New Google Help Page – To Create a Link for Customers to Write Reviews

Updated 11:21 Note the 404’s issues were mine
Updated: 11:30 It does work on Android
Updated 7/12: The help page has been removed but the technique still works.

Google has added a new help page Create a link for customers to write reviews which explains in detail how to use the Google Maps API to generate a URL that can be used to solicit reviews. (NOTE: this page has been removed as of 7/11.)

Image capture of help page. Click to view larger.
The page is interesting for two reasons.

One it explicitly provides a Google approved way of generating a URL string for asking for reviews. While Google has acknowledged in the forums that is ok to ask for reviews there has never been a specific help page nor an “easy” method for generating the review URL.

Two, the method doesn’t work very often and only appears to work on the desktop some of the time. Go figure.

The steps Google recommends generate the review URL (these steps still work even though the help page has been taken down):

To create a link, you’ll need to get the Place ID for your business. To get your Place ID:

  1. Go to the Google Places API.
  2. Enter your business information in the “Enter a location” field at the top of the map.
  3. Click your business name in the list that appears.
  4. Your Place ID will appear on the map, beneath your business name.

Add your Place ID to the following URL to create your link:

http://search.google.com/local/writereview?placeid=<place_id>

Using the example above, the URL with the Place ID added would be:

http://search.google.com/local/writereview?placeid=ChIJj61dQgK6j4AR4GeTYWZsKWw

Unfortunately, at least for now, the URL that Google is providing doesn’t always work or doesn’t work in different browsers or doesn’t work in mobile. Exactly when and why it fails is not clear.

For example the example link above works in Chrome on my Mac but not from Safari and not on my iPhone in either browser. On Safari on the my desktop it generates the Knowledge Panel but not the review box. This is likely due to Safari’s poor handling of redirects which this URL does.

I hear from Helmut that the URL does work on Android. I still can not get it to work on iPhone on either Safari or Chrome but it does appear to be working on Google Now for Android. Would love others to test.

I have observed in the past that features and new search parameters (like /local/writereview?placeid) do not  necessarily roll out to all browsers simultaneously. If we are lucky Google will be fixing this and rolling it out across all browsers on all platforms. For now it just as easy to copy the URL that Google generates from the Knowledge Panel or use one of the many tools to generate the URL.

Google Releases Brilliant (& Creepy) New Feature to Crowd Source Business Photos

Local Guides will be able to have photos that they are taking of local businesses “automagically matched” and added to the business listings from their Google Photos collection. The feature, first released on Android but soon available on iOS, only requires you to “turn on the back up and location features in Google Photos to have your photos of places appear in the Contribute tab of Google Maps.”

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 8.15.30 AM

When Google Photos was introduced a year ago I noted in my article Google Photos- A Visual Graph of People, Places and Things. Can It Become Their “Everything Graph”?Almost every photo these days comes geotagged so Google knows, at least within a 100 feet or so of where it was taken. They don’t yet auto assign a specific [business] location but they show incredible accuracy in auto assigning the photos to a city level. I assume that Google has more granular insights but has not yet turned them loose for fear of a privacy backlash.

So much for that fear.

Google Photos is one of those brilliant tools that shows Google at its very best and its very creepiest with its use of AI, machine learning and the ability to dig deep into your phone to surface additional details about businesses that you are frequenting.

And now with a little gamefication (Local Guide points), the offer of some free storage and some very sophisticated technology Google has unleashed one of the worlds most amazing geo-photo crowd sourcing projects ever.

Local Search Ain’t What It Used to Be…

I have been involved in local search marketing and local seo for much of the last 16 years. I love local seo and would never declare it dead. It has lots of life.

But it has never been harder, once you have nailed the basics, to get an appropriate ROI.  The many changes at Google Local, the increasing fragmentation and competition, the every shifting technology and rapidly evolving new interfaces should force every business and agency to assess the role Local SEO plays in your overall marketing plan.

Join Mary Bowling and myself as we discuss the varied and many influences that are impacting the ROI of local seo. Let me know what you think and how businesses and agencies should respond.

If you would rather read the transcript head over to the original at Local U: How are the Big Changes in Local Search Impacting Local Businesses and What Can They Do?

Shame on Elizabeth Warren (and Yelp)

Google is a monopoly in local search. Whether they leverage their monopoly power and intentionally disadvantage smaller competitors is probable. But that disadvantaging is what would need to be proved to make the case for any antitrust remedy to be proposed.

But when I hear Elizabeth Warren say in a speech that in 2012 the FTC staff noted that Google used “its dominant search engine to harm rivals of  its Google Plus user review feature” I have to wonder who is this woman? She is clearly bright so why would she be spouting a completely specious argument? And then I hear Yelp’s Luther Lowe mimic the line I wonder if maybe they are using the same bad researcher for their talking points.

Screenshot 2016-07-05 15.58.45It’s amazing how with one dumb statement you can call into question a whole line of reasoning because that statement has been so disabused by the actual outcomes.

A reasoned look back at Google Plus since 2012 would indicate that Yelp wasn’t the target but a bit player in their plans. But regardless Google’s Plus plans went terribly awry.

In 2012 Google did roll reviews into Google Plus. Its apparent objective at the time was to artificially inflate Plus usage in their battle with the other looming monopolist, Facebook. By taking products both small (reviews) and large (YouTube) (and a ton of others) and wrapping them up in the big whole of Plus, Google was hoping to aggregate enough users of the forced march to scale their budding social network. They thought that their many disparate users, including those leaving and reading reviews, would jump start Plus. I don’t see how it worked in reverse. Having reviews on Google Plus didn’t or wouldn’t increase the visibility of reviews or hurt a competitor.

But not only did the Google plan not work but it back fired. YouTube users revolted. And in the review space, it became so hard for users to write reviews that fewer folks were writing them.

Because users had to have a Google account AND create a new Google Plus account to leave a review there was so much friction that it became very difficult for most users to ever get to the point of actually leaving a review. In research I have looked at from last year, Facebook and Yelp had, over a significant timeframe, far outpaced both the absolute and relative numbers and growth rates of reviews left at Google Plus. In the end they both passed Google by a significant margin.

Clearly Google’s “grand scheme” didn’t work. Not only didn’t it put a dent in Facebook it actually helped Yelp. In fact the plan was so bad that Google has spent the last two years disentangling local and reviews from Plus. By this spring when Google “upgraded” Google Plus they ripped reviews totally out of Plus. If anything Yelp gained by Google’s actions.

Thats an amazing use of monopoly power. Even if disadvantage was the intent (and I am not sure it was), it never materialized. So to use it as a basis for current critique of Google’s monopoly power seems laughable.

For an argument to win an anti-trust case it has to be logically coherent and observationally consistent and determined to be factually true. Not only was this argument not consistent it turned out to be not just not true but false.

Do I think that there are ways that Google disadvantages Yelp and TripAdvisor? I think it possible. I have seen anecdotal evidence that it occurs and it seems to be baked into the relationship between Google’s indexing, the Knowledge Graph algo and Yelp’s strong SEO.

But it isn’t with Google Plus or even reviews on Google and Warren and Yelp basing their argument on these sorts of “facts” weakens their argument to the point of absurdity. Shame on both Elizabeth Warren and Yelp.

Making a Business More Complaint Receptive

I have just published the last (at least for now) article on complaints:  13 Ideas to Make Your Business More Complaint Friendly. In the article I came up with a number of ways to set your business up for success from both an operational point of view as well as a process one.

But I still have a ton of questions and thoughts that are half formed and I would love your ideas*.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 8.43.26 AMIn this post I categorized ideas that would help a business think differently about about complaints at a baked in level, at the core of the business. My sense is that if isn’t systematized in a meaningful way resolution won’t happen consistently or in the business’s favor. Here’s how I broke it down:

Be ready to handle complaints
Make it easy to complain
Welcome complaints when they do come
Resolve complaints quickly

Some of the questions that I have:
How do you calculate the “ROI” of complaint resolution?
Why do more businesses not have better systems in place?
Can process define success or is attitude the main issue?
What are some more ideas to make complaining easy?
Why don’t more customers complain?
When do you just have to tell the customer to take a hike?
How do you tell a customer to take a hike?
Are there common scenarios that need a different type of process?

And stories. Bring me your stories:
Do you have anecdotes of complaint resolution going really well?
Really poorly?
Of businesses that get it?
Of those that don’t?
Of complaints that turned into reviews and worse?

*As always I don’t have much to offer in return… just links. I realized in writing this that I am what you might consider the opposite of a link junkie. I want to give them out as liberally as I can in return for conversation and learning. I don’t really care if I ever get one, although I have gotten a few over the years and I would like to share the “wealth”. I am a learning junky. Help me learn, get a link or three, lets talk.

8 Steps for Dealing with Customer Complaints

I have just added another post in the Complaint Series at GetFiveStars:  8 Steps for Dealing with Customer Complaints.

I put together a concise guide to help you create a plan for complaint resolution. And that is something I really think you should do, put together your own plan. When the s%^t hits the fan, it will give you a play book to reference to avoid the many pitfalls that can get in the way of a good outcome.

But not all businesses and not all complaints fit neatly into the guide I provided. In fact there are many situations where the person handling the complaint just can’t act to resolve the issue. What then?

For example imagine you run an insurance agency that has prices set by corporate. And you get a complaint about pricing from sweet little old lady/gentleman on a fixed income, over which you have no control? I would imagine switching out step 7.  Perhaps in stead of  “Act to resolve the situation” the agent  should “Advocate for the customer” and take their complaint back to corporate.

I would love to hear where and when you think the 8 step complaint guide that I provided might break down and not work; what are the exceptions? what are the alternatives? How would the steps in your plan or imagined scenario be different?

Here are the previous posts in the series in case you want to see some of the data that informed by guide:

  1. SURVEY: How Quickly Should A Business Respond to a Complaint?
  2.  SURVEY: Are We As Good As We Think We Are?
  3. SURVEY: What Happens When Things Go South? You Lose More Customers Than You Ever Know
  4. Survey: 8 Things That Really Cause Consumers to Complain
  5. 5 Good Things About Customer Complaints

Google Nearby Ads – A New Hyperlocal Ad Display Format?

Update: Jennifer Slegg has confirmed with Google that this new ad format is actually rolling out.

Last week while in SMX I noticed a new hyperlocal, very contextual ad unit that appeared above the Local pack and looked more like the local pack then an ad. Google has been on a tear monetizing local of late with the new ad units in Google Maps and Joy Hawkin’s uncovering of their plan to monetize the pack as well as possibly removing additional information from pack results.

This new ad display, for nearby businesses, is perhaps a test. And one that pushes the boundaries of identifying the ads as such with just the single notation at the top of the display.

There is obviously a distance factor in what displays but I also noticed that the business had to be open to appear. When I did this same search after 6:00 pm when several of the businesses had closed, they were no longer included. So in addition to ad quality and relevance, Google is adding proximity and open hours as factors in choosing which ads to display.

nearby-ad

As Joy Hawkins pointed out in the Local U Forum: I think it’s definitely possible to show in surrounding cities but not as likely if there are lots of good competitors who are actually in that city with great AdWords accounts.

This new ad display though does give some clues about where Google is going with local ads, what pack ads might be like AND provide an indication as to how far out of the radius of the local pack they might be.

With the advent of Pigeon, Google dramatically decreased the radius within which a business might show in the Local Pack. Google effectively started showing different search results every 5 miles or so thereby increasing the absolute number of businesses that displayed in the Pack results and reducing the opportunity for domination by a few companies. By adding radius and open hours, Google dramatically increases the potential inventory opportunities for themselves to display local ads. And one assumes that over time the reach of these ads might mirror the radius of the Local Pack post pigeon.

I was curious in this first go exactly how far afield the Nearby Ads reached so I mapped the area of both the Local Pack and the Nearby Ads to get a sense of that. The Local Pack, in typical Pigeon fashion, showed the furthest result from my location at about 2 miles. The Nearby Ad on the other hand displayed the furthest location nearly 17 miles away. By the same token the nearest business in the ad to my location was only 1 mile away indicating that with more inventory a much tighter display radius is very likely. It will be interesting to see how Adword quality and relevance are valued compared to distance and open hours. And how these types of ads will impact spammy local results like locksmiths and movers (and botox and law and….).

Key:

Clearly both these Nearby Ads and the coming Local Pack ads will allow for early entrants to get increased urban and suburban exposure. But as the value of the ads become more obvious and there is more inventory I assume that not only will the cost go up but the radius and display port will become much much smaller.

And Google will continue its growth in Ad revenue. Even if searches do not increase.

SURVEY: How Quickly Should A Business Respond to a Complaint?

I have published a new article in the “Complaint Series” at GetFiveStars: SURVEY: How Quickly Should A Business Respond to a Complaint?

Critical to any complaint plan is figuring out the who, when and where of responding to them. I wanted to understand the consumer perspective so I asked two questions:

  • When you complain to a local merchant how long is reasonable for them to respond & resolve?
  • If you have a complaint with a local merchant how would you prefer to express it to the business?

I was surprised by their answers. I guess that national firms have conditioned too many consumers to not expect a quick response. That strikes me as a huge advantage for smaller, more agile firms that can respond quickly and effectively.

I think complaint resolution has a huge ROI and the ability to directly impact your future sales. Figuring exactly how your clients deal with it, will make your job much easier.

Complaints and How They Can Go Ballistic

Screenshot 2016-06-16 15.42.27
Note the wires in the photo next to the map

Ozzie’s Premium Frozen Yogurt and Gelato is an ice cream shop in Santa Maria, CA that has recently changed hands. And also recently managed to attract both bad reviews and press around the issue.

The press handled their situation with equanimity but the reviewer, feeling scorned, did not.

Who knows the actual facts (like why didn’t the reviewer complain when it happened? and why did the ex-owner chime in at Yelp?) but we do know what they are saying. And its bound to have a negative impact.

First from The Sun Biz spotlight article on June 15th:

A similar review from what appeared to be the same person emerged on Facebook around the same time and was shared many times, Tina said.

The postings stem from an incident on May 28. Tina was working at the restaurant that night when two female customers came in and ordered frozen yogurt and boba tea. They both dined inside the restaurant for a little while before leaving. Later that night, Tina remembers getting a phone call from one of the customers complaining they found two pieces of thin metal inside the boba tea. The pictures posted to Yelp showed two bent pieces of metal—each about the size of a finger—that looked like they came from a wire brush.

This is impossible, Tina said, because a loud rattling noise coming from inside the blender would’ve been apparent. Also, Tina had made the tea herself.

The next evening, Tina said the woman who placed the call returned to the store with another woman, and a heated argument ensued. Tina said that while one woman was arguing, the other appeared to be recording with her smartphone.

Tina believes they were trying to bait her into doing something she didn’t want to do.

“She never gave us a chance to explain anything,” Tina said. “She wouldn’t let me or my husband explain.”

The police were called and things got smoothed out. But Tina claims the negative review impacted her business.

And this extracted from the review at Yelp:

The female employee welcomed me and recognized me from last night. I greeted her probably much more calmly and nicely than most people in this given situation would have. I told her I needed to speak to her about an issue with the drink I ordered last night. When I showed her the wires in the baggy and told her they came out of my boba tea, she blew up on me. She denied everything I was saying, called me a liar and attempted to take the baggy out of my hand to throw it away. She called out the male employee from the back and told him that I put the wires in my drink and that I was just looking to get them in trouble. They both began to yell at me in front of my young sister and they immediately called the police on me, which I was fine with. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong apart from just walking in there and expressing my concern over their negligence.

I reacted calmly in this situation and with respect for them and their business, whereas I believe most people would have reacted much worse than I. All I wanted was to express myself and my experience that I had with going into their shop for the first time last night, and maybe have them apologize to me for having gone through it; maybe even have them take responsibility for it. But I can understand why they’re wary and didnt apologize or take responsibility for it. To them, I could have manipulated the situation. But I know that the honest truth is from my side of this. I received metal wires in my boba tea that I purchased from this business. They could have damaged my teeth or gums had I chewed them, or if swallowed, could have caused internal bleeding for sure.

As you may (or may not know) I am writing a series about complaints at GetFiveStars. A topic I was hoping to write about was how to “resolve” the “unresolvable” complaint. Any and all good ideas on the topic will be liberally (that’s code for a link) credited.

Whether fact or fiction, this situation of the wire in the tea clearly falls into that area of unsolvable complaints. There was not an easy solution but what transpired, apparently triggered by the owner’s fear, seems to have been the worst of all possible outcomes.

If you were the owner, behind that counter and you were feeling the pain of this complaint, what would you have done to attempt to resolve this? How would you have tried to respond to this customer?

Developing Knowledge about Local Search