Google Continues to Test Integrated Local and Organic Results

In early July, I reported (via Linda Buqeut of Catalyst eMarketing ) that Google was testing New, More Integrated Local Search SERPs. These tests are apparently on-going, having shown up in Philadelphia and recently in NYC. Starting this past Thursday, the new results showed up for me in a number of upstate NY markets for hotel and bed & breakfast searches. The new results are showing only on Safari for the Mac but not on Firefox, IE or Chrome. I have performed a number of hotel searches in a range of markets and am making before and after (pdf) screen captures available at the end of the post.

I have done a detailed comparison of the before and after listings on one search result (Hotels Rochester NY). Here is the test ranking display with the local and organic rank of the current display noted to the left of the new rank (click to view larger):

Contrary to some reports, Google is not replacing organic results with local results. Rather they are merging the Local and Organic results and showing the exact same number of total listings on the page. Some local listings though that previously had 2 listings, one local and one organic, now get only 1 consolidated and enhanced listing and only one link to their site.

If the listing currently has a higher local result than its organic listing, the listing typically moved up in the overall ranking of the new display. If the listing had no local presence in the current display, then it moved down the page. If the Local listing was strong but the website had very low organic visibility then the listing would move down in rankings slightly. Thus the local listings that performed best were those with both good local ranking AND good organic rankings.

The directory sites, while remaining visible, moved down the page. The Expedia, TripAdvisor and HotelGuides main listings all dropped. It needs to be noted though that TripAdvisor gained 7 additional review links and Priceline received 4 additional links in the highly visible combo results as a review source. So while pure directory sites will be hurt, those providing significant review content to Google could gain immeasurable exposure and a number of prominent links.

Interestingly, the page of the new results itself is physically longer. While the exact same businesses/websites appear on both the before and after page, only 5 of the consolidated listings showed above the fold in the new display. In the current display there are seven local + usually two organic listings showing.  Obviously the local listings with both an organic and local presence were consolidated into a single listing.

I would point out, that there are some queries with the new search results display where three organic listings are showing above the local listings:

Here are several “before” and “after” pdf files of the results for you to analyze and draw your own conclusions. I have attempted to capture a range of the new result display layouts:

Google Places Updates Quality guidelines – Now Allows Business Names with Punctuation

Google has recently added a new “best practice” to their business listing quality guidelines:

  • Use standard capitalization & punctuation, unless your business name or address in the real world contains unusual capitalization & punctuation.

The guideline makes it clear that you can only uses non standard capitalization and punctuation if in fact your real business name includes those attributes. The change in and of itself is not that big of deal. One assumes that a business should be allowed to use their name as it exists in the real world. But this change to the rules is also accompanied by a companion upgrade that no longer prevents the use of these attributes in entering the business name in the Places Management (LBC).

For those businesses, like mine (blumenthals.com) that included a punctuation AND effectively a URL, we were not allowed to use the actual name  in the Places Management area (LBC) as the filters there would “reject” the listing. Until the punctuation was removed (ie changing blumenthals.com to blumenthals) the listing would not be approved and would not show in the index.

An example of this problem was most visibly demonstrated by McDonald’s who had been unable to get their standard name approved. It has resulted in an incredible variation from corporate standards in the representation of their name in Maps (and a touch of spam?):

I wrote about this problem (Google Maps + MickyD’s =s McIrritating) in September of 2009. It is nice that it appears to have been finally resolved.

Please let me know if you 1)have experienced this problem and 2) if it is not rectified for you.

Whither Google Maps Traffic? Are Google Maps and Mapquest Once Again Vying for the Lead?

From the moment that Google Maps became Google Maps there has always been strong growth in the numbers of unique visitors. For period in from 2007-2009 it was growing at rates of 50 to 60% year over year. During that period it quickly passed Mapquest and Yahoo as the leading Mapping product.  Often Google would increase traffic to Maps by changes to the main page of the results page.

According to Compete.com, things,  at least for the .com desktop traffic, have changed dramatically. Google’s Maps has shown a mostly steady decline (despite a summer season uptick) for the last 11 months.

The reasons for a decline in desktop maps.google.com traffic is not totally clear. Certainly there has been a growth in the use of Maps via mobile Apps and we know that the Maps API provides a significant number of Map views across the greater web. But I doubt that either make up for the decline of 35% from  the peak of 64,979 million visitors in Jul ’09 to 42,200 million visitors in June of this year. Current uniques visits have not been this low since July of 2008.

Continue reading Whither Google Maps Traffic? Are Google Maps and Mapquest Once Again Vying for the Lead?

Responding to Negative Reviews – Your Prospects are the Real Audience

Things though can go wrong with the response process if your business does not have a good response plan in place. To get a sense of how far wrong things can go when an SMB decides to respond to negative reviews see Inc’s You’ve Been Yelped detailing how bookshop owner Diane Goodman, was “booked for battery and remanded to San Francisco General Hospital for a mental health evaluation.”

****

So you got a negative review about your business.  Although it stings right now, what you do next has a bigger impact on the ultimate outcome of this situation than the negative review itself.  Your actions will determine if this event enhances your reputation or becomes an embarrassing smudge.

Should you Respond and What to Say

As much as you might want to, you can’t profitably respond to all negative reviews.  Never respond to a review unless you can do Step 1 and Step 2 below (Step 3 is optional).

Step 1:  Own the issue.

Your first objective in a response is to communicate that: you are paying attention to the issue; the issue is important to you; and that you are sorry the reviewer had a problem.  Your prospects will be reading your reply with rapt attention.  Write this for them. Tell them that when someone has a problem, your business will hear them.  It doesn’t matter if the reviewer lied or only told half of the story – own whatever issue they wrote about.

Step 2:  Describe how future customers will not have this issue.

A critical part of any response is to tell your prospects that something has changed and this issue will not happen to them.  This is a golden opportunity to market your business.  For example, writing that ‘we have put a new process in place…’ tells your prospects that your company is good and is getting better.

Step 3:  Offer to fix the issue

Your business will spend a lot of time and money on sales and marketing.    Although you can’t always fix every issue (sometimes you don’t want to), your offer to fix a reviewer’s problem is a great marketing investment.   In the response, suggest that they contact you directly so you can try to resolve the issue.

Guidelines for your Response

Write it with your prospects in mind.  Before writing your response, think about who your audience is.  Although your response should be addressing the reviewer, the vast majority of the readers of your response are likely to be your prospects. Writing your response with the majority of your readers (a.k.a. your sales prospects) in mind will help you set the right tone.  For example, write about your company’s commitment to customer satisfaction.  Your response should not try to change the reviewer’s mind or dispute the facts as set out in the review.

Don’t be defensive.   One suggestion we often give to our clients is to send a draft of your response to someone that doesn’t work at your company.  Ask them to delete anything that sounds defensive.

Take your time.  A negative review most likely made you angry.  Resist the temptation to reply quickly because, unless you have superhuman emotional control, the reply is likely to sound angry.

Keep it brief.  Resist the temptation to “set the record straight.”  The surest way to ensure that your response never gets read is to give your side of the story.

Avoid the corporate happy talk and respond as you would face to face and with feeling and sincerity that is you.

Writing a short, non-defensive reply to a review that owns the issue, describes how the issue has been resolved (maybe includes an offer to fix the issue) will earn you the trust of your future customers.

***

Several other good resources for responding to negative reviews are:
-Miriam Ellis: Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution
-Scott Clark: 15 Tips for Responding to Google Place Page Reviews
-Matt Mcgee: 5 Ways Negative Reviews are Good for Business-Google’s advice on how to respond to reviews in their Help section is, of necessity, too brief to cover the topic thoroughly.

 

Google Upgrades Google Places Monthly Performance Update

Allowing SMBs to add responses to reviews posted on Google Maps is not the only olive branch that Google is handing to businesses. They have also upgraded the monthly Places Account Performance Update to include more information, to educate and market new features and to promote their Tags product.

The report is very useful as it includes the bulk of information that a business would need WITHOUT requiring a visit to Google Places. Kudos to Google!

How Google Has Handled Reviews Reflects a Long History of a Tin Ear and Little Action

Google’s recent introduction of the ability for SMBs to respond to reviews is a welcome and surprising turn of events in the Places arena. Reviews have long been a sore point with businesses that often feel wronged by the review procedures at Google. Many SMBs think of the current arrangement as unfair and they rarely understand the why or how of Google’s non response to review issues.

I asked Cathy Hillen Rulloda, a florist from Anaheim active in local marketing, what she percieved as issues with the way that Google handled reviews and she noted that while the ability to respond to reviews was long overdue, other serious issues remained:

– No ‘Amazon-like’ “real name” indication to add credibility to reviews.
– Unlimited sock puppet accounts are being created by malicious folks and spammers.
– No simple/easy way to get malicious reviews (where folks made no purchase and/or are competitors) removed. I realize a reader will likely detect a review like that as ‘inappropriate’ but far more eyes go to the overall star rankings than to the individual reviews.
– Too long an update period from third-party review sites. A malicious/bogus review can get deleted from the original site (CitySearch, Yahoo, etc…) but still display on Google for up to three months. This has happened to me and it was completely frustrating.

Clearly she is not alone in her thoughts on reviews. If you peruse the forums you will find a multitude of complaints about reviews in these areas:

How to Remove Reviews
Missing Reviews/ Where have my reviews gone?
Flagging Reviews
Fake Reviews

It is amazing how little has changed. What is fascinating about her responses is that they are many of  the same issues that I ranted about in September of 2008: Continue reading How Google Has Handled Reviews Reflects a Long History of a Tin Ear and Little Action

Google Place “Error on Page” Preventing Editing of Listings with IE

A reader alerted me to a problem with Google Places (aka LBC) where a record is currently unable to be created or edited and the lister receives the message: “Error on Page”. A number of posters (~30) have noted the problem in the forum over the past 36 hours.

Here are a sampling of the posts taken from my RSS feed:

Read more…
Read more…
Read more…
Read more…
Read more…
Read more…
Read more…
Read more…
Read more…
Read more…

Google’s Joel Headly has responded to the posters, acknowledged the issue and consolidated the postings here.

Apparently, the problem is IE specific and a switch to Chrome allows the editing to continue:

Thanks for letting us know. This issue may be unique to Internet Explorer. We’re currently looking into a fix now. You can consider it a known issue at this point. It may take us a bit to put a fix into the product. For now, the best work around mentioned is to use another browser (people have reported success with Chrome & Firefox).

I’m going to merge other threads with this one.

We already can reproduce the issue in Internet Explorer 7. If folks see it in other browsers, please let us know.

This issue though brings to light a larger issue: The search function in the forums suck. The reader who asked about the problem was surprised that I was able to identify so many with the same problem so quickly. She noted: “Hmmm I went to the help section and searched on “error on page message” and returned items from 2009. I’ll have to check and see what I’m doing wrong here.” Continue reading Google Place “Error on Page” Preventing Editing of Listings with IE

Will Reviews Become Google’s First Successful Foray into Social?

Small businesses are engaged (and often enraged) with reviews on their Google Places Pages. Understandably, the SMB posters at the Places Help forums have a great deal invested in their businesses and the reviews about their business. As a result they often respond with great passion about Google’s handling of them. The forums are rife with over the top pleas, cajolings and complaints about reviews on their Places Page.

Many SMBs don’t really like reviews. For many it is the first time they are accountable to outside forces over which they feel that they have no control but wish that they did. Historically they have responded to this tension by lashing out (sometimes justified and others not) at Google with their frustrations.

In my sales days, I was taught that objections were in fact buying signals. Complaints by SMBs about reviews seem to fall into that category and to me indicate that they are ready to actively engage with Google’s new feature allowing them to respond to customer reviews.

It is my sense that they won’t just respond but that they will actively respond. The passion that SMBs have about reviews will lead them to engage their customers in Places for better or worse. This engagement will incent more of them to claim their listings and monitor their reviews in a more active and even compulsive way.

Reviews have always been social in nature. In some respects they may be a business’s best social forum as the (hopefully happy) customers do most of the work. Yelp and before them others like CitySearch created social platforms around the review process and the business response. But because of the visibility of the 7 – Pack,  Google Places will capture the attention of SMBs in a way and with a volume that quickly become significant. It will lead to an ongoing, interesting (and possibly often bizarre) interchange between businesses and their customers.

Because of the potential for volume and visibility it may make reviews more “social” than ever and could very well become a primary territory for SMBS to interact with the world around them. Has Google possibly created their first successful foray pushing Maps to become a Social platform?

Developing Knowledge about Local Search