Google Places Rolls out Simplified AdWord Product “Boost” in Limited Markets

Update 10/27/10 12:00: Here is the Google Lat Long Article on Boost. They note in the article that it is in fact a Beta and only available in SF, Chicago and Houston. Hmm…. seems to be much more visible than that.

For additional information about Boost see Google Boost – More Details and Google Boost – Interview with Chikai Ohazama, Director of Product Management for Maps

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Today Google is apparently rolling out a new easy to use Adwords product for Google Places called Boost. The product is visible to businesses in and around the San Francisco market. It is not yet known what other cities the product will be available in. Boost essentially automates and dramatically simplifies AdWords creation for local businesses from within their Places Dashboard.

The product automatically creates an Adwords campaign based on a businesses categories and information in the listing. The business sets the monthly budget and Google determines what search words trigger the ad.

Essentially Boost is an Adwords for the masses. No keyword research, no geo targeting, no content networks to be determined as all of that is done automatically. It effectively allows SMBs that would otherwise feel uncomfortable with the the intricacies of Adwords to easily and quickly get started.

The uptake does not need to be very large worldwide for the product to generate significant revenues for Google. With over 4 million currently claimed listings, an adoption rate of 10% with an average $50/mo spend would generate $240,000,000 annually.

Obviously the more sophisticated of Places users already have locally focused ad campaigns so this product is truly targeted at the self serve segment of the SMB market. Estimates are that 25% of the SMB market is the maximum number that are prepared to engage in self serve. If you apply that % and assume an average spend of only $100/mo Google would generate $1,2 Billion annually in world wide sales for the product. If the ads prove effective and rank well average spends could easily climb making this product likely to generate more revenue than Tags once it is rolled out more broadly.

There are still many questions about Boost. Where is it showing now? When will it roll out to the rest of the US? Will the product provide feedback as to likely exposure at a given monthly ad spend? How well will the product be integrated into Analytics? What exactly is the geographic area that the ads will display in? Will the ads show to the content network or on Google and GMaps only? That being said, it is likely to generate significant revenue for Google Places.

The Help Page for Boost is not yet active but the ability to purchase ads is. This help screen pops up when selected from the Dashboard:

Update 1:16: In the Google Lat Long Blog they note:

As we do with all beta features, we’ll carefully review the data and and effectiveness of this trial and may make changes before making decisions about any future expansion. In the meantime, business owners can sign in or claim their listing in Google Places, and select businesses in San Francisco, Houston and Chicago will see an invitation to try Boost in the account dashboard. Interested businesses outside these areas can sign up to receive notification when Boost comes to their area by filling out this form.

Google Places: Are Your Reviews Still Missing? Tell Google

In the Places forums today, Google Employee noted the following about the many reports of lost reviews:

Thanks for bringing this issue to our attention and sorry for the slow response.

We suffered a temporary indexing outage beginning of October that prevented us from correctly serving reviews for some listings. The reviews should now be restored. Very sorry for the trouble this has caused for some of you!

Please let me know if you are experiencing further problems. If you are, please provide me with the following information to help us get to the bottom of the issue:
* URL of the affected listing (you can find it by clicking on “Link” in the top right bar of your listing’s Place Page)
* are reviews missing from the “Reviews by Google users” or “Reviews from around the web” section
* date reviews went missing
* number of reviews missing

Thanks,

Stephan

It is valuable to have Google publicly acknowledge the reason for these lost reviews but it appears that there are multiple causes that they become lost. Of the many that were lost in early October, most but not all seem to have returned. In my own case, reviews have been missing for almost 4 months and are lost for reasons other than this most current outage.

As I have noted previously, Google’s buggy handling of reviews is both a poor reflection of Google’s technical expertise and an issue that causes extreme pain amongst SMBs.

While they are taking the time to fix this very obvious, public problem they should provide additional resources in the forums, like Google Employee Stephan S. It would be the obvious customer service approach to take. Although it does appear that Google often misses the obvious in situations like this as they have a long history of ignoring these types of complaints.

If your reviews are still missing, you may report them review in either this thread or this one.

Time to Reexamine hCard to Solve the Call Tracking Issue in Local

The Problem:

Call tracking is a valuable tool for business. With the advent of VOIP it has become very low cost and its benefits are available to even the smallest business.

The problem is that in Local it can cause much more harm than benefit in the current ecosystem. The use of call tracking numbers at directory or IYP sites can destroy a local business’s primary tool for gaining customers, Google Maps ranking. The negative affects can persist for a very long time in the Maps index. Thus most Local SEO practitioners strongly advise against its use.

The New Landscape:

The evolving semantic web has finally hit escape velocity. Google, providing real world validation of the concept, has announced their of support of hCard and microformats as a means of understanding which business a given web page is about. In that, lies a solution to the nagging problem of using call tracking numbers in Local.

The Solution:

The idea of using hCard to clarify and categorize a business phone number is not new. Chris Silver Smith  has already suggested it as a way to identify a canonical phone number using microformats that would work well.

A slight variation on the idea would be to add a specific definition to the hCard Standard to specify a number as a call tracking number. The hCard format has a property (tel) for telephone number to be defined as part of business listing. The standard also already supports a type product for further refining the type of phone number that is being referred to. Here are the current types of telephone numbers currently defined in the standard:

tel type: VOICE, home, msg, work, pref, fax, cell, video, pager, bbs, modem, car, isdn, pcs

It would seem that it should be a trivial task to indicate to Google and any other search engine scraping semantic content that a number is a call tracking number and not the main number and that it should be construed as such. The semantic markup could make it perfectly clear that the telephone number associated with a given business listing is not the canonical phone number and should not be used to categorize that particular listing. A simple additional type such as “ct” should do the trick.

<span class="tel"><span class="type">ct</span><span class="value"> +1.415.555.1212</span></span>

Regardless of the specific syntax, the difference now is that any solution suggested and agreed upon would be immediately able to be implemented and useful if Google buys into the idea. As Chris Silver Smith pointed out to me this does not solve all of the data integrity problems in Local:

One other aspect that this doesn’t solve is the issue of people using different tracking numbers for different directories which feed Google and other partners via delimited files — not HTML. So, it’d be cool to come up with an industry standard for that aspect of the issue as well.

Thus the use of a call tracking number in certain circumstances could still confuse Google. But one step at a time as they say.

The way forward:

According to Wikipedia the system for creating an add on type for the standard is very open:

Neither CommerceNet nor Microformats.org operates as a standards body. The microformats community functions through an open wiki, mailing list, and Internet relay chat (IRC) channel.[4] Most of the existing microformats were created at the Microformats.org wiki and the associated mailing list, by a process of gathering examples of web publishing behaviour, then codifying it.

Realistically this means that 1)there needs to be some industry input from both Local SEOs and Call Tracking industry at the Wiki to define the specifics and 2) the standard needs to be implemented. Google never likes to “predict a market” but if there is general agreement and usage Google needs to publicly acknowledge that they would read, understand and support the new type.

This simple addition to the standard would allow the keepers of primary local information to keep the record straight, it would open up the world of call tracking to be used by more businesses and in a greater range of situations and it would encourage the Local call tracking industry to refine and develop useful products for even the smallest SMB.

Now that Google has finally adopted rich snippet standards, it is time to make it work for everybody.

Get Listed U, Denver

Today, I am presenting at the fourth GetListed.org Local University in the Denver to a full house. If you are coming PLEASE take a moment to introduce yourself as I would love to meet you.

For those of you that attended the presentation these links will provide background information and details for a pathway to dig deeper into the world of managing your listing on Google Maps. For those of you that are not in attendance, the slides provide a good overview of critical base line ideas and tactics that every local campaign should embrace.

Slide 2 – March 2010 Search Engine Market Share
Slide 8/9 – The Importance of Page One Visibility
Slides 11/12 – How the Google Cluster Works
Slide 15- Choosing the Right Category – A Tool
Slide 15 – Writing a Great Business Description
Slide 16 – Creating a GeoSitemap – A tool
Slide 17 – Google Places Policies: Quality guidelines
Slide 22/23 Local Search Ranking Factors – the many variables
Slide 22/23 A brief list of 10 Ranking Factors – somewhat old but still valid and a quick read
Slide 22/23 Thinking about your Business Name in the Internet Era
Slide 23 – Custom Maps – A Goldmine
Slide 23- The Importance of Citations
Slide 23 – 20 Citation Sources in the US
Slide 23 – User Generated Content – Geo Tagged Photos
Slide 23 – How To Gather Reviews
Slide 23- Where to Gather Reviews
Slide 24- A Listing management tool

Google Finds it Lost Homework – Raises its BBB Grade to a -A

Update: Apparently over the past day or two, Google’s grade has moved up another notch to an -A since I wrote this article earlier in the week. Nothing has changed in the complaint closing statistics that I can see.

When my son hit middle school something happened. Each report card was worse than the one before and often they would show up “missing” just like his homework. The more I griped about the need for his good grades, the more he seemed to “freeze” and loose more of his homework.

We had a huge blow out fight one day, one that risked our relationship and made us both assess our position. He agreed to do his homework and I agreed that I would stop looking at his grades and insist, not that he get an A, but just that he turn in his homework. I decided that turning in his homework at least demonstrated a modicum of respect for his teachers. I realized that it wasn’t the love of learning that I had hoped he would have, but it was something.

A reader inside of Google recently has pointed me back to the Google BBB rating. It seems that Google found that homework that was lost in their locker and turned it in…. they went from their mediocre C– to a B+ -A apparently just by responding to, if not solving, every complaint. I have noted before that the BBB ranking in and of itself is of little import… more to the point is the reflection of the lack of process for Google’s handling of complaints.

I am glad, though,  that Google found their homework and turned it in. For my son it was the start of a long and successful climb to academic success. He learned that he actually enjoyed being prepared for class and after a year or so, came to the realization that he actually loved learning. Now as a junior in high school he is a wiz.

Sometimes just going through the motions starts a process that can lead to good outcomes. I am convinced that good customer service is a critical part of good marketing. I am hopeful that Google is learning that as well. We can only pray that they manage to get there before the tarnish spoils what is otherwise a great product.

BBB Screen shot from earlier in the week: Continue reading Google Finds it Lost Homework – Raises its BBB Grade to a -A

Google Places Moving Help Closer to the Dashboard?

Google has been upgrading the verification process with both more strictness and more opportunities to communicate problems with Google. These communcation forms are somewhat buried in the Help Files and it is not clear that Google is handling requests with any dispatch but they are positive if weak signs of a movement towards more support in Places.

These screen shots were passed to me by Mary Bowling, a great local seo with SEO Overflow and seem to indicate that Google will further upgrade support. This option to allow the end user to communicate to Google about verification problems started showing up late June & early July in a few dashboards. They have not yet been seen widely in the wild but it appears to be an effort on the part of Google to push problem solving further out to the smb rather than forcing them to hunt it down. Hopefully we will see this option in every dashboard going forward not just a select few and there is a timely solution to legitimate problems after the submission.

It can’t come soon enough from my perspective.

Screen Shot 1:

Screen Shot 2:

Jobs: Rant or Reason – iOS4 vs Android, You Decide

Steve Jobs took the unusual step of talking at Apple’s Q4 earning announcements (full audio here). It is being widely characterized as a rant (blistering, impassioned attack, trash talk) across the internet. I found it to be both a well reasoned and convincing articulation of Apple’s and Job’s point of view. Not necessarily correct, not necessarily a winning strategy but well articulated and not in the rant mode. Am I just listening with gilded ears or is it really a rant?

Rant or Reason, you decide:

Jobs - IOS4 vs Android - Trash Talk or Reason?

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Here is the segment of Steve Jobs detailing why he thinks Apple’s integration is preferable to Google’s open approach to smart phones.

Google Places And Their New Rejection Algo – It is like 7th Grade All Over Again!

Many years ago, on a Saturday night bus ride home from a 7th grade basketball game, I experienced the first, most exciting & most memorable make out session I can remember. It was with Mary G. I had always liked her but just never imagined that I could rise to “her level”. All of that weekend I was floating high with the excitement and expectation. On Monday morning, in first period class, I gave Mary my class ring and we were officially going steady… My high extended throughout the day with visions of the “future” titillating my imagination. I was successful beyond my wildest dreams.

But all good things come to end. Sometimes more quickly than we hope. In 8th period, a gofer/friend of Mary, her proxy, gave me back my ring. Rejection was hard. As fast as I had climbed the ladder of 7th grade “success”, I came crashing down.

In June of this year, Google Places introduced a new, much more aggressive listing level spam review process in the Places Dashboard. Your once flying high listing that was bringing in customers by the droves now may be buried deep within the listings or worse, banished from the listings altogether. Rejection is hard now too.

The new review can occur if you touch your listing for some reason and bring it to the attention of the new system. But it also seems that it can even occur if you don’t touch your listing. The new algo apparently is being applied on a rolling basis to every listing in Maps.

Andrew of SQLPerformance, a local listing consultant, has done an excellent job of summarizing many of the attributes of this new rejection review system in the forums and I am reproducing his post here. Continue reading Google Places And Their New Rejection Algo – It is like 7th Grade All Over Again!

Google Places Upgrades Review Display, Yelp Reviews Back

Yesterday afternoon, Google upgraded the display of reviews on the Places Page. The new display aggregates reviews from third parties with an icon and a  link to the the review site and continues to show individual Google reviews below that display.

The aggregate display shows the third party site with the most reviews at the top of the list and displays 2 recent reviews from them as well as the aggregate star rating and total number of reviews and one review for each of the other two sites. Only the top three review aggregators are shown on the first screen with additional review sites visible at the More from around the web » link. This puts a real premium on volume of reviews from review providers because if the Places Page gets moderate traffic after 2 clicks, the More from around the web » gets far less.

The new display shows below the sentiment analysis if there are enough reviews or just below the business details & photos if not:

As David Mihm points out, this is likely in preparation for the influx of testimonials as reviews to the Places page. It would allow them to be easily deprecated to only show in the more from around the web section if need be.

This display is consistent with the review display in Google’s test of organic-local listing integration in the main serps, with the review sources being given more visibility and a link rather than showing all of their content. It is the first recent development in Places that moves users away from Places. That being said it still spawns a new window, leaving the Places page open on your desktop.

In a TechCrunch interview at the end of July, Jeremy Stoppleman of Yelp noted in talking about Yelp’s review spat with Google:

“And then yeah, we found our content was showing up there and it is ranked dead last right now. I don’t think that’s sort of a permanent situation from what we gather from talking to Google, they are sort of headed in a new direction that which hopefully will be more positive.”

Clearly this display of summary review information, a high placement on the page and a colorful icon seem to put more emphasis on the review source and will likely lead to more traffic for them. WhetherObviously, this treatment is enough to bring Yelp reviews back into the fold of Places is yet to be seen but the above statement indicates Stoppleman’s willingness to allow Google to include Yelp’s reviews as they are now again showing.

One interesting design element related the new display is the handling of the destination a user is taken when clicking on the the Review link in a OneBox. If the user selects the review link they are taken to the Google reviews, effectively hiding the 3rd party reviews.

Update: Here is the Lat Long announcement on the new review display and here is TechCrunch’s take on the Yelp reviews once again showing up.

Google Maps Rich Snippets for Local FAQ: Testimonials to be Treated as Reviews

When Google announced support for Rich Snippets for Local 3 weeks ago, there were a number of unanswered questions. A number of these are now answered in the Rich Snippets for Local Search FAQ:

– Currently Google (FAQ #3) only recognizes microformats (hCard, hReview) for Rich Snippets for Local Search. Thus, until Google expands support for microdata and RDFa formats, you should stick with hCard and hReview formats.

-You (#4) should only provide the actual phone number for the location and should not include call tracking numbers.

-If you (#6) provide precise geo-coordinates Google will use them but if not then address alone is okay.

-Structured data (#9)should not be used as an alternative to verifying your Places listing but in conjunction with it.

The big surprise for me though was FAQ #10:

How will Google treat businesses posting testimonials with review mark up on their own site? Will these be treated as a review by the Place Page?

Testimonials will be treated as business reviews on the Place Page.

This means that site owners will be able to contribute testimonials from their site to their Places page. The implications of this are profound in terms of the impact that these testimonials will have on review count. The impact that they will have on tone of the reviews, sentiment analysis and rank are yet to be seen but if they are handled exactly as current reviews are, this too will be profound. Webmasters will be busy tonight! 🙂

Here is the complete list of links to the questions answered in the FAQ: Continue reading Google Maps Rich Snippets for Local FAQ: Testimonials to be Treated as Reviews

Developing Knowledge about Local Search