Google LBC: Support to Be Available to Local Listing Ad Customers

Last night while at Marty Weintraub’s AimClear SMX East SchmoozFest, I was fortunate to meet Frederick Vallaeys of Google. He is the forthright (he gave me a business card!), communicative product evangelist for Adwords. He was on his way out the door but took the time to answer some of my questions about the newly announced Local Listing Ad product.

According to Frederick, email support will definitely be an integral part of the Local Listing Ad product. Supprt will take the form of an automated first response to the initial query with human escalation if the answer provided is not satisfactory. He noted that discussions were on-going and that all other support options, including the possibility of fee based phone support, were on the table but no final decision had been reached. He noted that he felt strongly that “people should be able to get their questions answered”.

Even though brief, the conversation was far ranging and touched on my of my questions about the new product:
-What will the prices be for a given market and category?
-Will the pricing be transparent to all, across all markets?
-How long will the price remain fixed and when it does change what will the procedure be?
-Will the price have a relationship to the adwords pricing and will that relationship be transparent?
-How will placement be determined in competitive markets?
-Will categorization be limited to the existing categories or will it allow for long tail catogorizaton?

Much of the conversation was off the record but it is clear that the process and procedures for this product are still very much a work in progress.

Support (or rather lack there of) for Local Bussiness Center users has long been an issue with Google with many serious problems going unanswered and unattended. Early this year, in a far ranging discussion about Why the Google Local Business Center Fails, Matt Cutts responded that:

Here’s my personal take on the “paid support” suggestion. Historically Google has been averse to offering paid support for free products. I think it’s because we don’t want to evoke the idea that Google has a conflict of interest. For example, if we offered paid support for (say) websearch, lots of conspiracy theorists would accuse Google of making search worse in order to make money off of people paying for support.

The new Local Listing Ads is an exciting product that will appeal to many SMB’s. It offers simplicity and a fair bit of transparency and can act as an effective first step for many local businesses in the world of on-line advertising. It could, by providing support for both Ad related AND other technical problems, improve the image of the Local Business Center in the marketplace.

I can envision those with solvable by Google only type problems signing up so as to just get their listing issues resolved. A 30 Day Free Trial could easily turn into 30 days of free support with an ad thrown in.

That being said, I am looking forward to Google working out the kinks on the way to this new product. It seems ideally suited to the needs of many businesses who are just now beginning to look to the Internet for an solution to replace the declining value of the print Yellow Pages and news papers.

Frederick will be speaking at Q&A session at SMX East this afternoon. I would encourage all of the Local world to come and get the answers to the many questions that you have had. Well, OK, to at least ask the questions. 🙂

Google Intros Local Listing Ads to LBC in Limited Markets

Google has started a limited rollout of a new fixed price SMB ad type in the San Diego and San Francisco market. The ad, which a new type of ad,  which will be highlighted with a pushpin both on the ad and on the 10 Pack Map will be located directly above the 10 Pack view.

maps_148046a_en

This new ad type will be accessible via a new tab in the Local Business Center and will offer call tracking and reporting. Greg Sterling has reported on this at both SearchEnginland and Screenwerks where he noted that it didn’t appear that this ad type would be available through resellers. That may well be true but many LBC accounts are managed for the SMB’s by their search companies. I think that the simplicity and guaranteed placement of this ad type will be appealing.

The ads will be automatically created by Google and can currently be directed to either the business’s home page or their Places page. It is not clear to me that SMB’s will be all that cracked up about sending their ad to a page that could very well contain competitor’s ads and paying for that privelege.

Greg noted that although pricing has not been firmly established that he speculated it would run between $20 and $200/mo depending on the category and market. Pricing is always an issue for small businesses but given thGoogle’s low operating expenses, pricing could be enticing. For many SMB’s this could very well be their first experience with call tracking and true ad accountability. It will be interesting to see  how they value that extra accountability.

In my survey’s of the top 200 listings in Google Maps across multiple categories, LBC adoption ranged from a low of 5% to a high of roughly 25%. While this program would be significantly more successful with active marketing, it offers of the possibility of significant incremental revenue to Google with no additional efforts of their part. It will be interesting to see how pricing compares to the bid based pricing in Adwords and whether the two values are tied together.

Here is Google’s video on the product:

Here are Google’s Help/Information pages on the product:

What are Local Listing Ads?
How are Local Listing Ads different from AdWords?
How much do Local Listing Ads cost?

this new product raises a number of operational and strategic questions:

What will the prices be for a given market and category?

Will the pricing be transparent to all, across all markets?

How long will the price remain fixed and when it does change what will the procedure be?

Will the price have a relationship to the adwords pricing and will that relationship be transparent?

How will placement be determined in competitive markets?

Will categorization be limited to the existing categories or will it allow for long tail catogorizaton?

AND THE BIGGEST QUESTION OF THEM ALL:

Will Google, now that they are charging for use start providing support?

SMX East – Announcing the 2009 Limited Edition SMX East Local T-Shirt

We are announcing, for immediate delivery, the availability of this year’s 2009 Limited* Edition SMX East Local T-Shirt!

The shirt is intended to commenorate David Mihm’s Ultimate Local SEO Vanity Search & raise money for charity. All profits will be donated to Google to hire a customer support representative. 🙂

If for some reason they determine that they are unable to utilize this largess, the profits will go the Mental Health Association of Cattaraugus County to fund the Lee Greene Memorial Scholarship**.

This shirt, available in a limited quantity is tastefully designed with David Mihm’s photo on the upper right crest and captioned:
hire-this-man

Buy now as the supply is limited!

Sizes

On the back of this classic T, done in a tasteful white with a touch of familiar color, we offer David’s tactful & classic answer to this important question:
Continue reading SMX East – Announcing the 2009 Limited Edition SMX East Local T-Shirt

Google Maps: A Near Death Experience – Why did my listing Disappear & My Stats Drop to Zero?

Over the past 48 hours, both personally and in the forums I have seen a large number of inquiries as to why rankings had dropped, why reviews had disappeared, why citations had gone missing, why the LBC had stopped showing stats and impressions had dropped to zero in Google Maps.

From the Forums in just the past 24 hours:

Have I been penalised?

My listing has moved from page 1 to page 14 !

If you edit your business, does it drop out from maps for a while?

The troubleshooting didn’t help with the listing of our business on maps. Help!

listing disappeared?

My listing has disaapeared from Google Maps & has being replaced by my competitor’s from Google Organic lis

I have suddenly stopped coming up in local map – why

This comment posted on a recent post here is typical of these many inquiries: “she disappeared completely as of today, dropping to 21 for interior design”.

Even though I know better, even though I realize that Maps is a work in progress, has a few quirks and is undergoing a major renovation with the implementation of the all new Places pages, alarms still went off  for me when I saw stats on several accounts drop to zero:

Picture 59

As I told several folks yesterday, despite a nagging voice in my head that God Google was somehow punishing me, it was probably just a temporary aberration as Google makes the transition to Places. In the meantime, I said, don’t neglect all of your non-Google on-line marketing that you have in place. Its a good time to send out a newsletter, refine your Barnacle SEO, optimize your website for long tail local searches, contact your email list, update your blog and post to Twitter.

Well late yesterday, things started returning to normal on some listings. Reviews were returning, web references were starting to show up and listings were once again popping into the 10-Pack. It does appear that it was/is a temporary phenomena. My working theory is that Google temporarily rolled back to an older data set as part of the Places upgrade. I think the issue will persist across a range of listings until whatever internal changes Google is making are firmly in place.

Google has wanted small businesses to pay attention to Maps. I am not sure that this Pavlovian response was what they had in mind.

To the many small businesses I say, use this as a wake up call that while Google Maps is an important component of your on-line strategy, it should not be the only component. If you have yet to develop those alternative marketing tactics then, rather than developing a Maps religion, become more agnostic and do it now. Religion in this context does not serve you well.

ZOMG! Google Maps LBC Suspension Message Now in English!

Given how much I have complained about Google Map’s slightly sadistic & wildly misleading suspension message: System Error – We’re sorry, but we are unable to serve your request at this time. Please try back in a few minutes, I don’t know how I missed the recent transition to the new, improved & now easily understood suspension message:

Account Suspended!
Your Local Business Center account has been suspended. Please see the Business Listing Quality Guidelines for more information.

People will still come and complain in the forums, and one never knows whether their protestations are innocent or duplicitous but at least now they have an inkling as to why they are there. I am glad that Google has put in place a more transparent and communicative message.

I am curious though, does the message really include an exclamation point?

Update: Joel Headley of Google noted in his Google reader comments that: “Exclamation point is likely used because it’s shocking these folks thought it would be a good idea to spam”.

Thanks for the answer, inquiring minds wanted to know.

Big Boobs Bounce Back to Top of Google Maps

Recently, Google Maps has been enforcing spam penalties more rigorously. Even Locksmith results seem to be improving.

So it was surprising to see a report in the forums that the Authoritative OneBox was showing for this very broad search for Breast Augmentation New Jersey . Not only was it a single listing on a broad category search which has been a topic of recent concern, it showed for a statewide search phrase.
breast1

What was equally surpising was that this plastic surgeon was also showing a statewide Authoritative One Box results from the same address and phone number for Tummy Tucks & Breast Implants and showing 3 Packs for Liposuction and Abdominoplasty. Upon investigation Dr Racanelli had 5 listngs for his one address and more spam at a second address.

Picture 55

I had not seen this sort of spam since the wild west days of Brain Injured Lawyers in LA last year. Did Google’s spam filters break down or has their OneBox algo gone amuck? Or maybe a West Coast SEO moved east? Who knows but the results are not worthy of Google.

Regardless, clearly it is spam and it is accentuated by the recent trend of displaying the Authoritative OneBox front and center on very broad search terms. This single piece of spam would have been much less offensive if shown in the 10-Pack.
Continue reading Big Boobs Bounce Back to Top of Google Maps

Where Are Google Places Pages Going? To the Index?

Last week when Google Map’s new Place’s pages were introduced it was noted that they were not going to be indexed (there is a great discussion going on at Greg’s blog now) leaving the impression amongst many that they would sit, isolated, in the Maps siloh. They would, it was thought, only be seen to users deep inside of Maps.

Google’s plans seem more ambitious and grand than that. Places pages will, over the next 6 months or so, not only appear across all of Google’s mapping platforms (Google Earth, Mobile and perhaps the iPhone) but they are likely to start appearing in the main search engine results. There they will perhaps push less worthy geo & business brand pages off to the second and third pages of the results, affecting traffic results and business plans for a number of playersPlaces-in-serps.

Peter Wypanski, an SEO in Philadelphia, noted that the Google robots.txt shows a nofollow for Places: Disallow: /places/. Technologist Chris Silver Smith though pointed out on Twitter that a no follow in the “robots.txt doesnt mean Google wont index a page- only that they wont crawl it. Link 2 profile = it’s indexed”.*

And indexed these pages are. If you search on the Burdick Chocolate Cafe Boston, an example that Google disseminated widely during their pre announcement briefings, you will find it on page one of the search results.

Chris Silver added that

“The keyword optimized URLs** appear to be key towards showing the intent: they intend those URLs to be highly friendly, easy for people to send to friends, and they intend the URLs to live for a long while. Very different from URLs we’ve seen heretofore in Google”.

“I think that this is to local what Wikipedia has become for factual information. If you can generate a central page collecting information about every single place in the world, then the world won’t beat a path to your door — you’ll already own the path.”

What are the implications?

Continue reading Where Are Google Places Pages Going? To the Index?

Google Maps UI upgrade: Places page replaces Tabbed Interface

Google Maps is rolling out a new UI upgrade, the “Places” page, worldwide to replace the tabbed interface text view in Maps. The rollout, beginning today, will take place over the next week.

The new interface provides a single page where all information about a “Place” is visible in well, one place. Google has taken all of the information that previously  resided under the tabs plus a range of new information and is presenting it in a single page view. Note for example this Places page for the Verrazano Narrows Bridge contains a SketchUp3D image (lower right).

The upgrade, according to Ron Lior, Maps product manager, not only presents more information about a particular business or place but offers improved internal ranking so that the most relevant information about a Place is displayed.

Not limited to just businesses Google’s vision is somewhat grander. They want to create a Places page for every place in the world (click to see examples), every business, historic site, city, geographic feature, neighborhood and transit point. In the near future real estate listings will also be shown this way. (Note as these roll out, the URL’s may or may not work reliably.) Each “Place” will also have a human readable place identifier in the form: http://maps.google.com/places/us/new-york-city .

I will be writing up a more extensive analysis of the Places Page in a subsequent post.

Those marked in red include new information:

Google Places Page

To see the old tabbed view: Continue reading Google Maps UI upgrade: Places page replaces Tabbed Interface

Is Google Showing the Authoritative OneBox More Often?

One of the less than ideal aspects of Google showing Local Universal results is the display of an Authoritative OneBox for a broad local search like “Las Vegas Computer Repair“.

However,since mid August, there have been a number of reports (here, here, here, here) in both the forums and in communications from Local Search Marketers Dev Basu and Mike Ramsey that Google has been increasingly presenting the Authoritative OneBox on more general searches that until recently showed the 10 Pack.

Google Onebox on General Search

While is it every Local SEO’s desire to achieve this result, it is very frustrating for businesses and searchers alike when a general service + geo search returns a singular result. Businesses that were previously shown in the 10-Pack disappear leaving the business owner wondering why and experiencing a significant drop in exposure and income. The user is left wondering how to get broader results as they are not even given an option to see additional businesses. Inexplicably from a usability point of view, this is a feature that is available with the 10 Pack.

Here is a typical angry, small business response to the phenomena that you see in the forums. Clearly he thinks that Google is on the take or experiencing technical flaws: Continue reading Is Google Showing the Authoritative OneBox More Often?

Google Maps and Hospital Hell Soon Coming to an End? Three Cheers!

Google Maps and the Local Business Center have been hell for hospitals. Virtually everything that could go wrong with Maps has gone wrong when it comes to hospitals getting their many listings correct in the LBC and the Maps index with the technical issues compounded by the lack of customer support. This has been an on-going problem and was first reported as long ago as March, 2007.

That being said it appears that Google is in the process of a formalized solution that could very well solve the problem: hospitals would be come eligible for whitelisting of bulk uploads.

Last week, in my article “Is Google Maps the Portal to Bizarro World?“, I wrote about the difficulties of a hospital being banned while attempting to mange the complex process of getting their many listings squared away. With hospitals, records are merged sending folks to the wrong address for the emergency room or inundating an internist’s office with calls meant for the main switch board. Typically phone verification in the LBC does not work for most hospitals due to their PBX’s and receipt of a post card in the right hands is more difficult to come by than single payer health care. The job of the hospital trying to gain control of their listings has often proven nearly impossible.

Given the critical public nature of the service that they provide, sending phone calls off to the wrong department, having the wrong address or phone number for the emergency room can lead to disaster. It points out the social problems that can affect us all when critical public information is left to the devices of an imperfect algorithm.

Historically Google had a dedicated form for hospitals to gain assistance from Google in getting their records squared away but that option had disappeared leaving many with no real solution and Google’s only advice to hospitals being the totally unsatisfactory & pitiful “check your mail system and make sure the mail doesn’t get lost”.

This recent post in the Help Forums captures the essence of the hospital issues:

I didn’t get the postcard… Must change Phone number ASAP!

John at Madigan
9/14/09

I am a systems administrator, and Webmaster for the Madigan Army Medical Center. I have tried to update our Phone Number (the correct number is 253 968-1110 all the other numbers are wrong… there are 3 listed) using the post card option. I did not get the postcard, not absolutely surprising as we are a LARGE facility with over 5000 employees. The phone number option is not viable, as the number listed is incorrect. It goes to our Pain clinic, who is UNINDATED with calls that they have to forward to the main switchboard. I MUST get this number changed IMMEDIATELY. Please Help!

John

It appears that Google, in response to Jeff Wiley of Hospital Bizarro World fame, has begun to formalize a solution not just for him but that will work for every hospital. He (and hopefully all) is being brought into the Bulk Upload Whitelist program. This should offer a real solution to any and every health care facility. From the post:

Hi Jeff,

I have good news. Your LBC account should be active now. I took a look and I suggest you submit a bulk upload for all your hospital listings so you do not have to individually verify each listing. After you create your bulk upload and it complies with our Local Business Center Quality Guidelines then you may submit a request to have it verified and listed on Google Maps by submitting your info here: http://maps.google.com/support/bin/request.py?contact_type=feeds_verify.

Please let me know if you have questions. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Cheers,
Linda

I may be premature on this but Grand Kudos to Google on moving to solve a pressing public safety issue.

For this solution to really work, it needs to be taken to the next level of operational and communication support. Google needs to back up the possibility of white listing with real people to approve the requests in a timely fashion. As long as Google is in the solution mood, lets hope that they communicate the solution broadly and publicly document this possibility so that every hospital can learn of it and take advantage of it. It is of such importance in my book that Google should initiate a focused outreach to every medical facility in the county.

This holds the promise of a great solution to a sticky problem… three cheers!

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