January 19, 2013
Starting in December Google started rolling out improved instructions & listing messaging on pages for businesses that Google knew had moved locations. Instead of stating that the business was closed Google will, if proper procedure is followed, indicate that a business has relocated. This new messaging is starting to appear in the wild. While still not perfect and the moving process is still too complicated, it is an improvement.
Here are the instructions to mark a place as moved:
Google may no longer allow SMBs to run client contests for money or charity to gather reviews. That doesn’t slow Google down from encouraging G+ Local users from leaving more reviews by digging into a users search history.
The Google Plus Daily noted several days ago that Google+ Local Now Suggests Places to Review. Google is using your search history and checkins to inform the nag.
Clearly Google is exploring one more way to “close the search to sale loop” and determine when a searcher actually makes a purchase. When you combine this with Offers, Check-Ins, Driving Dirctions, Wallet, Zavers (Coupons), various iPhone apps and the use of Android, Google is clearly going to triangulate their way to conversion information if they can’t get it directly and they are obviously looking across all of their software to find it.
January 18, 2013
Earlier this week when I reported that Review Contests Violate Google’s Guidelines, Dave Squires, Contractor’s Online Access asked this question
HI Mike, In Seattle last year I was in local U when I asked Joel Headley during his presentation about indirect incentives. We have a system that provides an incentive to customers by offering to make a monetary donation to 1 of 5 local charities the company owner selected, if the customer would donate some of their time to leave a review–good or bad.
We did this so that the customer had no direct gain from it and it fit within the Google “do no evil” mission statement. We wrote the program that managed and tracked this for our customers because we liked the idea that it could potentially generate thousands of dollars to worthwhile charities around the country. At local U Joel specifically said that Google would never have a problem with a program that donates to charity to ‘incentivize’ a customer to take the time to leave a review. I am curious if this is still true.
Personally, I would love to see Google endorse this concept since we learned it does very well as an incentive for customers to take the time to leave a review without any direct reward to them… and it would generate a lot of money to many great local charities if others ran with our idea as well.
Google’s response: ”Any incentive offered in return for a review of a specific business is against our policy.”
I guess that you can conclude that any incentive of any sort for a review on Google is not allowed.
A new contributor to the Loci series this year is Lisa Barone. Hired in September by Overit, she oversees Overit’s marketing consulting, social media and content divisions and serves on the agency’s senior staff. She is known internationally for pioneering many of the best practices and strategies for social media, marketing and content in the online, digital world.
OK that’s the official version. My version? Lisa is a unique voice that never fails to put the whole mishegas of internet marketing into perspective for both SMBs and marketers. She is a fearless observer in a world that is all too often full of fear. If you can’t tell, she is one of my favorite writers in the industry. Her current writing can be found at Overit and SmallBizTrends.
On her G+ profile she notes that “I save brands. Most often from themselves” and takes what should be a self evident position in saying: “I am morally opposed to this. All of this”. The same could be said of her relationship to marketers. She saves us from ourselves and often provides a compass to follow.
Here are some articles that influenced her thinking about local in 2012:
How to Optimize Your Business For Local Search and Social Marketing
This super-meaty post from Neil Patel serves as an incredible resource for small business owners. Whether they’re just getting started marketing their business on the Web or if they’ve been doing it for years, there’s still something to take away from this post.
Local and Mobile Domination: Harnessing the Changing SERPs
During December’s BlueGlassX event, Michelle Lowery blogged an awe-inspiring presentation from Michael Dorausch about how to absolutely dominate local search. With his presentation, Michael walks SMBs through the process of generating links through content and opens everyone’s else eyes on HOW and WHERE to find unique content inspiration. Stuff you haven’t even thought of! What I love about Michael is that he’s not an SEO. He’s just a really, really smart business owner who is doing amazing things to conquer the SERPs and grow an engaged customer base. Michael’s slides are also included in Michelle’s session recap.
Running a successful business means becoming a master at earning buzz and bringing eyeballs to what you’re doing. Here, Startup Nation compiles a great list on how to get media coverage for your startup. It’s a Must Read for all local business owners. You can’t wait for press to come to you. Go get it.
January 17, 2013
Adam Dorfman is an interactive marketing professional with over 15 years experience in all facets of online marketing including local & organic search, pay per click, paid inclusion, email, XML driven advertising, mobile advertising, social networking, content creation, analytics, usability and offline integration as well as web development, hosting, networking and project management.
He currently oversees the Velocity platform at SIM Partners – a SaaS solution that empowers national brands to maximize Social, Local Search, and Mobile at the location level through automation and scalability.
Clearly, the biggest news in local search for 2012 was Google’s shift to Google+ Local. While Google Places was still a mess when they made the switch, it feels like the issues we had managing listings for local businesses there paled in comparison to Google+ Local. Google has made some very recent efforts into amending some of the problems, but Google+ Local is still much more difficult to get right than Google Places ever was.
As huge as that news was, there was so much more that happened with Google in 2012. From the still under-reported Venice Update to their integration and pull back of Zagat review formatting to removing AdWords Express from Places prior to the Google+ Local release, it seems that Google+ Local is receiving more attention and resources than ever before.
Apple’s foray into local search was also big news in 2012. When Apple dropped Google Maps as the native iOS mapping application and replaced it with their own, they received a lot of attention from both inside and outside the industry. The move highlighted the importance of map software and local information to people outside of the industry (plenty of my colleagues friends and family were asking about it).
When Apple rolled out their own mapping application, there was a lot of public criticism of Apple’s software, many suggesting it was subpar to Google’s . Not only did Apple end up highlighting the importance of this market to the general public, but also showed their vulnerability with the (perceived) failure of Apple Maps, to the extent that Tim Cook released a public apology for the application. In the end, Apple ended up making Google look like the better software developer and trusted source for local and map based information.
Outside of Google & Apple, here are some news and trends that caught my attention as something that will have a noticeable impact on our space moving forward.
- Marissa Mayer becoming the new CEO of Yahoo.
- National brands seeing the importance of having a hyperlocal strategy.
- The continued shift of local being driven by mobile usage.
- This is larger than local but the increasing complexities when it comes to creating, optimizing and managing paid, earned and owned media has made competing with national brands harder than ever for SMBs.
- David Mihm joining the SEOmoz team. Speaking of David, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a link to David’s yearly Local Search Ranking Factors survey or the Local Search Ecosystem. While not “news” at this point, they are still the two pieces of content I visit most frequently for reference purposes.
- The focus on bolstering international offerings by Yelp as well as them working to increase the amount of places their data is being syndicated to.
Thanks to Mike for keeping us in the space up to speed on the endless changes going on with Google+ Local. It’s been a whirlwind of a year and I suspect that 2013 will be no different.
January 16, 2013
Facebook with the rollout of Graph Search (terrible name) is staking its ground in local search. Here are selected comments from Matt McGee, Danny Sullivan & Greg Sterling that I thought summarized the situation well:
What Does FB (Graph) Search Mean for Local?
If Facebook’s execution is successful and the UX is good then the local search market may consolidate around Google, Facebook, Yelp and to some degree Apple in mobile. Vertical and niche sites/apps will remain viable and perhaps continue to thrive. But “thin” horizontal local sites could effectively be done.
The early weakness of the product will be data and the fact that its database is limited or incomplete vs other competitors. This was especially true in my test of Nearby vs. Yelp.
While it’s still a bit too early to say I’m not going that far out on a limb to argue that it’s possible Facebook Graph Search (and Nearby) could become just as important in local as Google.
Facebook Graph Search Arrives To Challenge Google, Yelp, Foursquare & Others
Facebook Graph Search will be more valuable to active Facebook users — those who’ve actively Liked businesses and pages, artists and movies, and so forth.
The big question for the long haul is whether or not Facebook Graph Search is good enough that users will change their search activity enough to put a dent in “the Google habit.” Although Facebook is saying that its new search product offers a different use-case than traditional web search, anything that keeps users on Facebook longer and away from Google would be a win in Facebook’s view.
Local search may be one of the most compelling use cases. As the second screenshot above shows, Facebook can build a very Yelp-like and Foursquare-like local recommendations engine based on the combination of friends, their Facebook check-ins, their “likes” of local businesses and similar data.
SEO For Facebook Graph Search? Facebook Has Some Tips
The business Page is what a small/local business can control the most, and Facebook’s three specific tips for business owners, then, are focused on optimizing a Page for the new search (and this is straight from their post):
- The name, category, vanity URL, and information you share in the “About” section all help people find your business and should be shared on Facebook.
- If you have a location or a local place Page, update your address to make sure you can appear as a result when someone is searching for a specific location.
- Focus on attracting the right fans to your Page and on giving your fans a reason to interact with your content on an ongoing basis.
How The New Facebook Search Is Different & Unique From Google Search
With Facebook Graph Search, the objects we search for aren’t web pages but instead virtual representations of real world objects: people, places and things. The connections are primarily Facebook Likes. Did such-and-such a person like a particular photo? A particular doctor? A particular restaurant? Those likes are the ties that bind the information in Facebook together.
A Facebook search can show you restaurants in San Francisco liked by your friends. Or further, those liked by your friends who actually live in San Francisco, as opposed to those who live elsewhere. Or those liked by your single friends, your straight friends, your gay friends, your friends who work for a particular company….
Need a good plumber? An electrician? Someone to do your taxes? A doctor? A dentist? These are all typically questions that are great to ask friends. You trust friends. With Facebook Graph Search, there’s the promise of asking all your friends this at once without actually having to ask them. You can just search and discover professionals like this that they like.
That all depends, however, on whether those professionals themselves have created a presence for themselves on Facebook. In turn, it also depends on whether those who use them have also liked them. Without those connections, there’s nothing to mine.
If the utility to use Facebook as a type of super-Yelp or super-LinkedIn doesn’t prove itself at first, at the very least, Facebook Graph Search will allow people to search within Facebook itself in a better way than they can now. For example, people will be able to find all the photos they’ve liked on Facebook.
It remains very early days, but I already find it fascinating the types of searches this is allowing me to do, searches I hadn’t contemplated before. It reminds me of how in the past, we wouldn’t have thought of doing things like YouTube searches or Twitter searches, since we didn’t have those resources. Now, we search at these places for unique needs. Facebook is a great repository of data, and it finally has a search catching up to all it knows.
FACEBOOK IS NO LONGER FLAT: ON GRAPH SEARCH
Prior to seeing the new search, I was not certain Facebook would ever live up to the hype it has accrued over its short life. It’s a good service, but it’s flat – over time, it struck me, people would tire of tending to it. They set up their social graph, toss a few sheep, poke some pals (or not), “like” this or that (often off-domain), waste hours on Farmville, and then…engagement drops slowly over time. I’m also not a fan of Facebook’s domain-specific approach to the world, as many of you know. Facebook’s new search doesn’t address Facebook’s walled garden mentality (yet), but it nails the first issue. Once this search product is rolled out to all of its members, Facebook will no longer be flat.
Put another way, Facebook needed a service that layered a fresh blanket of value over its core topography. Graph Search is it.
I think the above sums up the situation pretty well. Facebook has a chicken and egg issue and local is devilishly difficult to do at grand worldwide scales. And that raises this question: How will Google respond?
The view from where I sit? Facebook has scale and they have an audience. And they have bright people, lots of money and desire. In that regard they are unlike any competitor Google has had in local in recent times. Can Facebook change people’s behaviors? Can they get enough data to solve enough queries that it becomes a useful discovery engine? Yes but it will take time.
And Google never sits still. They are hyper competitive and are unlikely to give any quarter to Facebook in local. Google has a long history of directly confronting competitors in local and winning. With the YellowPages, Google did a better IYP. With Mapquest they did a better map. With Yahoo they did better search and better mobile. With Groupon they did offers and waited. With Yelp they are doing reviews and if not better quite yet, at a bigger scale. They have confronted every competitor head on and aggressively.
Google clearly has been working hard on building out a social graph and their knowledge graph around local entities. They are in the process of building out a more robust, stable and comprehensive local infrastructure. But that process has left their local product in a state of disarray that every SMB hopes will be fixed quickly. Its product is too complicated and opaque for most businesses to get their heads around.
Now that Facebook has shown their hand though, Google can now focus their energies. And focused it will be. Will Google win this one as well? We won’t know the answer to that but the games have started and it should great game to watch.
January 15, 2013
Nyagoslav Zhekov is a 20 something Bulgarian that owns and operates NGS Marketing. He has spoken at SMX West, is a guest author for SearchEnginePeople.com and elsewhere. When he isn’t answering questions on the Google and Your Business Forum, where he is a Top Contributor, and Quora you might find him playing (European) football with his teammates from Absolut AFC (Varna) or traveling with his wife Jenny.
Wherever or whatever he has a passion and integrity about local and has become a student of the craft. Read along with him on his journey of self discovery about the realities of business.
I am relatively new to the online world, having used the Internet for the first time just about 7 years ago. That was long after Google has established itself as the dominant search engine and I was hearing everywhere how cool it was and how the team behind it was strictly obeying to their “Don’t be evil” creed. Probably that is why when I started doing what I do for a living I was observing Google’s actions from a somewhat romantic and idealistic point of view. To my greatest disappointment, this grandiose image was gradually demolished by no other but Google themselves.
One point I feel I should make before sharing my thoughts is that I am not really a fan of conspiracy theories. However, there are so many details involved that it would be hard even for the greatest conspiracy skeptic to deny them.
My “awakening” began in the summer of 2011 with Google removing the images that were previously “attached” to each Google Places result in the organic SERPs. It didn’t make much sense and they didn’t give any proper explanation why they made this move. A little later, in October of the same year, the Googlers decided to change the red balloon markers that were previously found next to each Places result, with grey ones. Again – no logical explanation. In January 2012, they “reduced” the number of local listings that were showing in the local SERPs, a phenomenon that was observed across a wide array of verticals and locales. And that is when I started questioning myself – why?
The following events gave a relatively clear answer to my wondering. In the end of January (early February), the Venice algorithm update was rolled out, which could have been one of the potential reasons for “blended” Places SERPs to replace the “packs” almost everywhere. In February, the web descriptions disappeared in the blended SERPs. In June, the golden stars that could have previously been achieved if you have 5 or more reviews on your Places listing, were replaced by numbers, but only in the organic results, not in the paid ones. All of these changes made it clear that Google understood that the local listings had too great of an influence on the user’s click-through decision making and they were trying to reduce the “eye magnetism” in every way possible. At the same time they were pitching paid advertising and potentially developing a “marketing portal” targeted predominantly at small businesses. There is nothing bad, you would say, in a corporation trying to increase its profit. And I agree, but just partly. There are two main problems:
1. It would be a conflict of interest if Google starts prioritizing its own paid products. Oh, wait, they are doing this right now, openly and not so much.
2. It means that Google is ready to sacrifice part of the usefulness (removing images and descriptions) and relevance of the organic search results (reducing the number of listing results) in order to prioritize the paid results.
The Bright Light at the End of the Tunnel
Hope for improvement, as frequently happens in economics, comes from the competition. And there is not as much hope to see the competitors coming up with something better, but rather hope for competitors to come at least a little closer to Google in order for them to feel threatened. And fortunately, there was a lot of action in the world of “local” apart from Google. The biggest news came from Apple, but in my opinion it was Yelp who was the most active. Facebook launched Nearby, and Nokia – Here. There are also hopes that the new CEO of Yahoo – Marissa Mayer, will move the things around local inside the lethargic behemoth.
Let’s hope 2013 will show us some signs of Google returning to its roots of non-evil-doing.
January 14, 2013
Small business expert & ex-patriate of corporate America, Anita Campbell serves as CEO of Anita Campbell Associates Ltd, a woman-owned consulting firm helping companies and organizations reach the small business market. As Publisher of several online media properties and syndicated content, Anita reaches over 1,000,000 small business owners and entrepreneurs annually. She is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Small Business Trends. She also hosts Small Business Trends Radio, where she interviews other small business experts, publishes Selling to Small Businesses and is a key mover and shaker in the annual SMBinfluencer Awards.
She has a very clear bead on the SMB POV.
Here are 2 interesting gems from over at BizSugar that struck a chord with me for mainstream small businesses that need to get customers locally:
The Impact of Local Celebrity in Local Marketing: (This one is about getting a local celebrity to review your product, since the value of user reviews has become somewhat less credible these days with astroturfing and paid review services. As media reports surfaced in the 2nd half of this year about Amazon deleting reviews because of paid review services, the value of user reviews started to decline fast in the public’s mind. User-review credibility is not completely gone but user reviews are less likely to be believed after this year, I think.)
If you read that article quickly you might assume it means every business without a local presence should delete its Google+ Page — which would be a disaster. I think Google needs to make things easier for small businesses, and the search community needs to come out with clear and unambiguous step by step instructions — there’s been so much change in Google’s local strategy and too little clarity.
There had long been some ambiguity & contradictions around whether the Google Review guidelines prevented a business from having a contest or raffle to encourage customers to leave reviews. No more. Google has finally stated that drawings that involve incentives are not allowed.
In response to a report in the forums of a contest that had a drawing for the chance of a refund for the value of work done in return for a review (either positive or negative), Googler Jade said: Just clarifying that it is against our reviews guidelines to trade money for reviews, so, yes, this sort of solicitation would be against the reviews guidelines. You can see the rules for the contest in question here & here.
Given that Google themselves have had these sorts of contests in the past it was often thought that as long as a given review was not incented AND there was no pressure for a positive review that a business could have a monthly drawing. Even after Google rewrote the guidelines in February of 2011 to include the phrasing: For instance, do not offer or accept money or product to write positive reviews about a business, or to write negative reviews about a competitor, it was unclear whether a drawing that did not have a quid pro quo for a positive review might pass muster. Matt McGee felt that there was additional clarification needed. And Nyagoslav, after reviewing newly minted Places guidelines on promotions in May of 2012, noted that while there was ambiguity, it was probably ok to have a drawing as long as you didn’t ask for positive reviews. I agreed with his interpretation.
Somewhere along the line the word positive was removed and they now say: Don’t offer money or product to others to write reviews for your business or write negative reviews about a competitor. A subtle change yes but it appears that Google finally has made clear that these sorts of contests and drawings are verboten. Whether the new written guideline is still clear enough is another matter. I would suggest that while the rules are getting clearer, like in February 2011 and May 2012, there is still room for clarification vis a vis these sorts of activities so that there is no mistake. This is particularly true given the long back story.
Here is a history or the guideline as it changed over time (relevant sentence in bold italics). (more…)
January 13, 2013
It appears that most newly created listings in the
Local Business Center (LBC) Google Places for Business Dashboard the DASHBOARD are now immediately going to a pending state.
Like with all Google messaging this has a certain Kafaesque quality to it. The other day Barry Schwartz reported it out as a verification delay which while that may be occurring is not actually what is happening. Verification is still happening. But as soon as the pin is entered the “pending” message occurs.
Googler Jade) noted here on Jan 3: I think that the “Pending” message is due to an expected delay in the updating of dashboards we are experiencing right now.
She noted in a post on Jan 8: We were experiencing longer delays than usual at the end of 2012 and this page may have been affected.
Is it just a delay in the dashboard messaging or is it more significant than that? Is a listing that shows pending having any other issues than the message? Will it likely show up in the index? How long can we expect to see the pending message? Is it a delay in updating the Dashboard message or does it reflect the possibility of a new process or perhaps listing going into limbo for an inordinate amount of time?
It is probably all of that. While the pending message has been around for a while it has never really appeared instantaneously on all newly claimed listings immediately after entering your verification number. Minimally that is new. And appears to be a new level of review (not a bug).
I think Linda Boquet has it right (or very close) when she says: My assumption is if you can find it live, it’s just delayed messaging. If you CAN’T find it live and it’s more than a week since verification, then it may have been pulled for actual review.
I would add that if the Google review finds problems the pending state can last for an eternity with no feedback from Google. (more…)