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.


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.

– 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

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


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



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

Developing Knowledge about Local Search