Google SAB Update: Service Area Now Displaying in Knowledge Panel

I don’t search on service area businesses very often. But doing client work today I did and I noticed that for the first time that service areas are prominently displayed in the local branded knowledge panel.

I have no idea when this was implemented but it indicates that Google has increasing trust in the data if they are surfacing it to the front page. Historically this information was buried in Maps and rarely seen by searchers.

How long has the service area been displaying in the panel results? Is this part of the recent updates to the local displays?

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It also points out that you really need to pay attention to your settings. Otherwise this might occur:

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Google+ Custom URLs – Facts, Tidbits and Concerns

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 9.24.59 AMGoogle rolled out a series of new photographic tools on Tuesday that they hoped would make them as cool as Apple but it seems that all folks are talking about is the new “custom” URLs at Google Plus.

Here are a number of factoids, observations & issues in relation to the latter:

  • “Custom” is a misnomer. Assigned is more like it. Custom implies that you have some input into the process which is fully automated. You pretty much have to accept the URL given or keep your number.
  • Any brand or business that has a linked website or is a verified local business can claim a custom URL for their Google+ page. Link and verification info is available in the Google+ Help Center: http://goo.gl/RMpxP
  • Even though there appears to be an appeal option the decision is for the most part final on the new URL.
  • From Google: At this time, we do not allow you to appeal your assigned Custom URL. Based on user feedback, we’ll determine any necessary updates to this process. 
  • Google will use a number of signals, including the name of the page/profile, and the website associated with the page to determine the given URL.
  • Businesses with multiple locations are being assigned a URL like BusinessNameLocation as in plus.google.com/+PizzHutOlean
  • When the domain is NOT .com Google seems to be adding the TLD to the end of the URL. Business with .net or .org will have those added to the URL.
  • This applies to international domains as well. So folks in France are getting URLs with FR appended to the end. This is an aestetic problem but apparently becomes  more so if you live in Cook Islands, and the websites end in “co.ck“. (Is this real?)
  • John Mueller noted that the “vanity URLs also work on any Google TLD”. They thus can be shortened from plus.google.com/+MikeBlumenthal to google.com/+MikeBlumenthal and it will still work.
  • Barry Schwartz noted that the Google’s TOS regarding Custom URLS indicate that Google “are free for now, but we may start charging a fee for them. However, we will tell you before we start charging and give you the choice to stop participating first”. Wow would that be a mess.
  • Glenn Gabe noticed that Google is 302’ing the old # URL to the new name URL. Strange but according to John Mueller  noted in the comments that “Google treats it like a redirect. [and] Yes, you can use rel=author with these.  You can also use the numeric ID” and thus should have no affect on existing author links. There is a good discussion of this at Cyrus Shepard’s G+ Post.

As in all change the real question for me is who really benefits? Clearly this is a win for Google. It is ironic at one time Google only sent traffic to your website and now you will be sending traffic to Google.

Cyrus Shepard noted that the new URL structure would likely cause G+ Pages to show more visibly for branded searches at Google. I suppose that might shift some traffic away from the directories to SMBS so that would be a net benefit if the SMB maintained a decent Plus Page.

My biggest concern though is that SMBS will not think through how this should fit into an integrated on-line marketing plan and that they will send folks willy nilly to their new and shiny google.com/+MyBusiness page. If this comes at the expense of building out their own web equity and losing the ability to track, analyse and convert new and existing customers it would be a shame.

Social media has a roll to play in SMB marketing but it should supplement a sound plan not replace it.

Google Local SERP Results Change Again

Last Thursday, Google shifted the pack display (Blended Results) from mostly blended with large pins to the smaller pin display (Map Packs) with locally driven ranking (ie Maps order) rather than organic driven ranking. Last night they switched (thanks to Nicolai Helling) the display of the pack back to a larger pinned display. So far at least, Google has retained the local, map based rankings rather than driving the results order from organic rank (Blended Map Insertions). The switch last week and the switch last night were apparently world wide.

Because the blend is not occurring, home (authority) pages are still able to show as a separate organic result in the SERPS and not be merged into the local result. Because the current results are not blending you are also NOT seeing author tag or title tags integrated into the local result.

This type of display (Blended Map Insertions), looking like blended results but being primarily based on Maps order, have been ever present over the past two years constituting roughly 24% of pinned results. They were seen mostly in the restaurant searches and to some extent in the locksmith searches. Today at least they are displaying at 100%.

The positioning of the pack under blended results typically started anywhere in the first four results. With the current state of the local display most of the pack results are inserted at postition four. In a small sample of ten searches, eight started at position 4, one search started at position 2 and one started at position 6. I assume that a larger search sample would show a similarly broad distribution with the bulk of pinned results starting at position 4.

Are Blended Results going away? If you had asked me yesterday I would have said yes. Today, I am not sure so of anything other than that we are in the midst of both display and ranking shakeups and where it will settle is anyone’s guess. Its hard to know exactly what is going on and even more so why. This change which started last Thursday seems to be continuing.

insurance bradford pa   Google Search

 

Nicolai pointed out in the comments that Branded searches for multi location entities, that have been shown as the small Map Packs forever, are also now using this same format:

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Google Upgrades Self Serve Offers with Performance Based Pricing, Improved Distribution and a Simpler Interface

overview-promoYesterday Google has once again announced an upgrade to their self serve Offers product.

Ok that isn’t that interesting in itself given the long (it is almost as old as I am) and mostly invisible history of Google’s couponing product but there are some interesting aspects to this upgrade. Besides an easier, slicker to use set up process, the changes that could be significant are the move to performance based pricing and the promise of improved distribution

For the first time Google is charging for the product and making claims about the number of times that it will be downloaded. The pricing model is a pay per download instance. In the coupon I set up, Google is estimating that the Offer will be downloaded between 120 and 160 times per month for a cost of $30 at a cost between $.19 and $.25 per download.

Is it $.19 or is it $.25? It is not at all clear if the pricing is somehow bid based or fixed and more transparency in this arena would be useful. The product retains a free pricing option which one assumes will mean less aggressive distribution or perhaps none if there is a paid coupon alternative. This also reinforces Google’s developing fremium approach to it’s SMB products.

visible-new-mapsAn Offer, highly visible in the new Maps, will be taking on increased visibility in the upcoming Plus page update and retains visibility in Google’s Offers search engine (who knew right?). What is different in this release is the fact that since you are paying, Google will be motivated to highlight the inventory more and has a direct stake in the resultant outcome. Whether the increased visibility in the new Maps is enough to get the kinds of views they are hoping for is unclear, at least you won’t be paying unless the coupon is actually downloaded.

When a user saves an Offer they recieve an email copy of it and are encouraged to download the Android or iPhone Offers App. If they do so they will get geofenced notifications, alerting them that they are near the location of the coupon provider. At least on the iPhone side, the app has very little visibility and low distribution minimizing the value of that feature. It would make more sense to me to use Google Maps and the Plus apps to increase mobile visibility.

Google self serve Offers (aka Coupons) has been Google’s ugly step child of products. Like that step child that sits on the couch watching TV all day and that you can’t bring yourself to kick out the door, self serve Offers has somehow avoided the hatchet over the years despite its long and storied sorry history buried in the bowels of local.

The current version of the product was introduced as a beta in the Places Dashboard and in May, 2012  but it has existed in a very similar state since its introduction in 2006 . Offers was strictly a self serve, free, stand along coupon, Places based product until April, 2011 when Google rolled out a full blown competitor to Groupon that they also named Offers. The self serve coupon version has stayed in beta as a free product with caveats and with minor upgrades since that time. The main caveat noted at last year’s major refresh was that “Currently, you can create offers from within your Google Places account at no cost during this limited time trial period. You will be notified about pricing details before the trial period concludes.”

The bugaboo with Coupons/Offers has always been distribution. Or rather the lack of it. The coupon inventory has always been buried deep in a custom search engine or lost on a Plus (Places) page. As such, it never has had much adoption by either the public or SMBs. I always thought that it was just one front page placement away from success. Perhaps some day it will make it to the big leagues. In the meantime, it seems that Google is planning on keeping this step child around for a bit longer and hopefully bragging about it to at least the relatives if not the neighbors.

These new Offers can be created in any of the local management environments (Old Dashboard, New Dashboard, + Page for Local, Android Places Dashboard App)  but appears to be rolling out now so it may not be visible in all dashboards.

Here are screen shots of how a self serve offer is created and of the end user email notification: Continue reading

Google Testing New Local Listing “About Page” Layout – Just What are They Thinking?

Google is testing a new enhanced “card” layout for the About page on local listings. The new layout, visible to me in Firefox only, was pointed out by Mary Kelly Gaebel of ADP.

The big difference is that the page now can be displayed in either a single, two or three column layouts depending on browser window width as opposed to the current fixed two column display. Reviews will now follow the same columnar structure as the rest of the page and will not be limited to a current one column display. While this view is not yet visible in mobile, one assumes that if the view were to become universal it would likely push to mobile as well.

The page adds three iconic based calls to action near the top; review, directions & photos. The review summary has been moved up the page and photos have been moved down the page. Geo information including street address, category, hours, description and map are now consolidated into a single card near the top titled “Contact Information. “Similar Places” from around the web no longer show and “reviews from around the web” have been moved up the page to be nearer the top.

The real question about this change is why here, why now. The About Page of the local listing has become virtually inaccessible on Google. Since reviews were pushed to the front page and Places search was replaced with a the new Google Maps, it takes searchers anywhere from 2 to 4 clicks to get to the page. I am confident that visitation has plummeted. It is hard to understand a visual makeover of this page when there appears (at least to an outsider) that there are so many other more critical issues to deal with… Makes one think of Nero fiddling while Rome is burning.

Here is a screenshot of the three column width view (click to view larger):

three-wide-editied

 

Google Rolls Out Android Mobile Places Dashboard App

This afternoon Google rolled out a new mobile Google Places for Business app that allows management of a business’s Google Plus listing via  Android.

From the Google Play description:

Keep your business listing fresh and up-to-date across Google with the free Google Places for Business app:
– Update your business information, including hours, address, contact information, photos and description
– Keep your customers in the know by posting updates and photos
– Respond to comments and +1’s on your posts
– Learn how customers find and interact with your business with insights
– Manage multiple business locations from one app

The app shows the way for the new dashboard to provide an integrated experience to the SMB that wants to interact with all aspects of their listing as well as their public social stream from one unified interface. In that sense it might be providing a look at what the desktop dashboard might become.

The interface, like the desktop Places for Business Dashboard, is intuitive and easy to use. Unlike the desktop dashboard, this product is fully integrated with the Plus social stream and allows for social posts that include photos and for social responses. For those businesses that have a social presence and would like to keep it updated frequently with photos it offers a compelling solution.

There are some limits to the product
– U.S. listings only
– Business must already have the new dashboard
– no iPhone version

Besides the lack of an iPhone app and the inability to respond to reviews, the rap against the app is the same criticism that I have of the desktop dashboard – it just doesn’t do that much that would compel a business owner to return regularly to check in. If their business doesn’t have a strong social presence and doesn’t have a need for regular photo uploads (which is most local businesses), the app and the Places for Business dashboard desktop provide little reason for regular visits to Places.

That being said, the Places Dashboard was built as a platform for the future and is able to readily be expanded with new functionality. One presumes that the mobile version is similarly designed. Google has not provided many reasons in the past for a business to continually check into their dashboard. This had lead to a situation where the listing data gets stale, the SMB understanding and appreciation of the product is decreased, passwords are lost and there is little opportunity for Google to entice the SMB with additional functionality, paid or otherwise.

My sense is that Google understands this and will, at some point in the future, provide increasing functionality to the SMB. Here’s hoping its sooner rather than later and that once Google gets past the very painful transition from the old to the new Places that we will see steady and valuable updates to the dashboards both mobile and desktop.

Here are some additional points provided to me by Google about the app:

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Hummingbird, Local Knowledge Graph & Shitty Search Results

Screen Shot 2013-09-28 at 9.59.58 AMThe big news earlier in the week was Google’s announcement of the Hummingbird search algo upgrade. InformationWeek noted that “the Hummingbird update expands Google’s use of its Knowledge Graph”.  Local search results were some of the first entities moved to the Knowledge graph and displayed as knowledge graph results. For me there are thus two questions.

Does Hummingbird affect local search results?

Are there any indications of a decline in local search results quality?

The answer, at least as far as I can tell, to both questions seems to be yes.

According to Danny Sullivan, Google started using this new algo “about a month ago”. Moz pegged the rollout at around August 20-22. For the most part this change went unoticed in both local and universal search results. But there was one big change in local that Linda Buquet has covered quite extensively that she first wrote about on August 24th. The timing and results, I think, are not coincidental.

Linda titled this one exactly right: Attack of the Bad Google Local One-Boxes!

What is the attack of the Local One-Boxes? A number of broad head searches like “Buffalo NY Diamonds” or “Denver SEO”  are returning (usually) a single branded, spammy local result. Google seems to have dug into the wayback machine to have pulled out these totally inappropriate results. (Note: as Linda said below it may be necessary to set your location to the same as the geo phrase to see these. That isn’t always the case but it increases the likelihood of surfacing them).

Essentially it appears that Google has once again conflated these head terms with what they suppose to be a branded search and have surfaced spammy pinned local results that we thought had long ago been buried. Hummingbird has worked surprisingly well as demonstrated by the lack of complaints. It is interesting that a problem thought solved long ago would trip it up.

For example if you search on the phrase “Buffalo NY Diamonds” it surfaces a second listing for a local jeweler at the same address that was created long ago for the purpose of keyword spamming “marketing” in local. The problem of Google showing a single branded results was first spotted years ago. It subsequently lead to a spate of one box spam and then, for the most part, squelched by Google. For whatever reason, these spammy local knowledge graph entities seem to have made a come back.

The timing and nature of the results makes me believe that we are seeing “the Hummingbird effect”.

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When was the last time that you saw a local result for a spammy local SEO listings? The answer: December, 2009. They seem to have returned.

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Local U Advanced NYC Sold Out

Local-Advanced-U_180x70Apparently we have sold the last seat to the Local U Advanced session in NYC. We will be holding another advanced event in Valley Forge, Pa next March 7 & 8th. Let us know if you want details. Thanks to all for your support of this event

We will be announcing our (very busy) winter & spring speaking schedule shortly and it looks like we will be in Dallas, Springfield (MA), Valley Forge, Harrisburg and hopefully the Cupertino area (and perhaps a few more places as well). We are now scheduling for May and the fall of 2014 so if you are interested in having us come to your city, let us know.

We hope to have our full video tape of the LocalU advanced session in Seattle available for purchase shortly and some other cool content as well. We will keep you posted.

LocalU Odds and Ends

Local-Advanced-U_180x70Lot’s has been happening at LocalU. We have an advanced LocalU coming up Monday in NYC that has just 5 seats left. If you do sign up be sure to use the discount code WS-LUA10 for 10% off. If you are already signed up be sure to reach out to me and introduce yourself.

We will be announcing our (very busy) winter & spring speaking schedule shortly and it looks like we will be in Dallas, Springfield (MA), Valley Forge, Harrisburg and hopefully the Cupertino area (and perhaps a few more places as well). We are now scheduling for May and the fall of 2014 so if you are interested in having us come to your city, let us know.

We hope to have our full video tape of the LocalU advanced session in Seattle available for purchase shortly and some other cool content as well. We will keep you posted.

We have been busy at the LocalU blog as well with some great articles over the past few months that you might have missed:

Where Should a New Business Create a Listing: Google+ Page or Google Places for Business Dashboard? – Mike Blumenthal

The Real Truth About SEO & Call Tracking – Mary Bowling

Is Your Website Ready for the Holidays? – Mary Bowling

What Kind of Google+ Page Is It? – A Visual Guide to Google+ Local Pages – Mike Blumenthal

How Long Should Your Business Description Be in the Google Places for Business Dashboard? – Mike Blumenthal

Have You Tried Google Support for Local Lately? – Mary Bowling

How To Segment Local Search In Google Analytics (with Free Dashboard!) – Ed Reese (I particularly like the free dashboard that Ed created that gives some incredible insights into where your local visitors are coming from. And what is better than free?).

There will be light postings next week due to travel. I hope to see you in NYC next week.

 

 

New Countries Added to Places for Business Category Tool – Volunteers Needed

google-places-iconWe have just upgraded the Google Places Category tool with categories for the new dashboard from:
UK – United Kingdom contributed by Andrew Loy, Occupancy Marketing
NL  – Netherlands contributed by Eduard de Boer
FR  – France contributed by Ken Fagan
Aus  – Austria contributed by Petra Kraft
IT – Italy contributed by Andrea Scarpetta
CA – Canada contributed by Darren Shaw

Norway has been contributed by Aleksander Steinsvik, Crosspath Media but is not yet loaded.

Here are the countries that have been added to the new dashboard for which I do not yet have categories and am asking for volunteers:

Argentina Liechtenstein
Brazil Malaysia
Bulgaria Mexico
Chile Pakistan
Colombia Poland
Croatia Romania
Egypt Russia
Finland Saudi Arabia
Greece Singapore
Hong Kong Slovakia
Hungary South Africa
India Switzerland
Indonesia Taiwan
Israel the Philippines
Japan Ukraine
Kenya United Arab Emirates
Korea

If you would like your 15 seconds of fame and a link and live in one of the above countries here are the instructions to gather the categories from the new dashboard (obviously I wold appreciate it if you sent them along):

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Developing Knowledge about Local Search