Google Reviews – Business Owners May Now Respond Directly

Reviews have long been a sore spot between SMBs and Google. But Google Places has added a new feature that will go part of the way in providing SMBS salve for some of their “review wounds”. Google is now allowing business owners to respond directly to reviews.

Starting today, if you’re a verified Google Places business owner, you can publicly respond to reviews written by Google Maps users on the Place Page for your business. Engaging with the people who have shared their thoughts about your business is a great way to get to know your customers and find out more. Both positive and negative feedback can be good for your business and help it grow (even though it’s sometimes hard to hear). By responding, you can build stronger relationships with existing and prospective customers. For example, a thoughtful response acknowledging a problem and offering a solution can often turn a customer who had an initially negative experience into a raving supporter. A simple thank you or a personal message can further reinforce a positive experience. Ultimately, business owner responses give you the opportunity to learn what you do well, what you can do better, and show your customers that you’re listening.

Before writing your first response, we recommend reading our handy tips on how to respond to reviewers. Then take a stab at responding by following these instructions. If you have not yet verified ownership for your business on Google, please visit Google Places to claim your listing.

If the business listing is claimed and you are logged in as the same user that claimed the listing you are now presented with an option to respond directly to users reviews.

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Hopefully this is a first step towards providing business owners both more understanding of how reviews work as well as tool for dealing with them in a positive way. It is a feature that will be widely accepted by business owners and moves Google’s Places one step closer to the ideal of a SMB reputation management environment.

Responding to reviews is a double edge sword and can, if not thoroughly thought out, cause many more problems than it solves. A well planned approach to responding to reviews is absolutely critical.

Google Now Calling to Confirm Google Places Community Edits & Verification Issues

Over the past few months a number of clients and readers have emailed me and asked if Google ever called to check on listings. Apparently callers (often from India) would ask the business for information like street address. The callers when queried would claim to be from Google but would refuse to provide call back information to the businesses.  The calls struck an odd note with the businesses and when asked I advised them that historically Google had never made such calls and that the calls were likely from scammers.

In May, in an effort to be clean up business listing quality, Google  announced that community edits would require verification before they would be integrated into the listing results. Apparently these “consumer calls” looking for location information are in fact from Google and part of this program. Google has confirmed that as part of that additional level of verification, they have been calling businesses to find out business name and address. Google noted the following to me:

In some cases, to verify business information, we’ll make phone calls to find out the business name and address. However, we will never make an unsolicited call asking you to provide specific account information, passwords or other sensitive information over the phone.

If asked, the person will identify themselves as calling with Google Maps.

Getlisted Local U: Denver is Next

We are very happy to announce that the next GetListed Local University is going to be in Denver and will be held Thursday, October 21 at the Sheraton Denver Tech. Pricing for the event is $129 and with the discount code: MBDenver your cost will only be $89. There will be morning and afternoon events and you may sign up for single tickets here.

The event is being coordinated by the folks at seOverflow and sponsored by Bing, Localeze, UBL and Deluxe. The speaker line up includes the usual suspects of great speakers: David Mihm, Matt McGee, Mary Bowling, Maryam Gholami (Bing), Ed Reese and myself.

Like all previous Local Universities, this event is specifically targeted to local small businesses. One of our primary goals is to connect attendees with reputable local marketers to help answer questions and improve their visibility long after the conclusion of the seminar. We realize that when we are long gone from Denver, these folks will still often need the assistance of professionals in their local market.

To serve this need we are offering a great opportunity for local agencies to expose potential clients (and junior staff) to the concepts and ideas of Local University with a specific package targeted to their needs: the Local University Group “7-Pack”.

Local University Group “7-Pack”

Tickets for each of our Local University events are available in blocks of seven at the discounted price of $399 per block ($57* per ticket).


  • • Over 50% off each ticket (normally priced at $129)
  • • Increased credibility among clients & attendees
  • • Inclusion of your logo & website mention as a Local U partner
  • • Special reserved seating at event
  • • Inclusion of your company/organization logo in rotating partners deck
  • • Networking with presenters and other attendees

Reserve Your 7-Pack Today »

*Larger blocks of tickets are also available at this same $57 rate. Inquire for more information

I am looking forward to meeting you in Denver!

Google Tags – Do They Help? An Anectdotal Review

Google Tags rolled out nationally at the end of June. Several questions that have been often asked about Tags are: How well do they perform? & How do searchers respond to them? Do they attract additional business?

I have one client, Moses and Rooth Attorneys at Law in Orlando, that added the tags immediately after their national rollout on June 28th. We now have 4 weeks of before and after data so as to be able to compare results. While it is only a sample of one and should not be construed as representing a general truth, the results seem promising.

We chose the “coupon” Tag not so much for the coupon value but so as to be able to add content to the listing. While the coupon itself didn’t generate very much direct activity,   the overall “actions” were significantly higher on fewer “impressions” . The listing received more than a 100% increase in the number of actions while the listing received ~20 % fewer impressions.

Time Frame 5/31-6/28 6/28-7/26
Impressions 2586 2001
How many times users showed interest in your business listing 35 76
Clicks for more info on Maps 3 12
Clicks for driving directions 0 12
Clicks to your website 32 52

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I would caution that this result can not be taken as a general guideline for success. It is a single month’s comparison for only one listing and the reliability of the statistics in Places are erratic at best.

The results are likely to be different in different industries. It is also very early in the life of Tags so very few other lawyers in market had yet taken advantage of them (only one other showed in the search results). That all being said, it does appear to have had a positive influence on end user actions.

What have been your experiences with Tags?

Just How Many Local Searches Were There in June?

The Comscore Search report for June has been released. Google had 10.29 billion searches. If roughly the same percentage of searches (20%) had local intent as Google has indicated then there were approximately 2,187,200,000 searches in the U.S. on Google’s main search site last month that were local in nature.

Across all of the search engines, again assuming roughly the same % of local intent, there were 3,187,000,000. A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you have some real numbers.

Google Coupons Continue Their Rise From the Dead

Since their inception, Google Coupons have been invisible to most searchers and offered little value to the SMB. Buried deep within the local listings and no front page exposure, they seemed to be the poor step child of the Google Maps world. Google Coupons are now beginning to be exposed to the the light of day and Google seems to be taking them more seriously. Will they soon be given more prominence?

I just received the following email from Google Coupon Support (who knew that there was actually a person or group that provided Google Coupon Support?):

Hello Mike Blumenthal,

This is to notify you that the following coupons in your Google Places account will expire in 6 days on 7/15/10.

We are sorry to bother you but we thought we’d let you know early, in case you wished to extend their lifetime or replace them. Please visit Google Places to extend the expiry date of your coupons or to replace them with new ones. After expiration, the coupons will no longer be displayed until they are renewed.


Google Coupon Support

(Note to Google: It is no bother, I actually like getting the occasional email from you. Even if the email is automated, it’s nice to at least know someone is at the Coupon switch…although I do find the tone oddly deferential)

Late last year, Google actively started cleaning out old coupons from listings and requiring an ending date be applied to all coupons. In August, Google allowed businesses to link directly to their coupons. Last November, Google created an option to show (but still hidden) coupons in the mobile environment. With the introduction of the paid Tags product, a business is now able to highlight their coupon in association with their listing and it they were ranking for a 7-Pack, it will show in the main SERP results.

And now this email communication reminding me to re-up a my (still nearly invisible) coupon. Google seems to be getting downright chatty in a new, more forward facing way as they start to promote themselves to SMBs.

I have long felt that coupons had a large untapped potential for certain business segments within Maps. It was always annoying to have the feature in place, all dressed but with nowhere to go. It seems, however slowly, that coupons are starting to poke their head out from the netherworlds of the interior of Maps. Perhaps Coupons will in fact rise from the dead within Maps and achieve their promotional potential for SMBs

Google Maps Offering 30 days of FREE advertising with Google Tag Sign Up

This evening Google has announced a plan to provide 30 days of Google Tags free (hat tip to Taylor Cimala of Digital Third Coast Internet Marketing & Jeffrey Magner of Trumpet Local Media ). The following is being sent to businesses with listings in Google Places (It is of interest that even Google still feels the need to note that it was formerly referred to as the Local Business Center):

© Google Inc. 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA, 94043.

Email preferences: We sent you this email because you have indicated that you are willing to receive promotions about related Google products. If you do not wish to receive such emails in the future, please visit the settings tab of your Google Places homepage ( – Places login required), uncheck the box next to ‘Special Offers’, and click ‘Save Changes.’

Terms and Conditions. Promotional credit is only valid when signing up for new Google Tags listings. Promotional credit allows for $25.00 of free Google Tags advertising (equal to 30 days free for one listing). This credit can be spent on one tag listing, or it can be applied across multiple tags listings and $25.00 will be deducted from your monthly billing statement. Advertisers will be charged for advertising that exceeds the promotional credit, which is $25.00, per listing, per month. If you don’t want to be charged for the additional months, you can pause your tags at any time and your charges will be pro-rated for that month. Google Tags are subject to ad approval, valid registration and acceptance of the Google Places and Google Tags Program terms and conditions. The promotional credit is non-transferable and may not be sold or bartered. Offer may be revoked at any time for any reason by Google Inc. One promotional credit per customer.

Clearly the income opportunities for Google with this product are significant both short and long term. They have recently noted that 2 million businesses have claimed their listing in Maps. If only 10% of those users sign up for Tags, Google will generate $60 million per year.

It strikes me that Tags will create a virtuous cycle of sign ups for Google. As businesses see them being used by competitors and appear on other searches that they do, they will be inclined to sign up for them or at least inquire about them and sign up for a Google Places account.

There is large upside income potential looking out 12-24 months. If Google manages to get to 5 million claimed listings and 30% of those businesses sign up for Tags they would be looking at $450 million annually.

It is no wonder that they are playing with new 7-pack layout.

Google Maps: Melbourne Web Designers – A Mosh pit of Decay

I lived in Kenya for several years in the mid 70s. About every 6 weeks I would take the train from Nairobi to the funky seaport of Mombassa and upon arrival at the coast, would frequent a local bar where the beer was cheap, the ambiance authentic and “working” women would congregate. I would enter, they would buzz around me for a few minutes until they realized that I was just getting a beer and would soon return to their tables. On occasion I would strike up a conversation and learn the women’s back story which usually involved a missing or worthless husband and the need to send their children to school or to support aging parents.

It was always a cordial environment until the sailors from a recently ported US Navy ship would hit the scene. It would become a mosh pit of human wants and needs with a frenzy of negotiation and resolution. Human relations had been reduced to the value of a few shillings. It was never clear who was the exploited and who was the exploiter. To think that it was victimless was and is naive but the Navy obviously was aware of the scene and for reasons of their own, never intervened to change it.

The other day, I was looking at the listings for Web Design Melbourne.  I was examining the listings there on behalf of Paul of Simple I.D., a hard working web design firm in Melbourne, that was struggling with the affects of a recent move and lamenting his invisibility within Maps.

It quickly became clear that every cheap and not so cheap trick to manipulate Google Maps to get an edge was in play. It reminded me of that  scene at that bar so many years ago, a mosh pit of base human activity  where the only important thing in the end was to gain the edge and get what was wanted.

So why is Google letting these listings stand? Continue reading Google Maps: Melbourne Web Designers – A Mosh pit of Decay

Google Testing New, More Integrated Local Search SERPs

Update 7/6 1:02 P.M.: Google’s Elaine Filadelfo (Global Communications & Public Affairs) noted: It is an experiment — we’re continually trying out new tweaks to a portion of our users.

Google is always testing new layouts and changes to the main SERPs but these screens shot captured on July 3rd & 4th by Linda Buquet of Catalyst eMarketing indicate Google’s willingness to experiment with bold departures from past displays for Local results. I was unable to replicate Linda’s results although she saw them over several days on different searches:

Here are Linda’s notes from her emails:

Search term: Dentist Chicago (FYI I am using FF) Double checked and it’s not some weird caching error because other dentist/city searches come up the old way.

In case I’m only seeing it on my datacenter and you are seeing something different, I’m attaching screenshots.

1)    The Places listings are BIGGER and look like the organic results except they have a map pin.
2)    As you scroll down the MAP scrolls with you. So even when you are at bottom of page in the organic listings the map moves down and shows on right.
3)    ONLY 7 (purely) organic listings show and in this instance most are directories or assn. Only 2 are Dentists.
4)    To get on the top TWO screens you need to be in local. Most of the organic are 2 screens BELOW the fold.
5)    Reviews are more prominent
6)    Link to Place Page is marked as such, instead of just “More Info” which means better branding and name recognition for Google Places
7) It’s pulling meta description from the site – just like organic.
PLUS it adds some snippets from reviews on the Place page. So best of both worlds and BIGGER!

I would add that the results also now include links to the review sites from which Google received the reviews and includes more information about some but not all of the businesses. Note that when Local shows at the top of the page, only 3 local results are shown above the fold making positions 4 through 7 much less valuable real estate than currently.

In the results above the fold, information from the website’s meta description tag are included with the listing. These seem to be absent from those below the fold perhaps due to lack of relevance to the search. The replacing of business name with the website title tag is an interesting choice. Is it possible that Google trusts a website title tag more than a business name used in Places? If so, it could be interpreted as a tacit acknowledgement of the massive amount of business title spam that Google Maps has generated.

Google appears to be attempting to provide a direct answer to the searcher without their needing to leave Google’s home page. It also seems to be an experiment in more fully integrating organic and local results into a single unified display although those listings with local content have a strong visual edge and enhanced content.

If a searcher needs more information, Google has made their own content and that of the reviewers more easily accessible to the searcher, potentially reducing website visits for the site owner but increasing them for review sites.

Google is always testing so whether this new display will see broader exposure is unknown. It is of interest that the direction that they seem to be pointing is towards tighter integration of organic and local search.

Here are several more of Linda’s screen shots. One of the information below the fold where the balance of the 7 pack and the non local organic listings are shown as well and a second of a search in which the new local/organic listings appeared mid page: Continue reading Google Testing New, More Integrated Local Search SERPs

GetListed Local U Cleveland Wrap Up

Local University Cleveland went off incredibly well despite some unexpected speaker changes. Mary Bowling was laid up with a health problem and Google was not able to attend at the last minute due to some confusion or another. But David Mihm, Matt McGee and I held down the presentation fort with the more than able bodied & insightful support of Anita Campbell of Small Biz Trends/BizSugar, the effervescence of Maryam Gholami of Bing and Geoff Karcher of the Karcher Group.

GetListed Local University is always a fun event for me (despite having to redo my presentation at midnight the night before due to the Google no show) because I get to spend time with great people. The most fun is that I meet other business owners and practitioners that have been reading my blog and I get to meet the folks in Cleveland that were so very helpful putting on the event.

Anita Campbell of SmallBizTrends/BizSugar, Collyn Floyd of the Karcher Group, Brad Nellis of NEOSA/COSE, John Denny & Julie Provins of & Joel Libava, The Franchise King all did an incredible job of executing the event and attracting attendees. Google, Bing & Universal Business Listings provided much appreciated sponsorship support. We could not have done it without all of their help.

Always astounding is that other professionals are willing to travel to join the session. Folks came in from Pittsburgh, Detroit, Hamilton, Minneapolis, NJ, and Kansas.

To all, I say a hearty and heartfelt THANKS!

For those of you that couldn’t come, here are some photos that I took of the event.

Here are some other round ups of the Local U:
Jim Rudnick: #LocalU Conference a Cleveland Success, eh!
More Photos From Local U Cleveland

Developing Knowledge about Local Search