Google Expands Hours Worldwide for My Business Support

Google has expanded the hours during which they are now providing English language phone support through the Google My Business Help Center. Support is now offered from 1 AM – 5 PM PST, Monday – Friday. Previously support was offered from 6 AM to 5 PM PST.

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Obviously, this is one of the benefits of having a team in New Delhi. When you compare these time zones Google has covered business hours in the US, the UK, most of Europe and mornings in Australia (although I imagine that Berliners get to work at 7 AM. :)) and part of the afternoon in New Delhi. This would confirm what poster Jitendra Gursingh pointed out, that Google is not yet very serious about local in India.

Times Open Around the World (as best I could figure, I am time challenged even though Google offers up this very cool time conversion answer box.)
East Coast 4 AM – 9 PM
UK 9 AM – 2 AM
Melbourne 8 PM to Noon
Berlin 10 AM – 2 AM
Delhi 2:30 PM – 6:30 AM

Google first introduced live support in January 2013 in the US and it received widespread acknowledgement that it was excellent within a few months.

My experience the other day was not ideal although with training and more confident staff many of the issues I dealt with (but not all) could be fixed. It isn’t yet clear whether Google is phasing out US based support or whether they are just expanding it and using Indian support to increase their hours and cover overflow to keep response times low.

Hopefully they can do so without sacrificing quality and pushing the added costs of time onto the businesses needing support.

Google Moves Local My Business Phone Support to India – Expect the Call Times to Be Longer

MyBusinessMedium

Google has moved My Business Phone support to India and, at least for now, expect your call times to take longer.

I noticed the changes to Google Local Support today. I haven’t called them in a while so it is not clear exactly when the changes were implemented.

1- It seems that a fair bit of the support for Google My Business  has been off-shored to India.

My experience on the call was less than ideal and it had nothing to do with the rep, who was ineffably polite, patient, well intentioned and well spoken.

The call took almost 1 hour. It was a fairly simple problem of merging an unverified and verified page but as is wont to happen with outsourcing there were several snafus not all of which were Deepa’s fault. In fact none of them really were. He was great.

There were some language issues as it was about a chiropractor and US personal names both of which required laborious, letter by letter spelling.

OK that happens but there were other issues that slowed the transaction down. For whatever reason it was difficult for him to find the listings. I had to spell out the URLs.

He didn’t seem empowered to make obvious changes. And had to wait a very long time for change to be approved upstream.

And the rules seem to be interpreted differently denying what should have been an obvious request but again only after a request to a supervisor and a delay.

Google may be able to fix the systemic issues and improve this process but then again maybe not. Plan on spending more time on the phone for now.

Update: At least for now, some calls are still going to the US call center. It isn’t clear how they are being divvied up or if all will go to India. See comments below.

2- Google now apparently offers a chat mode. Not my favorite way of getting problems solved but next time I will try it. Its got to be faster than the hour this call took me.
Live-chat

Google – Some Days I Just Shake My Head – Today is One of Them

You gotta love the privacy respect they shower on the iconic image of the Colonel.
You gotta love the privacy respect they shower on the iconic image of the Colonel. Click to view larger.

Over the past several days, a number of Google “annoyances” have cropped up…. sometimes it is amazing where a company like Google chooses to put its head…. that I wanted to get off my chest.

1- Did you know that Google’s bulk upload, even though upgraded multiple times with a raft of new ownership, management and social features still has a 200 character limit to the description field? Only known solution: open every G+ Page and upgrade the description manually. Even the few companies that have access to the G+ Plus API and that manage bulk uploads can’t affect this field.  How lame is that?

2- Google obviously put a lot of work into the new guidelines and the examples. And in many cases made things much more clear. Kudos.

But then why do they need to obfuscate things like virtual office guidelines?

  • If your business rents a temporary, “virtual” office at a different address from your primary business, do not create a page for that location unless it is staffed during your normal business hours.

That statement could have been written by Franz Kafka… and leaves one in awe. Just what does it mean? Was it intentionally meant to not inform so that it could be enforced only when desired?

Certainly they deserve scorn over the descriptor fiasco but it seems to me that there are new fiascos in the making with their “Two or more brands at the same location” guidelines in general their examples in particular.

  • Acceptable: “TCC Verizon Wireless Premium Retailer”, “U-Haul Neighborhood Dealer”

I don’t know about Verizon but I do know about U-Haul Neighborhood Dealers. These are gas stations, repair shops and used car lots that have added U-Haul as a product line. This U-Haul Neighborhood Dealer is also Cars Are Us. Same paluka answering both phones and as you can see from Streetview no obvious U Haul branding. Yet he gets two pages not one. Isn’t that what categories are for?

And somehow those tiny KFC/Taco Bell shops garner two pages while the Lebanese, Greek, American, Italian restaurant would be tagged a spammer if they had two.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 11.45.37 AM3- And finally spam in general but DUI Lawyer spam in LA in particular. Name spam, location spam, spam, spam, spam.  Its on the front page, it’s in maps. It’s freakin’ everywhere. When you call many of these listings they often won’t answer with their company name just a “hello” and when you ask where they are located it will be any place but LA.

It isn’t just DUI, its in virtually every major category in LA. See this post by Linda. And this stuff has been around for ages, reported multiple times, through multiple channels…. hello?

Yelp Update: Free Bulk Upload and Yelp Proceeds with their Lawsuit

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From Social MEowDIA Explained by Avalaunch Media

Rarely do I have something nice to share about Yelp but this note from Justin Mosebach of YDOP Internet Marketing was a pleasant surprise:

Just found this out for a client yesterday. Client is a health system with a bunch of locations.

Yelp called me back (after I called support) and said that only in the past month have they started allowing free bulk uploads… it used to only be for advertisers (who had so many listings?).

However, the person from Yelp told me that they only do it once for free, so to make sure that we include all of the listings in the spreadsheet that she sent us. She also said that they don’t do any de-duping of listings (that we’d have to manually report the duplicates on Yelp.com).

Just so you don’t think that Yelp is getting all cuddly on us, ArsTechnica is reporting that the Yelp lawsuit over alleged fake reviews to finally move ahead.

A judge in San Diego, California, ruled Tuesday against a local bankruptcy lawyer who had attempted to put a stop to Yelp’s lawsuit against him.

Specifically, Julian McMillan asked the court more than six months ago to issue an anti-SLAPP ruling. A “SLAPP,” or strategic lawsuit against public participation, is a type of lawsuit meant to stifle speech—one where one party employs tactics against a smaller target by drawing out the suit in terms of time and money and intimidating the defendant.

Yelp sued McMillan in August 2013. The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco, alleges breach of contract, intentional interference with contract, unfair competition, and false advertising.

Specifically, Yelp believes that McMillan orchestrated fake reviews on the Yelp page for his bankruptcy law business—an accusation he emphatically denies. That larger case, which had been put on hold, will now resume.

The company had offered to settle the case back in 2013 for $5,000, which McMillan refused.

If you recall, McMillan originally sued Yelp in small claims court and Yelp’s lawsuit against McMillan was filed just days before a San Diego superior court judge was supposed to rule on Yelp’s appeal.

Bizarre and tortured. Tit for tat. Yelp is going for the jugular in this one. Hard to see how in the end they don’t look even more thuggish.

Google My Business Guidelines – A Detailed Comparison New & Old – Part 2 – Chains, Brands & Departments

Source: Teddy Kwok via Flickr Creative Commons
Source: Teddy Kwok via Flickr Creative Commons

On Friday I detailed changes in the new Google My Business Guidelines for Representing your Business that were general in nature and applied to all businesses or pertained primarily to single location businesses.

Google has also added a completely new section that applies to Chains, Brands and Departments within larger entities. In this Google is attempting to define standards of consistent naming and categorization within a given brand. While I think the goal is clear, there are enough ambiguous examples that additional thought might need to go into them or explanations provided.

Also I wanted to make available to you in Word format a complete copy of both the old guidelines and the new ones so that you can compare them for yourself if you so desire:

Original guidelines  (word doc)

New Guidelines for representing your business on Google  (word doc)

Here are my comments on these new sections: Continue reading Google My Business Guidelines – A Detailed Comparison New & Old – Part 2 – Chains, Brands & Departments

Google My Business Guidelines – A Detailed Comparison New & Old – Part 1

Google has completely rewritten their My Business guidelines and in doing so has provided both more rules and many more examples.

The best way to think about the new document is to read the overview as a statement of their overal objectives and the sections below as providing more nuance and use case examples. At the end of the day the simple guideline of representing your business as it is known in the real world, is the best basis for making a decision as to what is in compliance.

You also want to realize that their document needs to cover both single location entities and large multi location chains. And everything in between.

The problem with that is that guidelines that are really meant for large multi location chains are misinterpreted or over analyzed to apply to a single location.

I heard tell of auto dealers that were multi brand at a single location freaking out over the rule that states “If your business location combines two or more brands, do not combine the brand names into a single page”. That rule applies to those new KFC/Taco Bell combo stores that inhabit a single location to save on rent but still have distinct national and local indentities. It doesn’t mean that Freedom Chevrolet Buick GMC, who goes by that name, has always gone by that name, has a single location and a single presence has to create two pages. The general rule of thumb here is if that is how your are known in Dallas, Tx then that is how you should be known on Google +.

To eliminate some of the confusion brought on by addressing large chains and single location in one document, I am doing this guideline comparison in two parts. This first part are general rules and rules that apply to single and small multi-location entities. I will address the new guidelines that specifically affect multi location chains in a subsequent post.

Read on for part one of a comparison of the old and new guidelines: Continue reading Google My Business Guidelines – A Detailed Comparison New & Old – Part 1

Google Rolls Out Major Update to Google My Business Guidelines

Google has rolled out a major update to their My Business (ie Places) Guidelines. The new Guideline offers much more concrete examples and clarifies a number of situations particularly multi-practitioner listings and their naming.

Some obvious highlights:

  • Descriptors of any sort are NOT allowed
  • Categories should be the more specific category and NOT the overarching, general category
  • Increased name and category consistency amongst multi location chains
  • Two or more brands at the same location must pick one name
  • If Different departments are to have their own page they must have unique categories
  • Practitioner’s pages, in multi location practices should have their name only and not the name of the practice
  • Solo Practitioners only can use the format of Practice: Practitioner
  • Virtual Offices are NOT allowed unless staffed. (If they are staffed then they aren’t virtual are they?

Guide to Using Call Tracking for Local Search

phone-tracking-ga-iconI wanted to circle back to the call tracking issues in local. In my previous post, I wrote a great deal about where it doesn’t work. I also have wanted to cover where and how it does work. It made sense to me to ask someone in the industry to put it together so I asked Mark Sullivan, Director of Analytics, CallRail to write a guest post on the topic. Let me know what you think.

Mark Sullivan has directed online marketing at various companies since 2006. Most recently he worked at Yodle on the team in charge of local SEO performance for multi-location & franchise businesses. He left Yodle in 2013 to start growth consulting firm Vasolo, where he learned the effectiveness of using call tracking data to better drive business growth for his clients. In 2014 he joined the CallRail team, where he is the Director of Analytics. Mark spends most of his time educating SMBs and marketing agencies on how to better analyze marketing metrics to extract meaningful insights. Feel free to reach out to him on Twitter @mpsulli.

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As our appetite for better business data increases, so do the tools we use to capture that data. Call tracking technology is no different. Adoption among local businesses across North America is increasing. Many local search products now come out of the box with some form of call tracking. Whether it’s a visibility package tailored for dentists or a one-size-fits-all SMB automation package, it’s becoming more common for marketers to quantify lead generation through inbound calls.

When it comes to using call tracking for local search, there are special considerations to keep in mind. Adopt a call tracking strategy that doesn’t account for NAP consistency and you’re setting yourself up for a lot of citation cleanup at best, and utter failure at worst. Many of us have heard the nightmare stories about some company that used call tracking and rankings completely tanked. Or possibly worse, we’ve heard the story of a business losing access to a call tracking number that was used to represent their business all over the web. It’s understandable to be wary of call tracking numbers and local search.

However, there is one foolproof way to get the benefits of call tracking without sabotaging your local visibility. This guide aims to show you how to get your call tracking cake and eat it, too.

So Why Care About Call Tracking for Local Search?

  1. Accountability – One of the toughest parts of what we do in local SEO is communicating clearly, concisely, and convincingly the answer to this question from our clients: “What have you done for me lately?” Often we’re left educating our clients on NAP consistency, the importance of unique content, citations, and the invaluable nature of reviews on IYP’s. Fortunately for us, our clients aren’t really interested in learning how to become local search marketers. What they want is more accountability from their local SEO investments in the form of lower funnel metrics that directly impact their bottom line.

With call tracking enabled we can get deeper into the customer funnel and become more accountable search marketers. As a business owner, if my $500 per month local SEO campaign shows me inbound call volume reports alongside the other metrics, I’m able to better account for the ROI of my investment. Add in call recordings that can be reviewed to determine the quality of phone leads coming in, and you’ve introduced a level of accountability that business owners are craving from their local SEO efforts.

  1. Better KPI’s – KPI’s are a fancy way to say “metrics that matter”. For many of us working in local SEO, the Key Performance Indicators we’ve focused on for years have been based on rankings and traffic. Relying solely on these metrics nowadays, with the advent of personalized search and the rising importance of IYP’s like Google+ Local & Yelp, means you’re likely missing conversions that your local SEO efforts should get credit for. After all, when someone does a search on Google for a cosmetic dentist and calls directly from the SERP without ever visiting any business website, that valuable phone call isn’t fully being accounted for in a rankings/traffic only performance report.

With a better KPI like call volume, we as local search marketers can get a better picture of how well our work is paying off. There’s some guidelines on how to best use this data to prove performance. Later in this guide, we’ll get more into how to slice up aggregate call data to best avoid counting existing customers.

  1. Advanced Features – Modern call tracking platforms include much more “under the hood” than just attribution (i.e. tying calls back to a campaign.) Most platforms come out of the box with advanced features like call recording, advanced call routing/handling, interactive voice response menus, and customizable dashboards. When we surveyed CallRail clients about how they get the most value out of call tracking, an overwhelming number of them talk about how call recordings have helped them identify training opportunities for people answering the phones. Others have pointed out that by implementing a 15 second greeting at the beginning of the call they were able to significantly reduce the amount of time employees spent on the phone answering repetitive questions.

As the Swiss army knife is versatile, so are modern call tracking platforms. Combined with built in integrations with Google Analytics, CRM platforms, and open API’s, the permutations of what you can do with your inbound phone calls are numerous.

The Main Concern: NAP Consistency Continue reading Guide to Using Call Tracking for Local Search

Apple Maps Vs. Google Maps – ThrowDown in Buffalo

B23gC0cIIAAhNeuAs many of you know I live in upstate NY about 70 miles due south of Buffalo. You may not know that I am flying home today from Denver after speaking at the Hospitality Marketing Conference.

You also know that there has been a boatload of snow in Buffalo and that people have died. And that the storms are continuing. You may not know that most snow fall throughout all of Western New York is caused by the lake affect of the cold westerlies passing over Lake Erie, picking up moisture and then dropping snow in very narrow west-east bands. These bands are often only a mile or two wide north to south so if you get through it is often clear on the other side.

You probably know that a number of roads have closed in the Buffalo area and that includes the major north south routes that parallel the lake that I take to get home, routes 400 and 219. You probably don’t know that the airport is open and only got a few inches of snow and that where I live in Allegany, NY 70 miles south of Buffalo is about 10 miles outside of the snow belt and also has very little snow.

As I was getting ready to start my day, I was wondering if there was a route home from the airport that somehow avoided the many road closures and perhaps navigated to the east of most of the snowfall. I checked both Apple Maps and Google Maps and got two very different but interesting answers.

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Google Maps says No Way Jose!
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Apple Maps suggests a route that is about 30 minutes longer than normal but does get me home and likely avoids the snow.

You also probably know that I would rather spend the night in my own bed rather than in Buffalo tonight. Or maybe not. It will be interesting to see “ground truth” when I land this evening.

Accurate driving directions obviously can be a matter of life or death. Heading off into a serious winter storm can be dangerous but sometimes it makes sense. Google says no go, but Apple could very well be correct in this situation.

I am not sure if I will test the directions to find out. Although if you live or work near the Buffalo Airport I would love to hear from you.

Update: After battling Waze with its overly invasive privacy settings, it surprisingly confirmed Apple’s routing. Curious that Waze, which is owned by Google and often supplies data to Google Maps, is not used in this situation.

Some Thoughts On the New Pak Results from Google

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Click to view larger. An answer box displaces the new Pak in this example.

Some thoughts & observations on the new [Hamburger] Pak from Google which for now, like the Carousel, is US only.

1-The local carousel is still in use and shows when you select a result delivered by “People also search for” in a 7-pack result. Will we soon see its demise as well? Currently Google shows five competitors, not three, below the brand Knowledge Graph. Not sure how that would work with the new [Hamburger] Pak.

2-Obviously that question raises the related question of whether the traditional 3/7 Pack is on the future chopping block as well. The new Pak targets the same leisure and entertainment activities as the carousel; music, hotels, restaurants etc. These “do and see” experiences are both more popular in local search and likely to be more profitable to Google than the results returned with “traditional” Pack results. The Local carousel, introduced in June, 2013, had a time to death of little more than 16 months. And since its inception there has been the general belief that the traditional pack would be replaced. I guess it will, someday. Or not.

3-The new Pak is consistent with both Google’s material design language and mobile first approach. The design even lifts the hamburger menu icon from the mobile design arena.

4-Like the carousel before it, there is no phone #, address or map associated with the display of the listing in the [Hamburger] Pak. To see those things it is necessary to click through to the Knowledge Panel. And if you want to see the details of another listing it is necessary to go back out and then in again. This is one of the worst local users experiences that Google has rolled out to the desktop in a long time. It really should not be that difficult to ferret out a phone number or see comprehensive information for a list of results.

5-This contrasts to the mobile experience. Once you choose Map view on a phone, and view any given equivalent of the Knowledge Panel display, you can swipe forward and backward to easily move through the full details of any single listing. It still makes the phone number too many steps away. What is mobile all about if not clicking to call?

6-One of the biggest changes from my POV is the loss of diversity in the display. The carousel, even though it was ranked, showed no obvious rank in its horizontal display and essentially made position 5 as valuable & visible as position 1. It was relatively easy to scroll to see spots 10-20. This display picks 3 winners and makes those in position 4-10 significantly less visible.

7-In about 3-4% of keyword searches where one would predict that the new [Hamburger] Pak would show, Google showed a branded One or three Pack instead. Obviously the brand predilection of Hummingbird and Pigeon is still in play and is no way affected by this.

8-On “average” screen sizes on the desktop, there is little else that can be seen besides ads and the new Pak. Thus in many search results that return a new Pak, only 3 listings are returned. If there are two ads at the top then only 2 results are visible above the fold.

9-I would love to hear what happens to web traffic for the directory type sites that seemed to be doing well when shown below the Carousel. Clearly this was prime space for TripAdvisor, Yelp etc and this can not have been good for their traffic. In unpublished user research that I did, a number of users would flat out ignore the carousel and move right to a branded website like TA or Yelp. I doubt that behavior persists with this display.

10-Interestingly even though the new [Hamburger] Pak almost always returns at the first position after the ads, it doesn’t always do so. In the searches done so far that trigger the new Pak, it shows at position two, following either images, an answer box or  a web result with site links  about 4% of the time with no geo modified queries (2% of overall queries). The non geo modified queries are obviously more ambiguous than the geo-modified ones and it makes sense that Google might slot something above the Pak. .While is hard and rare, it does seem possible to “dislodge” the new Pak. Images, answer boxes, really strong web site and, of course, branded results all do so.

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Click to view larger. Images displace the new Pak in this example.

Continue reading Some Thoughts On the New Pak Results from Google

Developing Knowledge about Local Search