Google Places Guidelines No Longer Prohibit City in Your Category Field – Should You Add It?

Joy Hawkins of Imprezzio Marketing, alerted me to this post in the Google forum where a business noted that the Google Places for Business Guidelines do not prohibit the use of city in the category field . Apparently Google has recently changed the Google Places Quality Guidelines and removed the prohibition against the use of geography in the category field.

Should you now add your city to a custom category?  The short answer: No. Google knows where you business is located.

Old Guidelines New Guidelines
Provide at least one category from the suggestions provided in the form as you type. Aim for categories that are specific, but brief.

  • Categories should say what your business is (e.g. Hospital), not on what it does (e.g. Vaccinations) or things it sells (e.g. Sony products or printer paper). This information can be added in your description or as custom attributes.
  • Categories should not contain location-based information (for example,Dog Walker Los Angeles is not permitted).
  • Only one category is permitted per entry field. Do not “stuff” entry fields with multiple categories.
Select at least one category from the list of available categories.

  • Categories should depict what your business is (e.g. Hospital), not what it does (e.g.Vaccinations) or products it sells (e.g. Sony products or printer paper). This information can be added in your description.

Here is the long answer.

The Google Places Guidelines have apparently been rewritten to apply to the new Google Places for Business Dashboard. In that environment there is no option to create a custom category nor any ability to add a geographic modifier to a category. Businesses can only choose from a predefined list of categories so the rule becomes irrelevant. The option to add custom categories is only possible in the old Google Places for Business Dashboard which will soon be going away.

Those of you in the old Dashboard still have the capability to add custom categories but I would strongly urge you not to add city to your category field, even if competitors are doing so. The reason that Google originally banned the practice was that it gave companies an unfair edge in the search rankings and was widely abused. In response Google at first wrote a guideline to prohibit it. However some months thereafter they implemented an algorithm that punished those listings using geographic category modifiers by dramatically reducing their rank and preventing them from showing in their primary category searches.

That algorithm change is still in effect even though the rule isn’t. As happened to the poster above, a business that was using this sort of modified category called me, desperately wondering why their listing was no longer visible. Within 48 hours of removing the geo modifiers from their business name AND categories, the business bounced back onto the front page listings.

In Search of The Purchased Google Review. Yours for $1.40 ea.

Last night I went in search of the purchased Google review. I was curious what the high ranking results were for phrases like buy Google reviews and how much a review would cost.

Far and away the most compelling was from the number 1 ranked exact match domain: buygooglereviews.com. Reviews started at $2 each when buying 5 but got down to $1.40 when buying 50. You have to love their proclamation of integrity that jumps out upon arriving at the site. I suppose that the people are real… its the reviews I am worried about:

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The second ranking result was an eBay search result that offered reviews from $3.48 ea when buying a quantity 5 of them to $10 a review that included a 30 day guarantee.

The vendor providing the guaranteed results used only “professional writers genuinely based in the US, Canada and the UK”. Unfortunately they only served “Vegan and Family friendly sites only”… hmm strange set of values that. No burgers while we craft an illegal review. Well at least the cows are safe.

This eBay reseller’s total command of the English language was reassuring: Continue reading

Google Continues Test of Local Call-Out Box

Phil Rozek of Local Visibility shared these two screen shots of a Google test that highlights the sitelinks display on a branded local search with card like outlines.

The treatment, first spotted by Moz on a local search in late July, has evolved from a single box around the complete result to a number of smaller boxes around the individual sitelinks in the context of the large box. Regardless, it is very striking display.

Do you think this test will become the defacto sitelink display?

(Click to view the full page)

new-onebox-crop

 

Here is another example from Phil: Continue reading

Google Rolling Out Review Distribution Charts for G+ Page

Update 6:45 pm: Google has confirmed the review distribution is going live and will be visible across all browsers and desktop machines shortly. It also appears that only listings that show Stars are seeing the distribution graph. For the most part that results when a listing has at least five reviews. Although in rare cases a few listings with 4 reviews garner the stars and get the review distribution graph.

Mary-Kelly Gaebel of ADP Digital Marketing Solutions Group pointed out a new feature that Google seems to be testing (or perhaps rolling out): A review star distribution chart. I had noticed this feature the other day but before I could do a screen capture, it had disappeared.

It seems odd to me that they would be adding new features to the Plus review page while simultaneously making it more difficult to get to the review page…. but hey this is Google. Its all part of some grand plan, right? I actually like the presentation and it provides users with  meaningful data but if it isn’t brought to the main search page it is unlikely to be seen by many.

Although I am now seeing this in Safari for Mac but NOT Chrome or Firefox. Are you seeing it?

I would love to see the distributions of this data, in aggregate, by industry.

In related news, Google has announced that they have added Canada and Spain to the new dashboard rollout. Wonder when they will finish rolling it out in the US?

 

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Google Upgrades New Dashboard with ‘Remove This Listing” Option

remove-listingThe new Places for Business Dashboard has for the most part been a significant improvement over the old Dashboard in most regards. That being said, it was missing one critical feature: you couldn’t remove a listing from the dashboard once you had started the claiming process. That self evident feature has finally be added (just reported by Dan Leibson this via Twitter as well. Google just updated the Places Dashboard post in the forums and the Help Files:

Users of the new Places dashboard can now remove listings from their accounts. Please note, you cannot undo removing a listing from your account.

If your business is closing, make sure you first report it as closed using Report a Problem. If you’d also like to remove the business from displaying in your dashboard, first access the dashboard for the business you wish to remove. Select the Gear icon, then select Remove this listing.

Note that Google may continue to show businesses that have been removed from your account on Google Maps, Search, and other Google properties as closed, moved, or open, depending on the information we’ve received about the business.

The action removes the listing from the Dashboard in real time with the following message:

Are you sure you want to remove this listing from your account?

Please note:

  • This action cannot be undone and you will no longer be associated with this listing.
  • This will stop any campaigns in Google Offers or AdWords Express for this business.
  • LocalU Marketing Seminars may continue to appear in search results on Google, Google Maps, and Google+ Local. Learn more

You will no longer be able to use this listing with these services:

  • Offers

Need Help Getting Reviews? Its only $299/mo and a ‘little’ cheating

Counterfeit_moneyGoogle, in their ever increasing focus on reviews, has created a marketplace where abuse of their review system has economic rewards. This is not new but the companies working in the space of getting reviews at any cost have become somewhat more sophisticated in circumventing Google’s filters and refining their pitch. And for as many opportunistic companies that look to help businesses “get” reviews by hook or by crook there seem to be plenty of small businesses anxious use their services.

I received this email four times over the past two months:

Subject: Re:here r your bad reviews

Your business reputation is in jeopardy!

I found a negative review about your business on Google. It only took a few short minutes to find a negative review about your business on other credible directories, and it didn’t take much longer to find even more.

No matter what kind of advertisement you do, people look you up in Google and other popular directories before contacting you and as soon as they see the negative reviews, they stop contacting you. If you want to safeguard your online reputation – and protect the steady growth of your business – then monitoring and responding to negative reviews like the ones posted on Google, Yelp, Citysearch, InsdierPages, Yellowpages, Mantra etc is crucial. According to the latest research at the Harvard university, 72% of local consumers trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.

Don’t let your bad review influence hundreds of potential customers. Reputation Management has quickly moved from being an option to a necessity.

We are Reputation Marketing experts and I want to send you a FREE custom Reputation Report that will reveal in detail your company’s online reviews. To get your free report call us at (866) 966-7396 and we can begin to rebuild your 5 star online reputation together.

Warm Regards,

Roland Sahak
Reputation Marketing Expert
Tel: 866-966-7396
Direct: 818-570-3363
Professional Optimizer

When I received it again last week, I couldn’t resist calling to see exactly what these reputation marketing experts offered. Any business that starts their sales efforts with spammy deception has to have an interesting tale on their route to finding and dealing with clients. I wasn’t disappointed. When I called, Roland himself answered the phone and this is what I learned: Continue reading

Does Google Helpouts Indicate a New Direction For Local Transactions?

Will Google Helpouts replace the Business Listing Places Page G+Local Page G+ Page for Local as the transaction platform for local commerce?

What is Helpouts you ask? It is a (not so) secret Google project that turns Hangouts into a commerce platform/marketplace  “that enables individuals and small and large businesses to buy and sell services via live video”.  According to TechCrunch who broke the story last week about the product:

With the capacity to connect merchants and consumers on both an immediate and scheduled basis, .. the platform will allow sellers to .. take advantage of reputation management, scheduling and payment features, while offering robust search and discovery tools for consumers.

Google has also apparently partnered with a number of brands during internal testing, including One Medical Group, Sears, Weight Watchers and Alliance Frances, for example. At launch, the platform will also reportedly include an array of individual merchants and instructors as well, from yoga gurus to fitness teachers — all of whom will be able to offer both free and paid services to consumers via Helpouts.

According to our sources, with Helpouts, Google is looking to remove some of the barriers that have traditionally stood in the way of the seamless delivery of live services. For example, using Helpouts, a Spanish tutor from Argentina could offer language training to students in Japan, while a Yoga instructor in New York would be able to provide classes to a stay-at-home mom in Wyoming and an appliance repair shop could walk a customer through fixing a broken fan in their laptop — with an Internet connection being the only requirement.

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Does this product indicate a totally new direction for Google in local? By leveraging their Hangouts product and going after the trainer, consulting, support niche with a marketplace, they are able to refine and develop local tools like scheduling in a market that is underserved while using technology where they have a technical lead (Hangouts). As Ted Paff of Customer Lobby, pointed out, this learning on the part of Google could lead to their very disruptive engagement in a number service businesses that need low cost scheduling and easy to use CRM. This would all be happening on top of G+ and not the local business page.

Continue reading

Google Looks to Keep Local Users at Google.com With Two Interface Updates

Google has had a busy week on the local front. The most significant of these updates are two new local interface conventions in the main search results. Clearly Google wants increase the visibility of their reviews and it is going to do so by keeping users on their front page.

Yesterday Andrew Shotland started seeing the local pop-up that provides review content directly in the main search results rather than requiring a user to head over to the G+ Page. According to Google this interface change is being rolled out universally. It is currently not seen by all users but will soon be visible by all and is a permanent change. Here are screenshots from Scott Rowley on G+.

The other major change is in the new Local Carousel. First written about yesterday by Dan Leibson, Google has added a faceted search facility to the carousel that allows users to discover and recover listings by ratings directly from the carousel and in the case of restaurants by pricing and cuisine as well. This feature was first seen in some of the early tests of the Local Carousel but seemed to have been dropped in the initial rollout.

Once a search is modified by rating (and in the case of restuarants, price and cuisine) a branded search results. One assumes that even on those the reviews will then be visible from the front page in a pop up.

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When viewed in conjunction with the new City Expert program, one has to conclude that Google is looking to not just increase the visibility of reviews but to increase their quantity as well. With the bulk of a business information appearing in the side panel and the ease with which one can now view reviews on the front page, visitors will have fewer reasons to visit a businesses Plus local page from the main search results.

Small businesses will likely feel the sting and as Darren Shaw asked will also ask: “Why is Google abandoning their Plus Local pages?” I think that Google is looking to capture readers for a longer period of time at their main search results rather than “abandon” Plus Local pages. The reality is that many, many more readers are on the front page of Google than ever make it into a Plus local page. If Google can increase engagement on the home page by 2% that would far exceed even a 50% increase of engagement on a Plus local page in terms of “time at Google”. Perhaps Google thinks that the lost traffic to Plus Local page will be made up by increasing social content. Most small businesses will need to think long and hard about how much time they put into making the Plus page more engaging.

With the rollout of the knowledge panel the Plus local pages became largely irrelevant to searchers with the exception of reviews. Now that reason is gone as well. With these two more interface changes users will be more trapped “engaged” in Google’s world and will be less tempted to visits other sites.

10 Reasons that the Google Knowledge Graph Sucks More than the Local Graph

Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 12.03.55 PMThe Knowledge Panel sucks much more than Google Local these days. Its like “Déjà vue all over again” (for those Googlers and other readers too young to know the reference go here).

With the Knowledge Graph, like local, Google is attempting to reflect real information about the real world in their search results and, like in local, the disconnect between the real world and Google’s understanding of it can lead to erroneous results and bad outcomes.

Here is how Google described the Knowledge Graph upon its release in May of last year:

It’s not just a catalog of objects; it also models all these inter-relationships. It’s the intelligence between these different entities that’s the key.

The Knowledge Graph enables you to search for things, people or places that Google knows about—landmarks, celebrities, cities, sports teams, buildings, geographical features, movies, celestial objects, works of art and more—and instantly get information that’s relevant to your query

Knowledge results seem to suffer from many of the same fates as local listings such as merging and duplicates. And like Local in the days of old, there are very limited support mechanisms, no support team and no dedicated UI to feed trusted info. I suppose if the Grand Canyon has a wrong fact no one is likely to be hugely impacted but a certain percentage of Knowledge Graph entities are also real world businesses and brands and misinformation can be costly  for them.

Typically the Knowledge Graph Panels seem to have different content than a local listing and it is more based on the structured data of Freebase, Wikipedia entries, the CIA Factbook and other sources that are NOT clearly identified. However if an entity already has a local listing then the Knowledge Graph Panel will draw some information (address, phone, reviews) from the canonical local data as well. It is at this intersection of landmarks and local where the impact of mistakes are obvious and the lack of full fledged support options become problematic for a business. And it is at this intersection of a business as cultural icon and local where the search volume is very high and the implications of even a few errors can impact a huge number of searchers and have a significant economic effect on the business.

Screen Shot 2013-07-21 at 3.16.18 PMThe process for repair of a Knowledge Graph panel is simple enough. Perhaps too simple so as to be not very obvious. One only has to click on the small, grey “Feedback/More Info” link at the bottom of the panel to report bad information. The panel then offers the opportunity to flag any field of information as wrong.

Why is this problematic?

  • First and foremost a business has to understand that there is a difference between a Knowledge Graph Panel result and a purely Local Panel result. Right. They have trouble understanding how Google handles a local listing so this level of knowledge seems unlikely.
  • A business then needs to learn another new interface to report erroneous information to Google. Keeping up an accurate local listing given Google’s propensity to insert unwanted or old information is hard enough. But now some of them have to worry about a new way that Google can misrepresent them and a new way to fix it.
  • The repair process does not allow for the input of the correct information so subtle errors can not be explained. It just allows you to mark something as wrong.
  • The report process is slow if there is more than one field in error. You need to keep clicking on the feedback link for each error of the possibly several errors on the panel that you wish to report. And there is no way to fix an erroneously selected field once you have done so.
  • There is no end-user feedback after fields have been marked as erroneous. Not an acknowledgment nor an indication that Google gives a rat’s ass cares. Like in the early days of “Report a Problem” it feels like the report is going into a deep, dark and silent well. It would seem that an email or response from Google that they are looking at the data would provide some comfort.
  • No “time to fix” is indicated. Again a business that needs the high volume of potential visitors to view correct information in the main search results is clueless whether it will be a day, a week or never before Google gets around to a fix.
  • The repair process is distinct from the local repair process. What business really needs a totally new way to interact with Google?
  • There is no support team to call and explain the nuances to. If you call the Local team for support about a local Knowledge Graph result with problems you are told, variously, that Local support doesn’t handle “front page results”, that it will need to be referred to an engineer or that you should go to Wikipedia and correct the information yourself (hello?).
  • Some of the data clearly comes from local, some from Wikipedia and the like but some data comes from sources unknown and there is no obvious way to even track that down even if you did want correct it yourself.
  • With results that are also local, the Knowledge Graph panel shows up in an arbitrary way and only on certain searches. Very similar searches for the same entity might result in the Knowledge graph result or pure Local Panel results.

How are businesses supposed to know or appreciate the difference between one panel type and the other? And then deal with a totally different set of rules for fixing it? A daunting task becomes even more so for most businesses desirous of showing accurate information and helping Google show that accurate information.

Here is a recent case study in a Local Knowledge Panel hybrid and the problems that I have encountered in attempting to get it correct:

Continue reading

Developing Knowledge about Local Search