Desktop Click to Call via Hangouts from the Local Finder & KP

The ability to dial phone that presented itself in Google search has been around since 2014.

I saw tests of it in 2015 in the Local KP. At the time, it was obviously visible to some and not others.

That being said I had not seen it broadly integrated into the Local Finder before. Could be I am just blind and its been there forever but since it new(s) to me, I am documenting it. One more data point that Google can collect to learn how customers interact with your business; call length and other meta data. While the convo itself is encrypted I am sure that Google extracts other data points as well.

When you click on a phone number from within the Local Finder or the Knowledge Panel on the desktop, I now regularly get shunted to Google Hangouts for call completion:

Final Curtain Call – MapMaker Closing March 31

In November, Google announced that MapMaker would “graduate to Google Maps”. That’s corporate speak for close. But what’s good for Google and the bulk of their users is not such a smooth transition nor offer as many benefits to the professional Local SEO practicioner.

At the time of the announcements I noted that it made sense for Google if not for the SEO community for the following reasons:
1- It will create a single unified interface to be maintained going forward.
2- Google will have a single source for changes so that things like categories and address standards can be handled in a unified way.
3- There is one less data pipeline feeding their local database keeping the whole (complicated) system simpler.
4- There will be one less spam vector.
5- They will have a unified community management process. This means fewer support people, fewer forums etc. and lower Google costs and reduce their code base maintenance.

Right on schedule, I received this email detailing the end date:

Map Maker Will Close on March 31

Dear Mapper,As announced in November 2016, Google Map Maker will close on March 31 and many of its features will integrate directly into Google Maps. You will still be able to make edits until then, but we encourage you to focus on reviewing pending edits to make sure contributions are published to Google Maps before March 31.Since 2008, the Google Map Maker community has edited and moderated millions of features to improve the Google Maps experience for users worldwide. The Google Maps team has since brought Map Maker capabilities, such as adding and  editing places, to our desktop and mobile products to make it easier for more users to keep their communities up to date while at home or on the go. These changes have empowered many more users to update the places they care about, view the status of their edits, and moderate other users’ edits.

This change will enable us to focus on providing the best editing and moderation experience within Google Maps on both desktop and on mobile. We will continue to roll out new features on an ongoing basis.

If you have any additional questions please check our post on the Map Maker Help Forum.

Thank you,

The Google Map Maker Team

But like with all Google “transitions” its one step forward and in this case at least one step (or maybe .8 of a step) back. Things like listing history, alternative names, additional categories and hidden listings are not currently being surfaced in the Maps interface and we don’t know if they ever will be. The problem with a lowest common denominator interface is that information that is useful for diagnostics will disappear.

The reality is that MapMaker was a kludge with a butt ugly and arcane interface to things like adding roads. It was quirky and a pain to work with. Hopefully by adding its features to a modern platform some of that can be mitigated. And hopefully some of the tools that gave more insight into a listings inner data points and history might some day be revived. I am not holding my breath.

Google unfortunately doesn’t prioritize the types of tools and data that Local SEO’s need to do their job. But our job always was and has been to do our job with the tools that we have available. That won’t change.

Google Testing New Mobile Local Finder

Google is testing a new mobile local finder.

The Google iPhone Search App is often a proving ground for large scale tests that precede rollouts to browser based mobile search.

This test/rollout is an interesting one because of its dramatic shift from the focus on the business listing to the focus on the map.  And in moving to a horizontal scroll bar at the bottom of the screen, there is a shift from a ordered rank view to one that is more egalitarian in presentation.

This presentation is the same across both restaurants, hotels and all other listings unlike the current displays that are different in those groups. Here are the current browser based mobile Local Finder displays:
Continue reading Google Testing New Mobile Local Finder

Google Rolling Out Configurable System Wide Alerts

Last week Google started replacing the alerts that each of their applications provide with what appears to be a system wide alert system that will ultimately include all of their applications.

Previously Google search only offered G+ but it appears that there is a new scalable system that will place a common and consistent system across all of their products.

Currently the expanded notification system only includes G+ and Photos and only works where the previous G+ notification system worked. For example it doesn’t work in YouTube or Analytics.

But a system wide, granular system that allows for more nuance in what notifications you receive where makes all kinds of sense to keep users engaged (longer) with Google. And is very consistent with their current “rabbit hole” strategy of providing both sticks and carrots to be sure that Google users have better than even odds of staying somewhere in their ecosystem.

I am speculating but think that this will be a welcome GMB development when it arrives as it will allow Google to highlight new reviews, data changes and other notifications front and center in Google search to business owners. Currently these are buried in the GMB interface or poorly implemented in the App.

Super Bowl Search Result – A Turkish Bazaar of Ambiguity AND Google’s Intentions

Given my love of professional sports, at least once a year I post a sports oriented post … of sorts. It was recently noted that Google was now including a faceted interface on mobile recipes to allow a user to select a specific type of recipe.

In honor of the Super Bowl I searched for chicken wings on my iPhone and got this Turkish Grand Bazaar (bizarre?) search result. It includes just about every new & old search result possible…. all on one page. It has more facets, amps, carousels, universal search results, articles, knowledge graphs and discover more places than one sports fan can take in.

Positions 1,2*,3,5,7, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17 (depending on what you count) take you to additional Google results or Google hosted content. Yelp got positions 4 and 6 while part of 2, 8,9, 12-14 also went off site.

A count of the links shows that 37 went elsewhere on Google. In addition there were 7 carousels which could be swept left for more Google results. 1 link allowed you to share a Google result on other services. 13 of the links, most without photos, went off site to another website. And this count does not include the any left to right scrolling that takes place in the carousels which would add additional clicks for Google.

I am sure that if you analyzed this result on a % of space allocated basis the bias towards Google hosted results would be similar or even greater.

This result certainly falls squarely into the category of turkish bizarre. Maybe Google does in fact understand my ambiguity vis a vis the Super Bowl and chicken wings?

Regardless these search results send the very clear signal that Google “owns” the mobile organic results. The opportunities in these sorts of results are diminishing unless of course you are Google.

*2 – I counted the faceting as a separate search result (#1) and the carousel at position 2 could take a user off site or back to Google depending on their choice.


How Do Daily Gas Prices Stay Accurate in Google Maps & Elsewhere?

From time to time in the GMB Forums the question arises of where Google Map’s gas prices come from and how to fix them when wrong.

If your listing has your pricing wrong at Google you can file a report via “Report a Problem” at Google although it makes more sense to get in touch directly with the source for the gas price data.

Previously when this question came up, Google would only share that it came from a trusted third party data provider. In a recent conversation though Google noted that if a business owner felt that Google (or any the third party website for that matter) is inaccurately representing their business vis a vis gas prices, they should contact OPIS directly via

Who is OPIS? It is the Oil Price Information Service that, according to their website, provides the most accurate and timely information available including [to] AAA, Microsoft, Mapquest, America Online, Garmin, Verizon, Sprint and many more. And clearly Google as well. And they serve not just the US but the whole world and OPIS provides real-time and historical spot, wholesale/rack and retail fuel prices for the refined products, renewable fuels, and natural gas and gas liquids (LPG) industries. 

Given how frequently gas prices change and how infrequently the issue of wrong or missing prices arrises in the Google My Business Forum I was curious exactly how they maintained these prices so accurately.

While this may only be of interest to me, I find the methodology fascinating and a peak into how the ever more granular data is flowing into the local ecosystem. And how both automated and quasi manual techniques are used to gather the information accurately on a daily basis down to the level of the storefront.

Here is the OPIS Retail Gasoline Pricing methodology and facts from their website:

Price Discovery
Every day OPIS captures station-specific retail gasoline and diesel prices for up to 130,000 service stations throughout the United States. Through exclusive relationships with credit card companies, direct feeds and other survey methods, OPIS is able to provide the most comprehensive and accurate pump prices in the industry.

The OPIS retail data is relied on by some of the top companies in the country to provide consumers with the most accurate and timely information available including AAA, Microsoft, Mapquest, America Online, Garmin, Verizon, Sprint and many more.

Data Integrity
To ensure accuracy of the retail prices, OPIS scrubs the data through a number of computer programs to make sure the prices are current and are for pump gasoline purchases only – not for in-store purchases that may include non-gasoline products.

OPIS gets prices for most major retailers regardless of whether the station is company operated, jobber owned or dealer operated. Included in the feed are many of the more aggressive c-stores such as WAWA, QuikTrip, Maverik and Sheetz and most of the discount chains and supermarkets such as Wal-Mart, HEB and Kroger.

OPIS has daily, weekly and monthly standard reports as well as customized reports which allow the user to slice and dice the data to get the view of the market they need to make smart decisions. In addition, OPIS has retail history going back as far as 1996 at the station level and can quickly roll the data up to nearly any geographic criteria you desire.

Time Stamp
OPIS is able to capture prices in near real-time – as soon as the swipe happens – at more than 25,000 locations. OPIS Is currently working with the major networks in order to bring you more and more prices as they change and expects a major percentage of the 130,000 stations to be available in real-time by the end of this year.

The stations which currently don’t have the ability to be captured in real-time are updated via a batch file each morning and each price has the actual transaction date of the purchase. The daily feed through the batch process has transactions that are from 1-5 days old with the majority of prices being no older than 3 days.

Google Expanding Advanced Verification & HSA to Los Angeles

Google is expanding Advanced Verification and the Home Service Ad test to plumbers and locksmiths in Los Angeles this month.

In July of 2015, Google rolled out a test in the Bay Area of their Home Service Ad that used “extreme vetting” of local plumbers & locksmiths. In October & November of 2016 they started testing a less extreme Advanced Verification and a purge of the local listings for any plumber or locksmith that didn’t have a storefront or meet their increased scrutiny as a local service area business. With this they rolled out additional front page map based pack like local ad units and/or started selling pack visibility.

click to view larger

Google’s tests in San Diego initially dropped just less than 90% of the locksmith listings from the local database and Maps.  While some of those dropped have made their way back into Google Maps, the number of listings in that market declined significantly. As part of the move to Advanced Verification, Google has rolled out a number of new test ad units based on this verification.

According to Google the test of Advanced Verification in Los Angeles has started this week and by end of the month any locksmith or plumber not meeting the criteria will be purged from Google Local.

Like in San Diego ad shown above the HSA will be a “blended unit” and will include both advertisers who passed verification and that pay as well as those that passed but did not pay. Those paying will receive “additional benefits” like the Google guarantee.

Also like in the San Diego test and the ad shown above, service area businesses will be removed from the 3-pack and only businesses with a storefront will be shown in the Local Pack. Bricks and mortar locksmiths & plumbers are eligible to purchase an ad in the HSA unit and can thus be shown twice.

Apparently the verification process being used in Los Angeles will be easier. Some locksmiths and plumbers were  “pre-verified” based on available information and no action was required on their part. The application for those not pre-verified has also been shortened.

By mid February the Home Service Ad unit will launch in LA and on Feb 27th listings that have not advanced verified will start to be removed.

Google Starting to Support Temporary Business Closings

Apparently, Google is now partially supporting temporary business closures with a process and an appropriate messaging on the business Knowledge Panel.

Currently there is no public facing interface for this and the only way to get this done is to create a post in the Google My Business Forum with full business details and then get a top contributor to escalate the problem.

It requires that the business be closed for  more than 2 weeks and that their website clearly supports the closure.  Note that the change is only currently visible in the Knowledge Panel but that in Maps the business will still be shown as permanently closed.  Here is a location showing that status:

Click to view the listing in the context of a desktop search

Google Testing New Local Knowledge Panel Call to Action

Thibault Adda, the Internet Marketing Coordinator at Roar! Internet Marketing in Altamont Springs, FL, shared an interesting search result with me.

Google is apparently testing a new, direct to the Knowledge Panel call to action from local business owners. It is similar to, but different than the Google Posts (aka Podium, aka the product that shall not be named) that allows businesses to post directly to their branded search results. This KP Posting product posts directly the Knowledge Panel directly above Reviews from the web.

The test is currently visible on this search for Theme Park Connection in Orlando.

The current iteration seems only half baked as a click on the call to action to learn more takes the user to driving directions. Unlike Google Posts, this product seems to be more commercial in nature and includes discounts, pricing and a call to action. Those behaviors were explicitly prohibited in the Google Posts tests.

Update: I did confirm from Google that this is a follow test for the Google Posts platform with different positioning and a more liberal approach to commercial messaging.

Click to view in the context of the branded search results

It is not clear how wide spread the test is, whether its available beyond local businesses or within other types of Knowledge Panels. It is also not clear whether it is intended to be free and an ad unit.

If you have seen others of these let me know.

Your thoughts?

Developing Knowledge about Local Search