Google Now Cross Promoting Other Web Services Directly to LBC Users

I recently received this email from the Google Local Business Center:
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Google Apps helps you focus more on your business, less on IT hassles
As a small business owner, you don’t want to spend additional time, money and energy on IT hassles. That’s why the Local Business Center team would like to introduce you to Google Apps Standard Edition, our suite of free, easy-to-use online messaging and collaboration tools for businesses like yours. Apps is hosted by Google so you don’t need to install or maintain any hardware or software, and you can access your account from just about any computer.

When you sign-up for a Google Apps Standard Edition account, you can:

  • Get customized email for your domain with Gmail for Business
  • Seamlessly share and manage schedules with Google Calendar
  • Quickly create websites as easily as drafting documents with Google Sites
  • Easily create, share, and collaborate on documents, presentations, and spreadsheets withGoogle Docs
In just 3 easy steps, you can sign-up for your FREE Google Apps Standard Edition account

Click Here

Sincerely,
The Google Local Business Center Team

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Last week it was reported as well that Google UK is offering free websites AND free domain registrations to small businesses. If you had any doubt about Google going after the very small business with a complete list of internet services, this should make it perfectly clear.

Which Review Sites Should You Use?

I am frequently asked: Which reviews sites should I send my clients to? Which one should I pick?

My answer: think about your customers needs first (easy, choice), think about your business needs second (leverage) and consider using as many sites as make sense.

I asked this question of David Mihm, Local SEO expert, and his response was:

The syndication value of reviews on well-spidered portals like Citysearch, InsiderPages, and DexKnows appears to me to outweigh any special ranking given to Google’s own reviews (which are of course not syndicated). Additionally, I think Google places extremely high trust in reviews it finds on leading vertical portals like TripAdvisor, Healthgrades, and Avvo.

I strongly agree with David’s premise. Citysearch by virtue of its extensive syndication and still strong visitation puts its reviews almost everywhere (for a list see the end of this article). Citysearch uses Facebook Connect for its login making guaranteeing that most of your clients have a login at the ready and its reviews show up regularly and quickly in Google Maps. By virtue of pervasive syndication, Citysearch reviews have as much as 15% more exposure than a review written in Google Maps.

I would also recommend adding Yahoo Local to David’s list. Many users already have a Yahoo login making it easy for them. More importantly Yahoo Local reviews are the only reviews that show in the Yahoo Universal results. If maximum exposure is the objective then showing in Yahoo Universal (plus Google & Google Maps) results in far greater visibility that even the total exposure to review provided by Citysearch.

Should you use Yelp or Google? Continue reading Which Review Sites Should You Use?

How long has Rogers, MN been misplaced? Let me count the minutes….

As I noted last week, Google Maps has managed to lose (more or less) the town of Rogers, MN….their “report a problem” feature notes that Map corrections take 30 days.

This widget will keep track of how long it actually takes for Google to find Rogers…the clock has started!

Will they meet their self imposed deadline? Will Rogers ever find its way back to the 7-Pack? Will they find the real Rogers?

Stop back next week to learn the exciting conclusion to this and other mysteries.

Google Maps: Sponsored Icons – Pay Your Way to the Base Level & Add a Logo

In August last year, Google Maps added icons and labels of prominent businesses and places of interest directly onto Google Maps in the form of a small icon. In the Google Maps discussion groups there has been a number of (angry) questions as to exactly how a business could get their icon embedded in the base layer of Google Maps. Until today, Google’s only answer was that businesses were given an icon based on the secret sauce of Place Rank.

Now it appears, that at least in Australia,that Google has launched a new feature that builds on this feature for a price. It is not clear from the blog entry whether the program is a test or is permanent, nor what the cost is, nor whether it is a one time cost or a monthly recurring cost. The form allows you “to register your interest in Sponsored Map Icons” but gives no indication of process or time to have your icon listed.

From the post:

Now when you visit Google Maps in Australia, it’ll be easier to find some of those shops and other businesses you visit most often because when you zoom in, some businesses will be identified by a small representation of their logo. These easily recognisable logos more closely depict online what the offline world looks like, so next time you’re trying to find your way on the map you can navigate more easily using these icons as landmarks.

As well as making it easier for you to find the nearest burger joint or ATM at a single glance, this new feature helps local business owners promote their physical location on the map via an easily recognisable logo, and therefore connect with a larger audience. Advertisers will pay to have these sponsored map icons appear on the Map instead of a generic icon, helping to generate awareness of their locations among the millions of people who visit Google Maps every day. If you’re an advertiser that would like to talk to us about having your business appear like this on Google Maps, please add your details to this form.

This test, though interesting, will likely provide little real benefit or exposure. While there has been interest in the icon in the forums, it is not clear to me that many users get to this level of detail in the Map. The pricing had better be quite low as the return would appear small or non-existent and very difficult to track. This apparent lack of obvious accountability is unusual coming from Google.

Google’s obvious intent is to more heavily monetize the business listing side of Maps. One assumes from the tests of the Local Listing Ads last year, the Enhanced Listing test in Houston and San Jose that started in February and now this Sponsored Map Icon “test” that Google will have a concrete, permanent and wide spread advertising model (or models) in place in the very near future.

Update: Chris Silver Smith pointed me to an article of his from 6/07 where he noted a similar development and foresaw the move to monetization.

Google Maps: What Happens When You Lose a Town?

Wikipedia seems to know, Mapquest knows, Bing knows, even Google Organic seems to know something that is a secret to Google Maps & Google Universal results – the whereabouts of Rogers, MN.

Well its not exactly true that Google Maps doesn’t know where Rogers is. It is apparently more complex than that. But real life often is. The result though is the same.

The Cabellas store that is in Rogers, MN can’t be found by Google (it sends you to Owatonna, MN). The Hampton Inn & Suites that is in Rogers can’t be found by Google (it sends you to Minneapolis). The reality is that not much that exists in Rogers including emergency services (it sends you to Burnsville ..some irony there) can be found by Google. Essentially, everything in the town of Rogers, MN 55374 is MIA unless you search on the zip code instead of the town name.

It appears that Rogers, MN might actually be two places. One , an up and coming fast growth community that is 40 miles or so Northwest of St. Paul and one, that seems little more than a road sign, that is 70 miles southwest of St. Paul. If you look carefully (ie by zip code) you can find the principle Rogers to the NW of St. Paul. I have ground checked the Rogers, MN 55374 and found that it really does exist. I am not all that confident on the other. I couldn’t find anything or anybody there to call. 🙂

The problem is that when searching in Google, the apparent ambiguity is not recognized and, for whatever reason, the not so significant Rogers, MN gains precedence and nothing shows from the “real” Rogers. Thus no place in the Rogers, MN 55374 can be found. Not the baker, the butcher, not the candlestick maker and certainly not the doctor.

I attempted to explain this whole mess via the report a problem link but somehow the choices just didn’t seem up to handling the problem. I did, in the end, manage to file a report after being booted out of the system once.

But is that really enough? Will it really be fixed in the promised 30 days?

I am hoping that Google takes pity on the poor town of Rogers, MN zip 55374 and finds them a place in the Maps world sooner.

PS Before I finished the article I did get an automated response from Google on Problem ID 94CB-A209-B92C-FD74…..
Continue reading Google Maps: What Happens When You Lose a Town?

Bing Maps now Allows Twitter Stream Maps to be Embedded

From the Bing Blog:

We’ve just released an update to the Twitter Maps application in the Bing Maps Application Gallery. NOW, you can embed our Twitter Maps functionality into your own web site. This means you can be cool by having a Bing Map on your web site, blog, favorite social networking site with the Tweets you care about. And, WOW, it’s super easy.

Here is a sample with Tweets from SXSW

You can do this in four easy steps:

  1. Select the map location either fixed (centered on a specific point) or anywhere (moves the map as the Tweets come in).
  2. Specify the dimensions of your map (height and width).
  3. Add search filters. These will be carried into the embed form if you’ve specified them to filter only tweets that meet your search criteria.
  4. Copy/paste HTML into your web page.

Responding to Negative Reviews – Your Prospects are the Real Audience

Ted Paff is the President of Customer Lobby, an on-line solution to help local service businesses to get, manage and publish reviews. Ted called me when he read my principles of a review program post to introduce himself and his company. We had a far ranging conversation that covered everything from the economy to parents but always came back to conversation about reviews and their role in the online world.

I was particularly struck by his company’s approach to finding the lemonade in the lemon of the negative review titled: Negative Reviews Increase Sale and the idea that the response is as much targeted at future customers as the reviewer. I asked him to write a guest blog detailing how he and why he would suggest responding to the negative review :

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So you got a negative review about your business.  Although it stings right now, what you do next has a bigger impact on the ultimate outcome of this situation than the negative review itself.  Your actions will determine if this event enhances your reputation or becomes an embarrassing smudge.

Should you Respond and What to Say

As much as you might want to, you can’t profitably respond to all negative reviews.  Never respond to a review unless you can do Step 1 and Step 2 below (Step 3 is optional).

Step 1:  Own the issue.

Your first objective in a response is to communicate that: you are paying attention to the issue; the issue is important to you; and that you are sorry the reviewer had a problem.  Your prospects will be reading your reply with rapt attention.  Write this for them. Tell them that when someone has a problem, your business will hear them.  It doesn’t matter if the reviewer lied or only told half of the story – own whatever issue they wrote about.

Step 2:  Describe how future customers will not have this issue.

A critical part of any response is to tell your prospects that something has changed and this issue will not happen to them.  This is a golden opportunity to market your business.  For example, writing that ‘we have put a new process in place…’ tells your prospects that your company is good and is getting better.

Step 3:  Offer to fix the issue

Your business will spend a lot of time and money on sales and marketing.    Although you can’t always fix every issue (sometimes you don’t want to), your offer to fix a reviewer’s problem is a great marketing investment.   In the response, suggest that they contact you directly so you can try to resolve the issue.

Guidelines for your Response

Write it with your prospects in mind.  Before writing your response, think about who your audience is.  Although your response should be addressing the reviewer, the vast majority of the readers of your response are likely to be your prospects. Writing your response with the majority of your readers (a.k.a. your sales prospects) in mind will help you set the right tone.  For example, write about your company’s commitment to customer satisfaction.  Your response should not try to change the reviewer’s mind or dispute the facts as set out in the review.

Don’t be defensive.   One suggestion we often give to our clients is to send a draft of your response to someone that doesn’t work at your company.  Ask them to delete anything that sounds defensive.

Take your time.  A negative review most likely made you angry.  Resist the temptation to reply quickly because, unless you have superhuman emotional control, the reply is likely to sound angry.

Keep it brief.  Resist the temptation to “set the record straight.”  The surest way to ensure that your response never gets read is to give your side of the story.

Writing a short, non-defensive reply to a review that owns the issue, describes how the issue has been resolved (maybe includes an offer to fix the issue) will earn you the trust of your future customers.

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Another incredible resource in responding to negative reviews is a piece written last year by Miriam Ellis: Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution.

To get a sense of how far wrong things can go when an SMB decides to respond to negative reviews see Inc’s You’ve Been Yelped detailing how bookshop owner Diane Goodman, was “booked for battery and remanded to San Francisco General Hospital for a mental health evaluation.”

Review Case Study: With More Than One Employee Process Becomes Key

Don Campbell is president of Expand2Web which provides websites and Local SEO for small business owners. North Valley Optometry is owned by Dr. Tarryn Ngo, the wife of Don Campbell’s business partner Randy Hew. It has provided Expand2Web with a great case study on the impact of online reviews. Randy has been responsible for optimizing their web presence as well as implementing their online review process. The firm has 2 employees in addition to Dr. Ngo so process has become a key factor. Here’s Dr. Ngo’s story as told by Randy:

“Before connecting with Don Campbell last year my wife didn’t even have a website and only a couple of reviews (luckily they were good reviews) on Yelp. In July of 2009 we built her a website, optimized it and made it a focus to start asking customers for online reviews. Today she has close to 50 reviews on Google, almost 40 reviews on Yahoo and 6 reviews on Yelp which has taken about 6 months. It’s made a huge impact, the number of net new patients she is now getting on a monthly basis has increased roughly 30% and many of the new patients that come in comment that they have read the reviews online.

From a Local SEO standpoint North Valley Optometry comes up in the 7 pack on several keyword search terms for San Jose and related terms for optometry. What gives us a real competitive advantage is in the 7 pack North Valley Optometry has 40 more reviews than it’s closest competitor which makes it visually compelling for potential customers to click on our local listing.

North Valley Optometry online reviews

The process of asking for a review online is a simple, but getting online reviews is takes time. This is the process we use:

  1. Dr. Ngo (my wife) simply asks the patient some time during their visit to the office if they would be open to giving her business an online review. So far every patient she asks has said “no problem”.
  2. Next the office writes down the name and email address of the patient on a clipboard
  3. At the end of the week one of the girls on her staff types in the patient names and email addresses into a Google spreadsheet that we share.
  4. I copy those email addresses into an email template we created which is a short note asking for an online review with links directly to the Google and Yahoo local listing site.

The follow up email makes it easy for the patient to just click on the links and write a review. Originally the office tried giving the patients a piece of paper with the links on it as a reminder to write a review, but that wasn’t very effective. I think one of the main keys to getting customers to write a review is to make it easy for them.

That’s another reason why we only ask for a review on Google and Yahoo. Most people have a Google and/or Yahoo account so it’s easy for them to write a review. On other directories like Yelp, City Search or Insider Pages most people don’t have accounts already created so it’s asking a lot of a patient to create a new account and than write a review. From a search perspective most customers find North Valley Optometry on Google or Yahoo so it only makes sense to have reviews right there next to our business link in the search results.

Yelp is extremely popular in the silicon valley, but we don’t really bother with it. We found that Yelp will take down the customer reviews if the reviewer isn’t an “active yelper” and consistently reviewing many businesses. And the same problem as the other directories, if the customer isn’t already a Yelper they would have to create an account before giving a review which is a hassle.

Even though everyone has the best intentions to write a review we found that only 10-15% actually write a review. Most likely it’s just one of those “extra” things to do that gets lost in their daily activities of life. The office policy is to only ask the customer once for a review and they don’t give any incentives to a customer for writing one. So when we send the follow up email we want to make sure the request is reasonable and easy for them to follow through.

As you can see the process is pretty simple. At first just remembering to ask the customer for an online review was the biggest challenge. Once the office became committed to asking for a review it became a natural part of the conversation with their patients and implementing the rest of the process has been very easy. Getting a lot of online reviews doesn’t happen over night, but if you’re committed to the process it all adds up over time.

Out of this experience and the experience working with our other customers in local seo Don and I came up with this brainstorm for the myReviewsPage tool to help small business owners like my wife to monitor and build their online reviews.

We’re just starting to implement this free tool at North Valley Optometry. My wife likes the fact that at a click of the button she can monitor all of her reviews on the major directories. The email template is easy enough that they are going to start sending the review email request while the patient is in the office instead of having to go through all those extra steps of writing the patients info on a clipboard and than sending all the email requests at the end of the week or month. I’m hoping the timeliness of sending the emails will also help increase the number of patients that actually leave a review.

Google Directions Widget Goes Wacky


David Rubin of Quintessential Interiors pointed out a strange bug in the Google Directions widget where it will only calculate distances in kilometers even on US based sites and domains. He noted:

I have come across another Google problem that seems to be right up your alley.  While testing the Google Directions Gadget that I installed on a site I noticed that all results give distances in kilometers instead of miles.  Also, the gadget results tend to be somewhat slow and unreliable, resulting in a scripting error on some pages.  The only support available is in the help forums, which indicate that the distance units are determined by the country origin of the domain, and cannot be manipulated by the webmaster.  Interestingly, every site in the Google Gadget examples, including Harvard University, Dartmouth University, Atlanta-Hartsfield Airport and others all display in kilometers.  I’m pretty sure these domains are US based.

I’m guessing that what is going on is that the gadget is directing to a Google server somewhere overseas.  This would explain the slowness of the results and the wrong distance units.  If I’m right it means that the gadget is looking at the Google server location and not the requesting site’s location.  Just a guess, because, as we all know, Google provides no support.

It seems like Google continuously rolls out some great stuff, but it’s buggy and unsupported.  Then they move on to more great stuff without really getting the last great thing right.  I may be overstating things, but it seems like a path to becoming one big heap of mediocrity. Thanks again.

I created a new widget for a site I was working on and confirmed the weird behavior. But I think there may be a more likely theory: Google has joined an international cabal to help push the US market into the metric world. 🙂 Here is the widget for you to try:

Developing Knowledge about Local Search