Google Places Reviews Being Lost – Houston We have a Problem!

Google Places seems to have again misplaced reviews in significant quanties. The forums are loaded with complaints particularly during the past 24 hours with 5 of the last 10 postings in the forums being about missing reviews (here, here, here, here, and here).

Reviews for a small business are a very sensitive area. Initially most SMBs are hesitant to engage in the process for fear that they won’t be liked and their warts will be visible for all the world to see. Once they do engage in the review process they become the ultimate proud mother hen, protecting their reviews as if they were the palace guards and the reviews were the crown jewels. It in area of great angst for many and Google’s poor handling of them brings down a stream of complaints and insults like no other area in the forum.

Google Places has a long history of loosing reviews. It usually occurs when there are large changes occurring. Often times they return after several weeks although in my case it has been 3 months without seeing them on my listing.

Exactly why reviews are lost but business listings are not, implies that the information is kept in a different index. When there is a major upgrade  they end up needing to be reassociated with the cluster. (At least this my theory and for what it is worth, publicly embraced by Google).

Regardless of the cause, it appears to be a systemic weakness in the architecture of Places. It is also a weakness that is noted by many a business who readily point it out. It is strange to me that Google would leave such a weakness so visible if for no other reason than a fix would quiet the rioting hordes.

So, what exactly can a business do if their reviews go missing? What tactics can help in this situation? Continue reading Google Places Reviews Being Lost – Houston We have a Problem!

Google Gets a Barely Passing Grade with the BBB – For the Want of a Nail…

Like many other SMBs, I have no love lost on the Better Business Bureau. Paying them to vouch for what I always considered my basic responsibility of being honest seemed inappropriate. They strike me in the same vein as our current political system: you have to pay to play.

But they do sit in the middle of the swirl of complaints about companies and can provide the consumer with some sense of whether a particular company has an unusual number complaints or perhaps has settled with the government . Thus while I refuse to pay them, they are not completely without merit. The BBB can spot trends and provide some relative idea about the quality of customer service that a company offers (how many complaints) and how the company handles them when they do get them (resolved or not). Google has also “blessed” them as a citation source for local (although an expensive one).

So when a reader sent me the link to Google’s BBB rating I approached it with my typical objectivity towards Google ( 🙂 )  and the aforementioned caveats. I decided to compare Google to a range of tech companies (Apple, Hewlett Packard & Microsoft) and several companies in mobile (Verizon, ATT) to see how they faired and so you can put Google’s customer service level in perspective.

Drum roll please… Here are the results in order of the BBB grade: Continue reading Google Gets a Barely Passing Grade with the BBB – For the Want of a Nail…

Yelp.com & Unique Vistors: Would the Real Number Please Stand Up

While there may be some dispute about the origins of the saying: “there are three kinds of lies, lies, damned lies and statistics” there is little disagreement about its general truthfulness. It seems particularly appropriate in regard to Yelp’s unique visitors.

Yesterday Yelp.com announced at SMX East that they had 38 million uniques on the desktop and it picqued my curiosity. Yelp.com has done a great job of generating reviews and adding value around them and I have been following them over the years as both a user and a professional, watching thier efforts to move from a niche restaurant site in the major markets to a broad based general site. Have they moved out of the niche and into the mainstream? Certainly 38 million uniques would indicate so.

But I was curious for some verification of Yelp’s numbers so I went to Quantcast, Compete and Comscore to see if I could independantly confrim them. The results, far from enlightening, illustrate the many ways that unique visitors can be counted.

Source Yelp Uniques Chart (click to view larger)
Yelp 38 Million
ComScore 24 Million
Quantcast 12.6 Million
Compete 10.1 Million

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Google Places Gets Down and Very Dirty


Google Maps & Places has always been the playground of bad actors, whether the computer repair company that got carried away with bulk uploads, the non existent locksmith, the plastic surgeon with fake reviews or the less than savory payday loan folks masquerading as local businesses in an effort to get customers. In the legal scheme of things there were mostly deceptive and only occasionally criminal but heck they were “just trying to make a living”. 🙂 But leave it to the SEO business to really lead the dive to the depths of depravity in the Maps world.

There have been several tales of extortion reported in the past few weeks that describe  holding a businesses listing in Maps “hostage” until some form of payment is received.

From the Google Forums:
My business has a couple address that are both listed and claimed in google maps. However, if you do a search of my domain name, you will see three pages of results, all but two of which are wrong.

The wrong listings have a bad phone number, random business name, and random address, but it does list my company domain. These listings have already been “Claimed by owner” so we cannot go in and fix them.

This was brought to our attention today by a phone call from a “marketing expert” who pointed out this problem and how it could get us banned from google. When we refused to pay him to correct the problem, he threatened to flag our real listings and get them removed/penalized if we didn’t pay him. This person obviously created about 25 fake listings with my domain in another Google Places account before calling to point out this “problem” and is holding the ability to delete them hostage… There is no way for us to correct the listing.

And this report from Webmasterworld (Hat tip to Andy Kuiper, an SEO Analyst in Vancouver):

This has happened to two companies that I work for in the past 6 months. Wondering if anyone else has seen the same…

A bunch of negative reviews are posted in Google Maps for a particular company. About a month after the posts, the company gets a call and is told that the negative reviews can be removed for a fee… typically $400. We have been flaging the reviews, tey it seems to take google forever to even take a look.

If nothing else, Maps never ceases to entertain but these reports indicate a new form of criminality. It seems that Google’s current reporting mechanism and customer support structure of the “report a problem” link and the forums is woefully inadequate to deal with this sort of problem. How would you handle this situation if one of your clients was being extorted? Should Google create some communication mechanism to deal with this?

Locksmith Mad as Hell -Sues AZ Attorney General to Enforce Law

The ALOA (Associated Locksmiths of America, the locksmith trade group) has recently posted the legal filing from a lawsuit initiated by a locksmith in Arizona. The complaint for violations of Arizona’s laws preventing misrepresentation of “the geographical origins or location of the person’s business” attempts to

1)Get an injunction against the offending locksmtih (Atlas Locksmith Soltuons among others) and

2)Require the attorney general to “take over the crimianl and consumer fraud aspects of the case

It is interesting that a local locksmith, in his frustration, is “going after” the attorney general to do their job of enforcing laws on the books. It will be interesting to see if he manages any success in either convincing the AG or perhaps embarrassing him to take on the case.

At the bottom of the filing it notes: Charley requests donation to his legal fund because he feels the expertise of an attorney is now needed.

It seems a little late in the process to think about hiring a lawyer but heck, better late than never. Good luck Chuck! For more information about Chuck’s quest you can visit his website.

From the filing: Continue reading Locksmith Mad as Hell -Sues AZ Attorney General to Enforce Law

Google QR Codes Working Once Again

Last week, as a result of some upgrade to the Maps, things were pretty flakey. Most of the weirdness was fixed that day but QR codes remained non functional into the later part of this week. Apparently the Google url where the QR codes were being directed: http://maps.google.com/m/place/… was not working properly and not being redirected.

Whatever the problem, it has now been repaired and QR Codes seem to once again be functioning.

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.

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