Review Solicitation – Dumb and Dumber

Yesterday I highlighted a review service that was managing the review process for SMBs and posting the good ones into Google, Yahoo etc… an idea that is sure to have a short shelf life and one that is not a good long term strategy. Well here is another.

Aggressive marketers often engage their mouth long before any cognitive activity has taken place. This is an example of that and makes one realize why the process of review gathering is often referred to as “solicitation”.

Ben notes on his website:

Chiropractic Marketing Exposed: We’ve launched a breakthrough new Google Booster Experiment on the Forum in which members promote each others Google Maps listing to get very high rankings on Page One of Google. Watch this Video explaining the whole thing and how to get involved. Watch it NOW!

If you don’t have time to watch the whole video or happen to find the the presenters enthusiasm overbearing, essentially he is recommending that Chiropractors that frequent his forum leave reviews for each other on Google Maps……

Chris Silver Smith had this to say:

Review-swapping, like vote-swapping, strikes me as wrong for the same reasons, albeit on different levels of scale/seriousness. In my opinion, this is a thinly-veiled attempt to exploit reviews for ranking purposes, despite his suggestion of not putting false reviews. I believe Google Maps would perceive it that way, too, which makes it a dangerous tactic to be involved with.

I believe that Google Maps is either not been weighting reviews and numbers of reviews all that heavily (in favor of other ranking factors which I’ve recently been writing about), and they also have means of telling when exploits of this sort are used. I have heard stories of people having their accounts disabled due to detection of exploits in Google Maps reviews.

And Will Scott, Search Influence in New Orleans noted:

We work with a couple chiropractors and there is some serious snake oil out there. These guys are well educated, with years of rigorous training, but they seem overly susceptible to shortcut marketing.

Will’s phrase “shortcut marketing” really says it all. Any review process needs to be part of a well thought long term effort to improve your company’s visibility across the whole local ecosystem.

Reviews – Do Positive Only Review Services have a place?

Over the past few weeks, I detailed several successful ways to generate reviews. I promised at the time to detail some ways that I think are ultimately bound to failure. Here is one.

ReviewBoost claims to “Authenticate and Publish positive reviews across the Internet, maximizing online reputation for businesses of any size.” They claim to “publish reviews on partner sites like Yahoo, Yellow pages, Super pages, City Squares” and to do “review syndication and broadcasting on Google search Network” (whatever that might mean).

At the Google Maps forums, a poster (obviously another marketing company) wonders “Is this a legitimate use of Google Reviews?” and goes on to note:

We were approached by a business that provides review submissions on behalf of clients. I have linked to a sample of their work. They approach businesses and offer to post client reviews on their behalf. They are easy to find and follow since they tag the reviews as posted “By Review”. Is this a legitimate service? If not, how can Google address it?

Link to the map or business listing in question if applicable: http://maps.google.com/maps?cid=1868467862308158144&hl=en&gl=us (look at user reviews)

Here are some reviews from the Places Page referenced:

Clearly, the era of outsourced, positive reviews is upon us. Efficient for the business yes, perhaps even an easy sell. It is also clear that these types of services will soon be spoiling the bed in which we all sleep. The footprint is heavy and ultimately, the process is predicated on the deception of both the participating business and the consumers that only good reviews can get through.

How do you think Google will respond? How would you respond in the forum post? How long before reviews become totally untrustworthy and not worth the bits they are written in?

Did Google Really Say this?

According to the NY Times (http://s.nyt.com/u/Q6T), Alan Davidson, director of United States public policy for Google, while testifying before congress, is noted as saying:

“censorship had become more than a human rights issue and was hurting profit for foreign companies.”

Is Google so self focused that they would elevate even $1 of their profit over human rights? Did the NY Times misquote him? Was this really his position? That Google’s profit was more important than human rights?

If this was in fact said and what was meant, this man either needs a basic lesson in Enlighment thinking or a new speech writer. Better yet perhaps he should be looking for a new job.

Google Now Cross Promoting Other Web Services Directly to LBC Users

I recently received this email from the Google Local Business Center:
****

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

***

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.

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