide Google a place at the table with AT&T. For AT&T, Google is demonstrating that they can create, build, market and support(?) a phone that just might offset any gains that Verizon will get from its own iPhone

Assuming that Google and Apple are successful in meeting their own needs and the needs of the big carriers in this intricate kabuki, we will see a different cell landscape going forward. It is as much a landscape that is more hostile to the other manufacturers of cell phone hardware/os as it is a landscape where Apple and Google can be more successful. It portends a further loss of smartphone sales & market share for Palm, Nokia and Microsoft. It could even portend the demise or merger of Palm and a more difficult road for RIM. Once the Nexus (or its equivalent) makes it to ATT and the iPhone to Verizon, it is these other brands of smart phones that will suffer the most, not the iPhone and not the Nexus.

If iPhone/Android do in fact become the smart phones of choice at both major cell providers, it also foreshadows a market where the cell carriers look to control the pipe rather than the platform. They need to control something. After all, they like being in an oligopoly. There is nothing like super profits and minimal competition with few government regulations to keep them and their stockholders happy.

So in the Nexus we see a phone that shows Googles as a near-equal of Apple as a software/hardware provider, capable of satisfying the needs of the Verizons and possibly the AT&Ts of the world, able to deliver on a single, sustainable and attractive platform that positions them well into the future.

While there is a battle brewing between Google and Apple, and there may be a time when talk of an iPhone killer is appropriate, that time is not now, and the Nexus One is not that phone.

Note: A special thanks goes out to Miriam Ellis of Solas Web Design who has provided me with incredible editing and feedback over the years and on this article. I would strongly recommend her as both an editor and copywriter. All too often, my writing has both spelling and grammatical errors as well as issues of clarity. Miriam helps on all fronts and has been a godsend when I really want to get the story right!

Nexus One: The Second Coming but Not An iPhone Killer – Part 1

I have a had few days to play with the Nexus. Its an incredible phone, not so incredible that it will shake the iPhone from my grasp but incredible enough that it will have a huge impact on the cell phone industry.

Compared to the iPhone, my Nexus* has a beautiful screen, incredible speed, much better integration of online social networking tools and a better Maps experience.

By the same token it is more complicated to configure and operate and functions best in the cloud. It is missing the simplicity of single button control, tight iTunes integration, doesn’t work well with Exchange and is still missing some basic features that Apple has defined as the new standard for smartphones like copy & paste and multi-touch. With but one upgrade of hardware and software by Apple, most of the Nexus’s current advantages will be gone.

It is a gorgeous phone, with a beautiful implementation that doesn’t quite match up the iPhone’s overall usability. So is the Nexus One Google’s “iPhone killer”?

While it may be a TeleAtlas killer, an iPhone killer it is not. Not just because of the hardware though.

The telling fact is that the Nexus really only runs well on one second tier cell provider in the US. T-Mobile is, at the end of the day a minor player, with but a fraction of ATTs or Verizon’s subscriber base and roughly an 8% market share. While the phone does run on the ATT network, very few will pay $600 to run it at the slower Edge speeds to which it is limited on their network. It is difficult to kill the iPhone let alone conquer the world from the diminishing market share of T-Mobile.

Something much more subtle and nuanced and simultaneously bold is going on here.

The iPhone when first introduced was viewed by market pundits as a long shot. In a few years, it has become the de facto standard and in doing so has threatened not just Microsoft, Palm and Nokia but RIM as well. It has taken the hardware market a long time to catch up. Microsoft didn’t do it, RIM didn’t do it, Nokia didn’t do it. Palm came close but nobody believed that they had the staying power nor presence to make a difference.

It took two years and a non-traditional player in the phone business but Google seems to have finally matched the iPhone with quality, features, panache and staying power. In succeeding where others have yet to succeed, the Nexus One is, in some sense, the second coming of the iPhone. It’s the first iPhone that isn’t an iPhone.

It may not be the iPhone killer that the press seems to want for but more importantly it could very well be Google’s admission ticket to a relationship with AT&T and the big leagues of the cell wars.

*Note I was given a Nexus by Google so please take any positive comments that I make with a grain of salt and as a potential conflict of interest.

Google: Recruiting Volunteers to Provide Nexus Support with Free Phones

A common strategy amongst successful corporations is to “externalize” costs. By that I mean that companies will, when able, off load costs to maximize profits. This can be done for example by pushing environmental costs to offshore producers or using subcontractors to avoid labor regulations.

Google for example, often has forum participants provide support to other users in an effort to keep their support costs as low as possible. For many, many of the support areas of Google this has worked quite well. It has caused problems in the Maps area, where businesses expect, require and demand personal attention and apparently it has caused problems with Nexus support.

I guess, if you drop $600 on a phone, there is a reasonable expectation that there might be someone at the other end of the transaction to provide support. I don’t know what Google is doing to improve internal, company provided support but they have come up with a way of actively encouraging folks to help out with support in the forum area.

Google has offered a free Nexus to the their top forum contributors (of which I am one) in the markets where the Nexus is currently being sold. I, and a number of other top contributors, received this email on Monday and within 72 hours had shiny new phones:

Hi there,

It is with great pleasure that I write to you today. As you may have seen in the clubhouse, many Top Contributors have asked about the possibility of getting a Nexus One phone.

We have been working to make this a reality for some of you as a thanks for all that you’ve done. I would like to offer Top Contributors located in the United States, United Kingdom, Singapore and Hong Kong the opportunity to get an unlocked Nexus One phone for free.

Please note, this offer is for an unlocked Nexus One phone. It does not include any type of service plan. Adding service to the phone will be your responsibility.

By giving you a phone for personal use, our hope is that you will be able to learn more about the Nexus One and Android operating system first hand and share your knowledge with others. If you meet the geographical criteria for receiving a Nexus One, but you don’t think you’ll be using it, we ask that you do not request a phone at this time. This will allow us to distribute more phones to a wider audience. We’re happy to send you another gift of appreciation instead.

If you would like to take advantage of this offer, please fill out my form located at: XXXX

I know many of you have recently submitted your mailing addresses, but for this promotion, I will be asking for it yet again, to ensure accuracy. Please note, you can add a different delivery address, but we ask that this address be consistent with your country of residence. Thanks for your cooperation.

Thanks in advance for your understanding.

Cheers,
Frankie
on behalf of everyone at Google

John Mu also pointed out in the forums that Google “wanted to say thanks for your work as a Top Contributor and provide feedback on what you like/dislike about the Nexus One”. He made it clear that there was no quid pro quo in the arrangement and that even links back to Google when writing about the program should be no-follow to avoid even the appearance of a conflict.

It is actually quite brilliant if you think about it. Bizarre as a support strategy but brilliant. I have no idea whether it will work to have volunteers as the first line of support in their competition with Apple and other cell phone manufacturers but if it does it will provide Google with significant savings. Continue reading Google: Recruiting Volunteers to Provide Nexus Support with Free Phones

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