Google Places Coupons Now Integrating Coupons from CitySearch

It appears that Google is bulking up Places Pages with coupons from CitySearch. I had not seen any third party coupons in Places previously but according to Google the ability for “various partners to make coupons and other content available on the Place page has been available for some time”.

I ran across the coupon sharing when the owner of the La Quinta Inn Sedona in Arizona noted in the forums that:

I’ve got a citysearch coupon showing up in my coupons section. I did not authorize any city search coupon and it is a SCAM and its causing problems with customers because they are seeing this stay for $45 a night coupon valid through to sept 16th. IF this is what things are going to be like when you sign up for google places then no. I will end the account today I will not put up with crap like that. These are dishonest b/s scam ads that are placed in a coupon section knowing it will cause problems.

Obviously not all of the kinks are worked out just yet. CItyGrid has noted that: “The coupon in question was created and approved by La Quinta Resorts corporate offices via their digital advertising agency. All offers created by Citysearch are approved and authorized by advertisers before loaded in our system.”

One of the interesting points about the coupon from CitySearch is that it is created using the Open Graph Protocol, (although apparently that is not used by Google, see below) a microformat that was originally announced by Facebook in April. This is the first use of the protocol I have seen in Local (although I must say, I hadn’t been looking). The initial version of the protocol is based on RDFa and it allows for location & human readable addresses (although it is not clear that this coupon did so):

The Open Graph protocol supports the ability for you to specify location information for your object. This is useful if your object is for a business or anything else with a real-world location. You can specify location via latitude and longitude, a full address, or both. The property names used are defined within the Microformat hCard.

Whether Google is using the Open Graph format to insert the coupons is unclear. Citysearch sent me the following: We wanted to clarify that Google is not scraping our content; we provide them with a feed to our data.

Chris Silver Smith noted the following:

Citysearch is apparently a data partner with Google Maps, so it isn’t clear to me that these pieces of data are being harvested via the semantically-marked coupons on Citysearch — they could be getting fed via Google Maps’ partner data format protocols.

It’s possible that Google Maps could harvest Open Graph content, and I’d even expect it might well happen, considering Google’s desire to get Facebook data by hook or by crook.

However, unless we can find instances where Google Maps appears to be harvesting Open Graph data from someone who isn’t formally a partner, I’m not sure it’s happening yet. I could be wrong. I don’t know of a way to easily tell the difference between data harvested through parsing a semantically formatted page versus through a separate data format like XML. The resultant data is generally the same either way..

For a good summary of the history of RDF & microformats, how they play into the web of things and how the Facebook Open Graph format fits into all of that read Facebook Open Graph: A new take on semantic web.

Google Adds Slideshow Option to Place’s Photos

Google has just announced on the Lat-Long Blog that images on a Places Page, whether uploaded by the owner or included via Panoramio, are now viewable in a slide show mode. From the Lat-Long blog:

Today, we’re offering you a better, more streamlined way to view these photos. With this new feature, you can easily flip through a whole collection of photos and find the sites on the web that have relevant pictures of a given place. Photos that have been uploaded by our Panoramio or Google Places users will appear in high-resolution as an overlay when users click on them. For photos from other sources, you can easily click on a specific photo to see more and visit the site it comes from.

This simple and intuitive online album experience makes it easier to explore all the wonderful photographs of places all over the world.

The album like slideshow is invoked by simply clicking on any one of the photos on the Place Page. While in this mode, the Places Page is used as a dimmed backdrop and the viewer is allowed to move easily from one enlarged view of the photo to another. The only option available to the viewer are to close the show or report the photo as inappropriate.

The slide show is not exposed in the Local Universal results on the main page search results and requires at least two clicks before you can see it. Thus, as currently designed, it is unlikely to get much viewership. There are no options to embed the slide show on your website and no link directly to the slideshow is provided.

All recent enhancements to Places have several things in common; trying to keep the user in Places or move them to another Google product. This has been true on the desktop and in mobile with many changes affecting both simultaneously. Google obviously has an eye on increasing user engagement and page views so as to increase visitor loyalty and to be able to deliver more ads. This upgrade, while desktop only at this point, focuses on the engagement side. It is unclear when and what form it will take for mobile.

It is understandable that once Google has you this far into Places, they want to keep you there via this new feature but it would also make sense for Google to provide an ability to present the slideshow via an embed option or a direct link as well.

(click to view larger)

If you click through to Places page for the Option House Restaurant and click on an image to go thru the slide show it becomes obvious why it now makes sense to upload photos at the maximum size allowed by Google Places (less than 1MB and 1024 x 1024 pixels).

Interestingly, when there are photos from other sites (not Panoramio or Google), they show at the end of the slideshow in thumbnail form with an option to expand them. However, when clicked they spawn a new window for the 3rd party site. Sheesh… did anyone say portal?
Continue reading Google Adds Slideshow Option to Place’s Photos

Review Spam Under Attack by the FTC

I somehow missed this FTC enforcement action when it was released at the end of August. The FTC used the blogging disclosure guidelines that it released at the end of 2009 to slap the hands of an advertising firm that had it’s employee post reviews on iTunes without full disclosure.

From the NY Times article:

The Federal Trade Commission said on Thursday that a California marketing company had settled charges that it engaged in deceptive advertising by having its employees write and post positive reviews of clients’ games in the Apple iTunes Store, without disclosing that they were being paid to do so.

The charges were the first to be brought under a new set of guidelines for Internet endorsements that the agency introduced last year. The guidelines have often been described as rules for bloggers, but they also cover anyone writing reviews on Web sites or promoting products through Facebook or Twitter.

They are meant to impose on the Internet the same kind of truth-in-advertising principles that have long existed offline.

Last year, New York State settled a lawsuit against a Plastic Surgeon over false reviews but this is the first instance that I know of where the Federal Government has intervened in the review world. It is one thing to annoy the historically aggressive attorney generals of New York and another to put into motion the federal government looking at review spam. Clearly, this effort was targeted at ad agencies:

“We hope that this case will show advertisers that they have to be transparent in their practices and help guide other ad agencies,” said Stacey Ferguson, a lawyer in the advertising practices division of the trade commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

That being said it should throw up a warning flag to any company doing the same. Too see an excellent example of the type of review spam that is becoming fairly common in Google Maps, see this article by Miriam Ellis. The article was written prior to the FTC ruling and Miriam asked the basic question of what would the FTC do in such situations. Now we have more than inkling of their direction.

Some other articles about the ruling:
MarketPlace: New FTC guidelines apply truth-in-advertising principles to online reviews
Citizen Media Law Project: FTC Flexes Blogger Rules Again

Things Google Knows to Be True

Update 9/10: Matt Mcgee reports on Searchengineland that Google has returned the philosophy page back to its original wording and disagrees with the assessment that they are a portal. I would note that regardless of the content of their philosophy page or any denials, if it walks like a duck….. etc. etc. etc., it is still a duck and while they may or may not be a portal, they are in fact directly a great deal of traffic internally.

Eric Goldman highlights a recent and interesting “philisopical change” on the part of Google. One that confirms recent history and codifies their new(ish) behavior:

Google maintains a page entitled “Our Philosophy: Ten Things We Know to Be True.”

On June 3, 2004 (per archive.org), the page said “Google may be the only company in the world whose stated goal is to have users leave its website as quickly as possible.” (emphasis added)

On September 6, 2010, that same line now reads “We may be the only people in the world who can say our goal is to have people leave our homepage as quickly as possible.” (emphasis added)

Since the separation of business listings from Maps into a stand alone Places pages, Google has steadily and regularly added new “features” that direct users laterally back into Google rather than to a business’s website. Nearly every recent Maps/Local development (Buzz, Nearby Places, Tags, OneBox Enhancement) have all, in one way or another kept traffic inside of Maps instead of sending it to another website.

Google has always contended that their #1 guiding principal is to “focus on end user“.

I would contend though, that Google, in that focus, is not immune from the immutable laws of capital accumulation. Google, like all companies, either needs to accumulate capital at a greater rate than other companies or capital will move away from them.

Google’s main (and very successful historical) way to accumulate this capital has been to show ever more ads. Obviously there are a limited number of ways to show more ads. In the past, Google has relied on increasing numbers of users. If this can’t be accomplished with more unique traffic than it needs to be accomplished with more page views.

I think going forward, virtually every change you will see to Maps/Places will continue this recent trend of driving more pageviews to Google itself.

Does this make Google evil? No, it makes Google a capitalist. That being said, perhaps truth in advertising should require them to change their “focus on the user” mantra to read “focus on the user AND do what is good for Google”.

Google has acknowledged their intent to keep folks at Google. Now they need to acknowledge “the rest of the story”.

Google Maps & Places – Quirks, Bugs and Edge Cases…

Last week, I joined the internet revolution as our household finally moved off of dial up and received DSL from Verizon. It was a long time coming and a path full of Verizon delays, but as a result I have been spending more time in the Google Places forums. This is an activity that never ceases to uh…. amaze.

Google Places has improved dramatically over the past 24 months but like all “good code” it still has its significant share of quirks, bugs and edge cases….

Here are some cases that have shown up recently in the forums:

The LASIK Surgeon caught in an infinite loop of frustration. This fellow, when he chooses the Google defined category of LASIK Surgeon is told that he is guilty of excessive capitalization and is not allowed to even verify. My suggestion: change businesses.

The Insurance Agent that is caught in a time warp. His listing is correct in his LBC account, it is correct when viewed as a OneBox but his Places Page shows him as only open on Saturdays. Lazy bum…get to work.

The Architect that happens to have a business located on an “improperly” named street. His business is located on Dyke Lane and when attempting to claim his listing, it is flagged for the use of inappropriate language. And folks complain about Apple’s over aggressive sense of propriety. The solution: get a PO Box.

The town of Sunrise Fl. These folks have been lost by Google Maps on more than one occasion. If you search for a business in Sunrise Fl which is near Ft. Lauderdale, Google directs you to businesses on the opposite coast. Google has indicated that it could be up to 2 months for Sunrise to be found. Hmm… they always say its darkest just before the dawn.

As a long time participant in the forums and having to apologize more than being able to fix, these cases demonstrate
1) that, after 6 years, Google Maps is still very much a work in progress.
2)that is likely to be the case for a good time to come and thus…
3) that Google, while waiting to offer a world wide software fix that solves all of these problems and more, really, really, needs some staff in the forums.

How Will Google Instant Affect Local Search?

Google Instant, Google’s new predictive search result product, is being widely hyped…the end of SEO, not the end of SEO… While it is unlikely to be apocoplytic and end SEO as we know it, it does seems destined to change searcher behavior. That change is likely to affect SEO tactics in general and local SEO in particular.

Will the searcher stop sooner in the search? Will the searcher choose from the drop down or from the main results? Will they continue with their initial search phrase?

Imagine a client that is getting good search traffic on a long tail search “Orlando criminal defense attorney“. Note that Moses and Rooth Attorneys at Law  is F in Local and #2 organically.

Now though lets try it as a user would experience the search with Google Instant. As the use gets to the “n” in typing “orlando crimin” there appears a relevant search results (#2, again Moses and Rooth) AND a relevant drop down, orlando criminal attorney but no 7 Pack:

At this point, it seems unlikely that the searcher will continue typing out their original query. What they will do is unclear. They may just choose the website and visit it or see the phone and call. If they choose Orlando Criminal Attorney from the drop down, where they will see a 7 Pack that provides different results than the original long tail search. Regardless, it seems unlikely that the user will make it to the long tail search with which they started.

It seems clear that SEO is not dead. It does seem likely that searcher behavior will change and SEO will need to change with it.
Continue reading How Will Google Instant Affect Local Search?

Facebook Places – Where are they?

What do a popular Anaheim florist, a prominent law office in a large urban area, a rural web development firm and a large retail bank/atm location all have in common?

They all are in the Localeze index and yet Facebook Places does not know about their existence. Why this occurs and how many businesses are missing from FB Places isn’t totally clear. Given my experience, the phenomena is fairly widespread and affects some significant number of businesses in the U.S. in both rural and urban environments.

Indications are that Localeze has provided Facebook with a full data set of their index so they seem to be off the hook. Either Facebook has chosen to surface some businesses and not others or more likely, they are still struggling with the technology to match a mobile user with the many Places that are in a mobile user’s immediate vicinity.

Regardless it means that every business needs to get their hands on a mobile phone and verify whether Facebook finds your Place and if not struggle through the mobile interface to add your Facebook Place page.

I am trying to understand why this is happening so if you have insight into either Facebook’s technology, their policies, or  the limits and difficulties of coding for check-ins and can shed light on this phenomena, I would love to hear from you.

Integrating Your Bike Into the Local Social World

I am an avid biker. A low tech, drive an old clunker, commute 9 miles on a back country road to work kind of biker. But a biker none the less. I really love my 33 minute commute along the Allegany River every day on my way to work.

Going home at the end of the day is another story. I would never (well mostly never) use something like the Copenhagen Wheel to power my way too work but I would definitely consider flicking that switch after a long day.

What is even more intrguing to me is their attempt to totally integrate the device with not just your bike but with your iPhone and your social network… I have trouble imagining myself ever checking in someplace but I can imagine my bike doing it on my behalf. The idea of switching the focus of the social activity from the person to the object with which they have an affinity is an interesting shift. It is a switch that many would find more comfortable than the idea of the self absorbed check in.

The types of data that would be accumulated to the network and the value of the interaction in the local environment would be immense. Ah the internet of things will be an interesting place indeed (assuming they work and are not just one more thing that in the end slows you down).

Reviews Are Dead! Long Live Reviews – Will Facebook Places Change the Review Landscape?

It is early in the game and folks are just digesting what Facebook Places is all about but I was struck by a Twitter comment by Seb Provencher (@sebprovencher):

With the FB Places launch, we can officially say it: merchant/place reviews are dead. Status updates are the new merchant reviews.

So I asked several folks that followed the announcement closely to provide a more nuanced view of the statement.

From Seb Provencher who had not yet had his first coffee so this opinion is open to revision:

– Status updates (or tweets) are easy to do.
– many people have stopped blogging because doing short-form messages
is so much “easier”, less time-consuming, than a big blog post.
– I think the same thing will happen to long-form merchant reviews.
It’s going to become so much easier to do a quick status update review
using Facebook places (and those will accumulate on the Facebook Place
page) that a lot of people will migrate from doing reviews on Yelp (or
IYPs for that matter) to

For me, Facebook Places is not about “check-ins”. It’s about signaling
socially your location. It’s about structuring a conversation about a
local place and anchoring it to the right place.

From Greg Sterling who responded from his iPad even though it is 6:45 am where he is:

Status updates are not the same or better than reviews in many cases because people won’t offer more than “tips” or sometimes will just create noise: “we’re all here.”

So “try the fries” or the “killer reindeer sausage” doesn’t answer other questions I may have about a place, such as whether it’s good for kids, etc. If FB “aggregates” all this info and does a kind of semantic analysis of it then it may not be as necessary to consult reviews in the future at some point.

It’s also not clear immediately how FB is going to make all this information discoverable. There’s going to be a search component here but the form it takes isn’t yet clear — even to FB.

Seb is probably responding to the mainstream potential/appeal of the product and the idea that people will just write tips or short blurbs rather than reviews.

But reviews will continue to have their place (so to speak) from a consumer perspective. In terms of “references” and SEO that’s going to be an interesting thing to watch here.

Google could access all the API and “Like” button information that is coming out of Facebook equally. And this move puts some pressure on them to “socialize” their own Places I think.

And David Mihm who also is an early riser:

Hyperbole. Ratings are important for a quick look by the consumer who doesn’t want to read through all the garbage. There’s also an actual reviews tab built in by default to FB pages.

Your thoughts?

What are the implications for SMBS of Google Integrated Local Search Result Tests?

Since the beginning of July I have been writing about Google’s test to radically change the display of local search results on the main search results page. Miriam Ellis of Solas Design decided she really wanted my opinion not just my screen shots:

I’d like to ask the million dollar question, though: what do YOU think of this? In your mind, would this represent an improvement for users/business owners, a step backwards, something else? I know you like to report all this fascinating news with the measured voice of reason, but I wouldn’t mind some editorial opinion on this subject from you.

Ok, Miriam, I’ll bite.

While I personally find floating objects annoying, I don’t see many down sides to the local business. I think Google is making an effort to bring forth the most relevant local results and that is good for all.

Benefits:
– Local Results are highlighted on the page and are now more visually obvious than general search results
– Generic directories are pushed down in the SERPS leaving more local results above the fold
– The map floats down the page, not always adding context but always reminding folks to think local
– Ranking, which is always the most interesting to folks, appears to favor local businesses

Negatives (nothing too surprising here):
– Businesses that had two mentions on the front page will now have one
– If a business doesn’t yet have a website they will likely loose out on local search all together
– If they have a poorly designed website with flash or a welcome page that masks the site they will loose standing
– More opportunities for a searcher to visit something other than the business website

Local is all about customer acquisition and not click throughs. While there very well could be fewer website visits I think for the most part, customer acquisition one way or the other will not be altered for most businesses.

But this isn’t just about ranking, whether a business has a website, whether the directories are less visible or that the searcher might go to TripAdvisor instead of the business website. The point that most folks seemed to have missed is that Google is pushing their sentiment analysis to the front and center of the main search results. Is this a benefit or a drawback for local businesses?

Google is attempting to summarize ALL user sentiment about a given business in one sentence and hanging it out there for the world to see on the front page. This can be great for those businesses that have exemplary customer care histories reflected in their reviews. But for those on the margins? Watch out!

Here is a sample search of the test results that demonstrates the potential implication of showing sentiment analysis on the front page (click to view larger):

(To see the full screen shot click here.)

Now compare this result to what a searcher sees of Motel 8 in the current view (click to view larger):
Continue reading What are the implications for SMBS of Google Integrated Local Search Result Tests?

Developing Knowledge about Local Search