Google Places – Do 800#’s Put Your Listing in Places Purgatory?

The general consensus in the Local Search industry has been that using an 800# in a Places listing might be a cause for some loss of rank but was generally not considered a deal breaker. Has the new Google Places Rejection algo now found a place for burying businesses that use an 800 number?

This poster, who recently had been relegated to Google Places Purgatory, found his way back to the promised land by simply replacing his 800# with a local exchange:

My Listing disappeared from Google Maps even though my listing is “active”

hac76
Level 1
11/12/10
I received an email from Google Places advising me that my business Google Places tag was recently deactivated for violating Google Places Quality Guidelines. I made changes to the tag line and the listing is completely accurate. However, my listing does not appear on google even though my listing appears as “active.” Please help.

eGumBall
Level 2
11/13/10
Yep… 2009 geo phrase tricks in the business categories… Google will no longer support that location.  While you have to reset up your listing in another account maybe its time to consider using a local line over the 800#.

hac76
Level 1
11/13/10
Looks like the phone number was the problem. I changed the 800 number to the main land line and the listing appeared. You all have been very helpful. Thanks again for all of your help!

Google Places Updates Quality Guidelines

Google last rolled out the last major Places Quality Guidelines update almost exactly one year ago. There have been a number of often critical additions (here, here and here) during the past 12 months.

Google has once again released a major update to the guidelines. Historically, these guidelines have preceded algo based penalties for non compliance.

I have highlighted in bold the obvious changes in the document below. The addition of Category selection guidelines is a crucial change to examine. Continue reading Google Places Updates Quality Guidelines

Google Places – You Are Not Rejected, Not Suspended – You are in Places Purgatory

When does the word active simply not mean active in Google Places? When you are in Google Places Purgatory.

Wikipedia: “purgatory”, derived through Anglo and Old French from the Latin word purgatorium.[8] has come to refer also to a wide range of historical and modern conceptions of postmortem suffering short of everlasting damnation,[1] and is used, in a non-specific sense, to mean any place or condition of suffering or torment, especially one that is temporary.[9]

Google has always imposed neo-religious judgements on users of its products. Google Places is no exception and in fact seems to raise these judgements to a new level of a refined, modern theology.

Rejections are a major sin but from which one can reclaim oneself anonymously via algo with a corrected behavior.

Pending is like being at church on Sunday where the line to the confessional stretches interminably before you and you have to use the restroom but are afraid that you will loose your place. Sometimes it seems that your booth gets closed before all the cases have been reviewed and the process needs to resume next Sunday. Do not confuse this state with purgatory although it might seem like it.

Suspension is roughly akin to excommunication although with a thorough confession and plenty of time, a lister can come back into Google’s graces.

The “Term not Allowed” word filter reflects a minor sin of thought, where just by correcting your language you can be readmitted to the fold. It mirrors formal religion’s attempt to control behaviors through imposition of minor dogmas in the hopes that compliance with larger scale issues will flow naturally from the initial compliance.

Like in many religions, the logic of these minor dogmas is often not clear. In a Google Places listing, the words Fountain, domination and stripper are banned along with sex and erection regardless of context. These words require priestly interventions to have their flags cleared but fortunately require no mea culpas or other ritualistic penitence.

The ban on the word Google must be roughly akin to the biblical ban on speaking the word Yaweh. How the word locksmith fits into this scheme is not totally clear although the common first letter with the word Lucifer comes to mind.

Clearly in this regard Google is not much different than the grade school nun or for that matter Steve Jobs. Although at least with Jobs, you can have a high degree of confidence that in the end you will not be pummeled with porn. With Google, there are no such guarantees.

But at least the above fallen states are explicit and there is (usually) a clear path to regain acceptance amongst the flock. Continue reading Google Places – You Are Not Rejected, Not Suspended – You are in Places Purgatory

Google Rolls Boost Out to 11 Additional Cities & Illinois

Google just announced that Boost, their new simplified Local Adword Product, is now available in the following cities:

* San Jose
* Seattle
* Wichita
* Charlottesville (VA)
* Atlanta
* Chapel Hill
* Orlando
* Washington D.C.
* Boston
* Cross Plains (TX)
* Portland (ME)
* All local businesses in Illinois.

The announcement indicates that Boost as configured is working well. The borad and rapid roll out indicates that Google is ramping quickly and we should see Boost available nationally and probably internationally in the not too distant future.

I am curious from those of you that have tried it, your impressions.

Google Places Upgrade: Reviews with Sentiments & Hotel Booking Tool

Along with the recent rollout of Hotpot, Google has added new review related features to the Places Page. The first, available on restaurants and hotels (perhap more but not on every type of business) allows you to summarize sentiment about the location:

Restaurant:

Hotel:

The ability to quickly and easily add sentiment will further build out Google’s data in the service industries. As users fill out more reviews, friends make more recomendations Google will use this additional data to refine and improve those recommendations.

On all Places Pages your rating is now visible and with hotels Google has now also added the ability to book your hotel right from the Places Page:

This feature facilitates the process of getting bookings and removes friction from it. It also provides additional advertising inventory for Google from hotel booking services. The feature is not totally mercenary as it also offers up the hotel site for booking and gives the hotel a 1 in 4 chance of not having to give money to Priceline et al while still getting a sale.

Google Hotpot – Yelp Meets Netflix in a Local Recommendation Engine

In August I asked:  Will Reviews Become Google’s First Successful Foray into Social? It struck me at the time that reviews were Google’s strongest and most successful play into the social world. Google had succeeded with Places to garner a significant number of reviews and with the owner review response feature to garner a strong, albeit sometimes, bizarre interaction between reviewers and owners. This dynamic had all the elements of a successful social site.

Google is now building out the strong social nature of their review process with Google Hotpot, a stand alone site and a recomendation engine available in Maps, Places and Mobile. The product, noted as an early release, will offer suggested Places that you will like based on your previous reviews as well as the Places that are liked by your friends.

Since it is a recommendation engine, it will reward the viewer with better information for having written reviews or having friends or both thus making it functional out of the starting gate even without a large friend participation.

If you are friended it will also send you an email notifying you:

Subject: Matthew McGee wants to share recommendations with you on Google Places

Matthew has added you as a friend on Google Places — a smarter way to discover places you’ll love. Add Matthew back to see new recommendations in Google search results, on Google Maps, and on your mobile phone.

Add Matthew as a friend

Google Places is powered by Hotpot, our new local recommendation engine. Every time you rate places on Google, we’ll customize your search results with new recommendations based on your unique tastes. Adding friends whose opinions you trust makes your recommendations even better. Start building your own guide to the world at google.com/hotpot.

— The Google Places team

The recommendations are not just around entertainment or restaurants but around ALL places and are based on your preferred location identifed in Google search. Like all recommendation engines in their early stages without enough real data, results can tend toward the bizarre.

For example it provided me, an staunch non-believer, with suggestions for the local Catholic school and a local church. Perhaps Google is sending me a message. But then what would one think about the recommendation for my own business or a local motel?

This move makes sense of a number of earlier changes that in and of themselves did not make a lot of sense. Hotspot puts their early 2010 addition of Nearby Places of competitors into the Place Page in perspective as well as more recent moves of tightening down privacy in the review process and making your search location choice more visible on the desktop. All necessary to make Hotspot more accurate.

Google has long been working on the separation of Places and Maps. This is as much to give Places a more visible platform as it is to give Maps the freedom to experiment with more social layers without negatively affecting “the franchise”. Latittude, Buzz and now Hotspot are all integrally tied to the Maps platform. Maps offer them an underlying geo awareness for the data as well as a display layer that is visually intuitive.

These social moves leverage Google’s strong Mapping technology AND their successful Places data set without the intense pressure of being on the front page of the Google results. Like Buzz & Lattitude, Hotspot will exist in the relative obscurity of Maps and the Places Pages. Google separated Places from Maps after 6 years of development and refinement. Hotspot, like Places, will have the opportunity to develop in much the same way.

But even the “hidden” nature of Maps has a relatively high profile with 3 times the traffic of Yelp. Google’s every move is compared to Facebook. So while Google is attempting to get these layers functioning at scale they will be under a fair bit of scrutiny.

Will Hotpot succeed? Time will tell. It is clear to to me that Hotspot like Places & Buzz are not perceived within Google as stand alone products but clearly, part of a larger plan that includes local, mobile and at some point the main Google SERPS. Maps is an environment where it can get tested, tweaked and improved.

ReviewBiz – Making Reviews Friction Free

I am a big fan of an ethical review solicitation process that smooths the path between customers and creating reviews. If reviews are going to reflect the overall impression of your business accurately, a broad sampling of your customers needs to participate and it needs to be easy.

I think that the opportunity to easily leave these reviews should be available to all customers not just a select few. In the past, I have suggested that visitors to your website should be provided direct links to leave reviews at a range of popular review sites. I am also a big believer in free tools that make the job of the SMB and their web designer easier.

Brightlocal.com has just introduced such a tool: ReviewBiz. The tool automates the process of locating the relevant review site pages, generating the correct url for leaving the review and creates a widget so that these review links can quickly and easily be included on a website’s testimonial/review page. The tool is an admirable replacement for Michael Jensen’s Leavefeedback.org that unfortunately died in a server crash and was never revived.

The process as outlined on the BrightLocal site to create the widget for your website is quick and easy:

1. Select the country you are in – UK or US (it shows review sites for both countries)
2. Enter your business name & zipcode
3. Review the returned business listing details & confirm that they belong to your business
4. Choose the ReviewBiz widget style that you want to appear on your website
5. Pick the review sites that you want to include
5. Copy & paste the ReviewBiz code into your website

The result is a widget, offered in a choice of widths and two styles; one that offers a window shade drop down and the one shown below that provides a full view of the selected review sites:

Review 'blumenthals.com' with ReviewBiz local SEO tools from BrightLocal.com

As a new product, it still has a few minor quirks but generally works well. For example it sometimes included sites that I explicitely asked it to exclude (like Merchant Circle) and it could do a slightly better job of auto generating the URLs to take a user slightly closer to the actual input screen to leave the reviews. Myles Anderson of Brightlocal has noted that both issues would soon be fixed.

These are minor criticisms. It is valuable product that is presentable, facilitates customers leaving reviews and it is free. For the web designer it is a useful, readily usable product that significantly shortens the time to get the job done. For the SMB that is maintaining their own site, it automatically generates the necessary code and makes the job adding these links to your website easily doable.

As designers and small businesses let me know what you think of the tool. To test it simply select my Google link above and leave a review. 🙂

Google Coupons Joining the Witness Protection Program as Google Offers

You won’t have Google Coupons to kick around anymore. It appears that they are joining the witness protection program under a new name: Google Offers.

Google Coupons Become Google Offers

Google Coupons had been the Rodney Dangerfield of Google local products, always hidden, never talked about and for years, after an optimistic start in 2006, they languished.

Until Google removed the ability to easily search for coupons, it was obvious from my annual coupon survey that their y/y usage was declining and by early 2009 Google coupons seemed to be on life support.

They were hidden not just from my research efforts but from the eyes of consumers as well. Here is what I told an SMB poster in the support forum that was searching for his own coupon:

Coupon location is one of the best kept secrets of Google Maps. Even Maps Guide Jen has been known to have trouble locating them. The only entity totally capable of finding them after they have been posted is the GoogleBot. Occassionally they are spotted by humans but only after they have drilled into Maps quite deeply.

Over the past 16 months, the traditionally moribund coupon program has started seeing a slow and erratic rebirth, apparently speeding up over the past few months.
Continue reading Google Coupons Joining the Witness Protection Program as Google Offers

Goog-411 R.I.P. – I’ll Miss You

Update 10:43 EST: Perhaps I am in ever hopeful denial or perhaps someone at Google forgot to turn out the lights but when I just dialed 1-800-Goog-411, it answered and was still working!

I have followed Goog-411 from its seriptitious inception masquerading as a non-Google service called 520-find, to its bizarre rural advertising campaign, to the announcement last month of its ultimate demise. I have been writing about it and using it since October, 2006, well before it was announced as a Google product in April, 2007. It clearly demonstrated for me, the reach that Google Local would have.

Today, it has officially shut down.

Goog-411 billboard

It did one thing and did it well…. retrieve business phone numbers and complete calls for you with a simple voice interface. It worked on every cell phone ever made.

It was (and still is) Google’s best mobile product and one that most closely reflected the spartan, utilitarian ideals of the original Google search engine. It was simple. It worked. It was device independent and it was free. It was the absolute safest way to complete a call while driving down the highway…. no fiddling with the phone, no visual interaction. You talked, it listened and then it dialed.

It came out at a time when 411 services were all the rage and every company was trying to develop a successful business model. Unfortunately none ever succeeded at creating both a successful income stream AND a useful product that achieved mass adoption. Goog-411 was no exception. Despite its razor sharp focus and utility, Google never found a great way to monetize it (nor promote it- sheesh billboards in Olean? Maybe they just wanted to hear phonemes from Northern Appalachia 🙂 ).

After a while, it was repositioned as a way for Google to learn and acquire phonemes to improve their speech recognition.

Apparently it has done that admirably. Google suggests replacing it with their iPhone or Android voice search which do a great job (if I am standing still). It seems though that every time I try to use it the way that I used Goog-411, I nearly get in an accident.

As much as I like Google’s (and others for that matter) current mobile voice search products none can do what Goog-411 does. I will miss it.

Google Places Upgrades Owner Review Response Feature

Owners responding to reviews is a volatile arena where most anything can happen. Despite discretion being the better part of valor, silence rarely is the option chosen.

When the Google Places owner response feature was not functioning this week, this owner responded to a negative review with a review of his own:

It appears that Google, in an effort to encourage cooler heads to prevail has recently (not sure when) upgraded the owner response feature to provide guidance in responding (not that I think most owners will read it). Continue reading Google Places Upgrades Owner Review Response Feature

Developing Knowledge about Local Search