Google Places: Another Reason to Move to Canada; Duplicate Listing Removal

I can think of several reasons one might want to move to Canada: they have single payer health care that every citizen receives and they usually are not using unmanned drones to shoot people in Pakistan and Yemen. I have found a third reason: the duplicate removal procedure in Google Places.

In the U.S., the current duplicate removal procedure is to use the “Report a Problem” link at the bottom of the Places page of the duplicate. It would be wonderful if it worked but the process now is to “Report a Problem”, pray aggressively, wait 8 weeks and then try again. It is an endless cycle of frustration that as often as not does not result in the removal of the dupe.

It appears though, that in Canada, where the “Report a Problem” link doesn’t exist, Google suggests that “since Report a Problem is not live in Canada, the user should go ahead and claim the listing to remove it”. Once again they can use of the “claim the dupe, strip any enhanced content, wait for the merge, delete the listing from Places” procedure.

This is a process that actually works. It is a process that many in the US have reverted to using because the “Report a Problem” link doesn’t work.

Maybe we should once again start a campaign to make Canada the 51st state. We could end up with a single payer health care AND a dupe removal process that works…

Google Places – Reviewer Names No Longer Showing. Feature or Bug?

Last week the name of review posters disappeared in Canada. It appears that they have now stopped showing for reviews in the US now as well.

Here is a review on Places today:

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Here is the same review from October 20th of this year:

Google review with reviewer name

For a serious student of reviews I find this loss of information regrettable. Who knows why Google made this decision to add another level of anonymity to reviews. If anything, a great review site should be shining the light of transparency on reviewers. This change not only makes thorough investigation of review abuses impossible, it makes reviewers less accountable for their actions.

Being able to see the corpus of reviews by a given reviewer allows readers to understand the context of the review and more about the reviewer as well.

The lack of accountability on the internet has lead to significant review abuses. From where I sit, Google should be moving in the opposite direction. Given Google’s bogus review removal policy up to this point, requiring real names for reviews and making the poster more responsible is the best way to bring the system into some sort of balance.

It is possible that this change is but one bug among many in the pantheon of Google Places bugs. Jim Rudnick reports that the names appear to be coming and going in the review space in Canada. Here’s one time that I for one, am wishing for a bug!

Google Places Search: Hiding Address No Longer Buries Listing

Update: While the Hide Address feature does not impact Blended results it STILL impacts Maps and 7-Pack results from showing so use with caution.

The new Google Places Search has its winners and losers. For one group though, it is turning out to be an incredible plus – those home based and service businesses that don’t want to show their address.

In March of this year when the feature was first released, the hide address/show service area feature hid more than your address. It hid your listing by burying it so deeply that it would take a back hoe to find it. It would only show for direct name searches and never return for a category search, even if well optimized.

Now if you choose to hide your address in your Google Places Dashboard you can still show front and center in the blended organo-local results. For example if you search for Baton Rouge Signs and look for for the company Greater Baton Rouge Signs, long missing from the Local results because of a hidden address, you will find them once again on the first page of the main page results:

Google Places Hide Address Baton Rouge Sign Company

Obviously, this result is subject to all of the caveats of the new blended Places Searches. The most obvious and critical requirement being the existence of a strong locally optimized website to compliment your Places listing. To some extent it demonstrates the relative weighting power of organic vs local strength in the new ranking algo as this listing was consistently on the third and fourth pages of Map results under the 7-Pack algo and now shows at A & B.

Google Places Search to IYPs – What is the Message? Go Microformats, Young Man!

There has been a lot of discussion* (David Mihm, Greg Sterling, Chris Silver Smith, Andrew Shotland) in the local search community about the meaning and impact of the new Places Search organo-local blending of results on IYPs, directories and Review sites. All interesting and all of value. Clearly there will be winners and loosers, clearly Yelp made out better than Superpages. But is Google passing judgement directly on the IYPs and their future?

I would contend not. To me the message from Google to all of these (and other) sites that want to be included in the Places Search results: Send us unique review content about local places. Google has plenty of directory information, they pretty much have figured out location information…. what they want now is reviews.

When you combine this “message” of more reviews with the recent announcements around supporting Rich Snippets in Places and supporting testimonials marked up in hReview format as reviews, the message becomes even more nuanced and is no longer directed at just the IYP sites: Send us your reviews about local places in semantically marked up syntax.

This message applies as much to the up and coming reputation management company that focuses on presenting microformated reviews like Customer Lobby as it does to the small real estate website that has taken the time to properly mark up their testimonial page. Google is saying that everyone, big and small, directory or newspaper, local or national can now play in this arena.

Google has democratized the sourcing of unique review content around Places and has highlighted it front and center with a link. All comers are welcome. You no longer need a unique special relationship with them like CitySearch or DemandForce have. Everyone can play.

But is this just about reviews? I would contend that going forward it will be about other unique, high level information about local businesses…. coupons, sales events, specials… as microformat standards evolve and as microformatted content becomes widely available.

If you are building a site that deals with local, include microformatting as an integral part of the plan now and for the future. Go deep rather than wide as quantity about specific businesses is what will land you on Google’s front page. Keep track of the rapidly evolving world of microformats and be sure to apply it to unique content whenever possible.

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* Others that have provided excellent high level overviews of Places Search but didn’t address the questions of Google’s “message” to IYPs:

Miriam Ellis – New Integrated Google Local A Game Changer
Matt McGee – 5 Quick Impacts of Google’s New Local Search Results

Nexus One Support Forum- RIP

This notice is now posted on the Google Nexus One Forums.

The Nexus One was/is a great phone but Google soon learned that 1) They couldn’t really sell phone without primary carrier engagemet and 2)They weren’t very good at support (no surprise there). The Nexus One was a great reference platform that defined what a “pure” Android phone could be and to a large extent has been reincarnated as the HTC Incredible. The phone provided, indirectly, a mechanism for Google to gain entree into the big leagues of the cell phone world.

What are the implications of the new integrated Local Search results?

Update: It appears that Google is rolling out the new integrated local that I started writing about in July. They have been reported in Europe and are being reported as widely visible in the US. This was first written in August but it is essentially still valid today.

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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 of the new integrated Local Search results?

Reviews: Lipstick on a Pig Leads to User Backlash

Reviews have become important. Having them helps with rank, the good reviews bury any negative comments and create higher averages. Good reviews and good rank lead to sales. I am a big believer in actively managing a review solicitation process. It is a winning combination if done correctly and respectfully of customer needs.

The pressure to get reviews and make them look good has led to a number of businesses to take short cuts. They have started to write reviews themselves, work with services that filter out bad reviews, trade reviews with peers or engage sock puppets to increase their volume. I am not a big believer in faking reviews, filtering them or otherwise attempting to game the system. In fact I think that it is a terrible idea.

Here is why:

Faking reviews by whatever means,  makes assumptions that just don’t hold up in the real world. The first one being that customers are idiots and can’t tell the difference. The second being that you can put lipstick on a pig and she will instantly be beautiful.

Consumers are neither stupid nor any longer passive. Fake reviews will sooner or later come back to haunt any business that goes that route. And it will come back in spades. Customers seeing faked reviews will respond vociferously in reaction, as they should.

In the brave new world of reviews there is no short cut to getting good reviews. In the business world prior to the internet it was important to know your customers and treat them right. In the post review world, as I often say, “know your customers and treat them righter”.

The penalties can be severe.

Google Tags Update: Google Giveth and Google Taketh Away

This screen shot just came across my desk of a new change to Tags where by the website option (the most effective from my perspective) is being phased out as a Tags destination. You may continue to use it but if you change to another Tag type you will be unable to use the website Tag type again. Newly created Tags will not be offered the option of linking to the website.

There are new choices for specific links to menus and reservations:

Google Boost – Interview with Chikai Ohazama, Director of Product Management for Maps

Google rolled out their new local ad product, Boost, this morning. I just got off of the phone with Chikai Ohazama, Director of Product Management for Maps and Deanna Yick, Global Communications Google who answered a number of questions for me.

Chikai Ohazama is currently focused on local and geo local focused on monetization opportunities. He has been with Google for came over to them with Keyhole acquisition and was its co-founder.

Chikai Ohazama:
Boost was released with some hiccups in the rollout this morning so it was available nationwide. If folks signed up, they will be allowed to keep it. However, we have rolled it back to just San Francisco, Houston and Chicago.

Deanna Yick:
It is the same strategy as with Places Tags, rolling out to a few cities and then more widely.

Mike: While you call it a Beta, it is essentially the final form?

C: It depends on performance. We are experimenting with Boost and will assess it based on business (and user) feedback that sign up for it.

The product is meant for the small local business to make their online buying experience simpler.

The core idea is a simple on line ad for small business so that they can leverage the tool and value.

M: Title of the ad is just the Business Name which seems to be a critical limitation when competing with other AdWord ads:

C: The core idea is simplicity. Set and forget. Doing a lot of testing to make sure that it does well to meet the need of that group.

Our goal is to balance the user needs and performance and we are attempting to make it work well.

Google is trying to optimize the campaign and keywords. We are playing that role for them. One of those judgments is to figure out what the right thing to put on the title line.

M: Will it put the ad at a competitve disadvanatge?

C: Google is testing to see what works,

The key point is giving small businesses better tools to help their business. First with Tags, now with Boost. Our goal is to make it a great experience.

M:Talking about a great experience, there is currently a lot of disatisfaction about the basics of the listing process being expressed in the forums and at my blog.

C: We are working on improving it all the time.

M: It seems worse now than 6 months ago with the lost reviews, the duplicate removal issues etc.

C: We are looking for feedback all the time. We will take that and look into more thouroughly.

M: Can you share any uptake numbers on Tags?

C: in the thousands

M: That is a big range from 999 to 999,9999. Can you help narrow that down somehwat?

C: in the thousands

M: Are you still testing Tags?

C: Tags has rolled out nationally but we are looking at improving all the time.

M: Do you think that Boost will surpass Tags in adoption?

C: It will be key part of the full story. They (Places, Tags & Boost) all work together. It fills organic needs with Places, highlights with Tags and increased visiblity with Boost.

It should be viewed as part of the whole

M: Does this represent the full monetization effort for Maps?

C: It depends on the success of these. We will continue to add more depending on how these do. But they are and will be designed to fit and compliment each other.

M: re: Geotargeting; Assuming an ad is placed in San Francisco how far afield will it show?

C:We will target it by keywords plus some range around. It is 15 mile area targeted around the city limits currently. It is something that we are experimenting with and think it will be different in different cities.

M: Will Boost ads show on content network?

C: Just on Google and Gmaps

M: How well will the product be integrated into Analytics? Does it creates own campaign? How much stats do you get and how do you pull it out?

Its primary analytics interface is meant to be via the Places Dashbaord

If you are sohphisticated these will show up in Analytics but that is not the intention of the product. It is designed for simplicity for the SMB.

D: You are signing up for Boost thru Places. It will show up in Adwords… you can see the more detailed metrics in the Adwords account as Google is creating the account for you.

M: Can you tweak the ad from the Adwords account?

C: No it is an non-editable view in Adwords.

M: Why did you pick the $50 minimum.

C: To make sure that we have enough profit to bring value to the advertiser. It will be adjusted over time.

We will evaluate and make recomendations to the business to improve.

Google Boost – More Details

Update: Apparently the nationwide rollout of Boost was an early morning quirk that has been corrected. Boost now only showing in San Francisco, Houston & Chicago according to Chikai Ohazama, Google Maps Product Manager.

Apparently Google Boost is appearing across the whole of the US and it is not limited to any specific markets. It is visible in Olean, NY, VA. as well as the whole of California.

Ad Creation:
Here is the set up screen with some arrows pointing to items of interest in the setup and subsequent processes:

Ad Creation:

Left Arrow 1: The verbiage for the Ad is automatically extracted from the 200 character description but the business is allowed to change it.

L. Arrow 2: The ad only shows for categories that are in Google’s category list. Custom categories will not show the ad.

L. Arrow 3: The estimated clicks per month do vary depending on market and categories selected.

L. Arrow 4: There is a minimum of $50/mo to start the program.

Right Arrow 1: The ONLY ad title allowed is the business name as defined in Places.

Right Arrow 2: If stars are available from reviews they will show in the ad.

R. Arrow 3: Apparently there are other formats that will be made available but the link is not yet working.

Payment: Continue reading Google Boost – More Details

Developing Knowledge about Local Search