Handling customer complaints is one of those areas where most local businesses drop the ball. Yet its an area that has disastrous downsides and such an incredible upside for the business when handled properly.
But first we need to understand the things that are likely to trigger complaints. Join the discussion at GetFivesStars on understanding the question:
I have just published my first of a number of articles (I am at 4 and counting) dealing with the question of customer complaints: 5 Good Things About Customer Complaints. These articles will cover ideas, processes and research to help you understand the whys and wherefores of complaints and how their successful resolution can really benefit a business.
Thank you for your help and guidance.
Before I started working in Local SEO and Local Marketing, I grew up in and ultimately helped run a local family business. My father never made it to one of my Little League Games. As a single parent that was working 60 hours a week that is not a big surprise.
When I ran the company I still spent 55 hours a week engaged in the business although I did manage to make it to my children’s sporting events but only by the grace of having my face glued to my cell phone email.
I came away from that experience with a deep and abiding respect for the people that create and run their own local business that is often built on blood, sweat and more than a few tears. But also a realization that many basic business practices were not in place or out of reach to the typical business.
My approach to Local Search was always to put myself in the shoes of these business and try to understand what they were feeling. And that is now even more true with GetFiveStars. We have created a tool that can help every local business be better.
Since helping create GetFiveStars 3 years ago I started to shift my focus from the initial parts of the customer journey via search to the many parts of their journey that begins with the sale.
I firmly believe that it is an area that local businesses can dramatically improve and that will show huge returns going forward. It’s an area where I can provide incredible value to businesses and actually make their very hard lives easier. This is even more true as local search results becomes less and less visible due to the many changes in search.
As the success of GetFiveStars continues I will be devoting more writing time to questions of improving a customers post sale experience and engaging them for retention and marketing.
Google invites image spam and pisses off business owners once again.
Google, while ostensibly giving business owners control over which images show, has always usurped that role and done so without any guidelines or clear communication. Now though it has become possible for a third party with good web design to leverage a listing’s photos display for their gain (i.e. spam).
And while businesses are clearly upset about this Google seems to condone it. When I asked Google I was told that the imagery complies with their guidelines. While it may comply it strikes me as a dumb and arrogant policy. (In case you were wondering my opinion).
Google looks far and wide for images to associate with local businesses; they ask the owner, incent top contributors, encourage users to post and scrape photos from sites where they can clearly identify the business with which it is associated.
This last method of scraping the web for location images has been around for a while but seems to have been recently been updated and in the current incarnation they have become a new favorite vector for stealing traffic, highlighting porn and generating weird results like linking to competitors. And they are but one click away from the main search result.
Unlike images that are uploaded by the business or the community, images that Google scrapes link back to the originating site. Weirdly they not only link back but they also allow for some amount of additional messaging and subtle calls to action to encourage users to click through. Google notes in their Guideline :
Advertising and Attribution
Small, discreet copyright notices (such as a business name or logo) are allowed. Email addresses and phone numbers cannot be included in your images. Acceptable attribution must be limited to the bottom 10% of photos and the bottom 36º (bottom 20%) of photo spheres.
Hotels across the US have been impacted by this as OTA aggregator Oyster.com has done a “great” job of getting their photos picked up, shown and linked to their site, often as profile photos, for many, many hotels. It is totally bizarre to me that a searcher could or should be diverted from the business photo to a site that only looks to extract money by virtue of having their images scraped.
Why should a 3rd party get a link when the actual business doesn’t?
Why should a third party be allowed to not just brand the images but create a subtle call to action?
Why should these images ever be used as the profile image when there are perfectly adequate business uploaded images?
Why would Google dis-incentivize a business from uploading images directly?
Why would Google highlight non-paying OTA sites to the disadvantage of both the local listing business AND their advertisers who pay for the privelege?
What should a hotel (or any business for that matter) do?
Firstly regularly check your photos to be sure that they have not been hijacked (gag me with a spoon… as if you need one more Google maintenance job).
Secondly I would add my logo to the lower right of all of my photos. You might not be able to add your logo as a profile photo but you can apparently add it to each photo. (let the fun begin!)
And finally you might want to rethink your photo strategy on your own website to see if you can get Google to scrape your photos rather than those of a site that is clearly not in your interests. At least you would be controlling the images, the links and the logo that appear on the images.
Doing so would likely entail being sure that each image is clearly marked up on your site (oyster.com provides a model) so as to make the location clear on a page that has strong NAP signals. If successful I would cut back on directly uploaded images in the Google My Business Dashboard.
Hey you might even consider doing so against your competitors.
Yesterday (first reported on Twitter by Craig Harkins, an SEO manager at InterContinental Hotels Group) Google switched virtually every hotel profile photo in their Hotel Local Pack results from an exterior to an interior shot.
While Google ostensibly offers businesses the ability to set this profile photo for their own business, that appearance of “freedom” to a large extent is a sham. Business wishes be damned, Google is going to make the choice that optimizes their monetization of local.
A businesses’ photo that Google shows as their profile photos has always been a business’s most important photo, creating that critical first impression to the searcher. There is no photo seen in more places on Google, in more apps, more screens and on more devices than that photo… from Google Maps to Plus and most importantly search. And a business probably has no image of them seen more widely than this one anywhere.
Google has always offered up the ability to add your own photos and with the Google MyBusiness upgrade in early 2015 appeared to allow business to choose the profile photo. From the Google post at the time: Starting today, you can tell us which image you’d like to appear when customers search for your business on Google. Their recent API upgrade also touted this as a new feature.
The reality has always been quite different. The image Google showed was actually determined by their algo and by their preference. If your choice was consistent with that preference your choice might have been left to stand. But if you were so presumptuous as to choose an image that was contrary to their preferences say a logo, odds were Google would change the image.
Thus choosing an image that best represented your business was a crap shoot and as a business owner you would never know exactly what would show.
When I inquired about this practice of ignoring business preferences a few years ago I was told that the images were selected to improve the Map experience. IE an exterior photo that would help a person know what they were looking for when traveling was preferable to an image like a logo that offered no real world benefit. That at least was an understandable if arrogant decision.
I know I have said this before but this change, clearly for commercial reasons, should put everyone on notice that their listing at Google is for Google’s well being and any benefits that you may accrue are rented not owned. And unlike a normal business relationship you never know when the lease will expire.
The only option open to the Hotel owner and any business for that matter is to make every photo at Google count and don’t count on that carefully chosen profile photo showing. And pray.
One area of Local Search where Google has been active with regular improvements has been the Google My Business API. Google seems to have committed to a regular schedule of regular updates and along that line V 3.0 was introduced today.
There are two main features that have been released in this update:
Ability to read and respond to reviews
Ability to add Rich Attributes to a listing
Review management is a solid move and gives businesses that have access to services like Moz Local, Yext or their own API, the ability to respond to reviews directly from within their own local dashboard. It will put Google reviews at front of mind for their larger partners and it will also create some pressure for Facebook and Yelp to do the same.
Attributes are new sets of structured information that will be able to be added to a listing. The specifics will vary by both category and country and as of now we do not have a list of what they will be. This feature is coming to the API first and will ultimately be rolled back into both the list and card views of the GMB. If and how these attributes will show in search is unclear.
In the examples I saw restaurants were able to indicate whether they accepted reservations, served liquor, had outdoor seating etc. In the Gas Station example the listing could include things like whether they had a card wash, free air, diesel and ethanol free gasoline.
For those of you that haven’t been in local for a coon’s age, Google once upon a time allowed businesses to add custom attributes to every location. They were poorly implemented with the user having to define both the attribute and the content so they were frequently meaningless and of course they were spammed heavily before their demise.
I assume that these attributes will be like the structured attributes that are currently associated with Hotels like Free Wifi, Free Breakfast, Air-conditioned, Laundry Service and Business center, etc. I presume but have not yet confirmed that Hotels will now be able to have some measure of control over the attributes that have been displaying via the API if not the GMB. When and how these will actually show up in search results is TBD.
There are a number of minor features as well that come with V3 of the API that adds some of the features that have been in the bulk dashboard for a while:
Ability to set Preferred Photo
Ability to Transfer Location to another account
Support for Search filters so that you can retrieve listings that have duplicates, are suspended or have updates.
Support for Locations states like verified or not
There are some critical pieces that are still missing from the API that would make the API even more valuable. Two that come to me top of mind:
Local Insights (and while you are at it, fix them so they are useful)
Ability to easily verify a listing via the API from a whitelisted dashboard (I am not sure if we will ever see that but here’s hoping).
Google’s GMB API has been a shining light in their local development since its introduction early last fall. Encouragingly Google has made steady progress introducing V2 in mid December and V3 today. It is a steady drumbeat of quasi quarterly development that is refreshing after years of push me pull me.
Every year around this time I get my Superpages Yellow Pages book. And every year around this time I report, one more time, that the print Yellow Pages are dying. This year is no exception.
The total page count, contrary to last year’s aberrant small increase, continued to drop and the book now sports 84 total pages. Sort of.
The good news (from Superpages POV) is that unlike previous years there was actually many fewer filler ads stuffing the pages, pitching how great the Yellow Pages were, and artificially increasing the page count.
The bad news? They have actually increased font size and are effectively showing fewer listings in the same number of pages. As Ed Reese pointed out in a recent interview at Local U, that’s what he (and I) did in 7th grade to get our school papers up to the required length.
In classic marketing style of making lemonade out of lemons they are now promoting the book with a Larger Print moniker, hiding what would have been significantly fewer pages under the guise of being elderly friendly. And targeting the only audience they have left; aging seniors with declining eye sight.
Next year? No doubt they will still be around and probably touting how light the book is and easy to pick up with my arthritic hands. At least the marketing and the actual market finally align.
When you click into the Local Finder from the search, all too often now all you see above the fold are paid listings of one form or another. And unfortunately the Offers, while highly visible, are not at all marked as paid calls to action.
Remember back in 2010 when Google rolled out “Tags” to allow for paid enhancement of your local listing? Well, at least in the Hotel world, its deja vue all over again as these paid insertions into the free Local Pack seem to have made a comeback.
The Local Pack which has been the last bastion of “free” placement as Google seems intent on monetizing just about everything may soon come with its own up-sells and add ons and paid doodahs hanging from the rafters.
I spotted this when search for Hotels NYC today on the desktop with a similar result on mobile:
Tim Capper, a local SEO in the UK that spends a lot of time in the Hotel world speculated that this new Tag like form “is coming from within Google Hotel Ads“. He noted that “Hotel ads are really ramping up and I saw in the UK for the 1st time independent hotels using the platform”.
Google Tags (aka Enhanced Listings) were first seen February, 2010, rolled out in July of that year and discontinued by April 2011. At the time, I hypothesized that Google was looking for the next big thing to lure small businesses into advertising and these didn’t make it. Now it appears that rather than looking for the next big thing for local they are just striving to monetize every nook and cranny of local left where they can cram a commercial message. This fits in with Google recently adding ads to the Local Pack (ht Brian Barwig and Michael Wallace).