April 11, 2012
The Venice update that started in late January had significant impact on Google local search results. We saw an increase in the display of the PlusBox, an increased search display of Blended results, reduced display of Local Pack and an increasing number of city level results being inserted in the organic SERPS (See Mike Ramsey’s piece at SEOMoz).
This “citification” of organic results where truly local webpages are given a ranking boost is quite significant. It offers clear opportunities via traditional SEO for local SMBs and those with a significant local presence to compete on a broader range of head phrases that don’t show pinned results and that have in the past been the exclusive domain of national sites.
Equally significant was the dramatic increase in the display of Blended Local results and the equally dramatic reduction in the display of Pack results. The 5 and 7 Packs seem to be completely gone and the vast majority of pinned results are now Blended. We all have anecdotal evidence of this shift but it is useful to have a large scale, quantitative view as well.
Just how big was the shift from Local Pack to Blended results?
Hanns Kronenburg of Sistrix, who spoke at SMX Munich, agreed to share Sistrix’s large scale research from his presentation with me. Every week they analyze the search results 100 deep for one million of the most common queries at Google Germany (google.de). For SMX they did some additional analysis of these numbers and extracted before and after Venice tabulations of the absolute and relative frequency of the Local Pack vs the Blended results that occur in the main search results.
Their methodology, which I explored in detail with Hanns, seems to accurately reflect the relative quantities of Blended vs Pack results although it might slightly undercount the absolute number of pinned results. Because the analysis is of Google Germany only there may be some differences with US or other country local results. However my anecdotal experience in the US is consistent with their results and I think the results are typical of pinned local results worldwide.
When viewed on a pie chart the change in the frequency of Blended results is more obvious:
April 9, 2012
Joseph & The Inn
“Joseph & The Inn”by Margaret Shulock is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at blumenthals.com
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April 6, 2012
Long a staple of Adwords, a simplified call reporting is being tested in Adwords Express. It is not clear how wide the test is as I found in the Austin market but not in the Buffalo market.
The option is dead on easy to implement and costs $1 for each call made to the number and the amount is deducted from the monthly budget thus reducing the total ads displayed. Reporting, like the rest of Adwords Express and the Places Dashboard in general is very limited although the user can login into their Adwords account for more details. The feature is documented in the Places for Business Help files here, here and here.
The system is easy to use and implement and will be beneficial IF an Adwords Express campaign is beneficial. While the product has improved significantly since introduction and does work well particularly for some low budget situations, there are still severe restrictions that can limit the value of the product.
I do find more than some irony that call tracking is a huge problem for your Google Places listing if used elsewhere on the internet but that Google has implemented it inside of their ecosystem.
Here is the screen shot from the Places Dashboard for creating the ad :
Like in Adwords Call Reporting the ad will include a temporary 877 number
March 28, 2012
In a followup to SMX West questions, Susan Moskwa noted on Google Plus the effective demise of GeoSitemaps:
Q: Why are my Geo Sitemaps throwing errors in Webmaster Tools?
A: Google has retired support for the Geo Sitemaps format. You can continue to submit your Geo content to us using the standard Sitemaps format (just listing the URL of the file(s), without-specific tags).
Kurt Maine - Susan, can you tell me exactly what you mean by “Google has retired support for the Geo Sitemaps format”?
Does this mean that KML files as a whole are no longer supported in any fashion, or are speaking to a completely different subject?
Yesterday 8:52 PM
Susan Moskwa - We still support KML files.
We previously supported an extension to the Sitemaps protocol where you could include tags in your XML Sitemaps that contained geo-specific information in addition to the URL of your KML file. We no longer support those geo-specific XML tags in Sitemaps, but you can still submit the URLs of your KML files in a standard Sitemap format.
Yesterday 9:05 PM (edited)
March 27, 2012
March 24, 2012
There have been many questions about the recently publicized change in Google’s Places policy that home based businesses that do not receive customers at their home should hide their address. Many have been critical of Google’s change and many have criticized the apparent illogic of the rule.
I see the issue somewhat differently. Certainly Google has a right to create guidelines that affect quality as they see fit. And this policy is mostly rational. Or rather its intent is. Its goal is to provide Google Map users with locations that they can drive to and have a reasonable expectation of finding “somebody at home” there.
But Google has not done everything right with this change.
1) Penalties should never precede the public policy which was the case here by a number of weeks. We were seeing this in the forums and with Andrew Shotland’s post long before it was publicly acknowledged. Change the policy, publicize the change and then enforce.
2) The initial phone calls that Google makes to inquire about whether a home business deals with customers at home should be cooperative not confrontational. If you are going to call SMBs then help them know that they have inadvertently stubbed a toe in regards to a new rule and ask them to fix it. Why anger or create fear in a potential customer when you don’t need to?
3) If after some period it has not been fixed and the SMB has been alerted THEN remove the listing. It would be ideal if you then properly communicated to the business as to why.
4) The policy is written in such a way as to be somewhat illogical… as Miriam Ellis pointed out in her post. If you take it literally then there would be many businesses that would be in violation of the policy. The reality is that world is more complicated and Google’s guidelines need to reflect that granularity.
I recognize that (as an old mentor used to say): Rules are for Fools. He meant that rules should not be taken too literally. They need to be contextualized. The intention with the guidelines is to not be dogmatic but to provide operating principles that offer a framework for quality and Google’s enforcement. Unfortunately there are many in the world that would prefer more explicit and accurate guidance.
The intent of the policy is to make sure that listings in Maps can be driven to. That is appropriate and as it should be. However the framing of the policy speaks in terms of customers only. Many businesses have a physical location but do not receive customers at that location. They do however conduct business meetings there, receive vendors there, do employee interviews there and need to be able to be found on Maps. And one would think that Google would want to be able to provide driving instructions for those locations and did not mean to exclude them with a rule.
If this guideline only applies to home based businesses (which appears to the case) then perhaps Google needs to make that explicit in the documentation. Not every rule need apply to every business. Alternatively they could rewrite the guidelines in a more general way. Instead of making the criteria whether customers visit a location, make the criteria whether business is conducted in a face to face way (to include vendors etc) at that location.
In the meantime, as SEO practitioners you need to handle this guideline with reason. Some thoughts:
Does hiding an address affect rank?
March 22, 2012
Two weeks ago Andrew Shotland described how he had his listing taken down after a Googler called him and asked whether he served clients at his location. When he said no, his listing was taken down. He ran across what was then a “hidden” rule. The rule has now become public. If you don’t serve clients at your location and only serve them on site it is necessary to hide your location in the Places Dashboard.
Here’s the advice that was recently added (but still somewhat hidden) to the Help Files:
What are my options when defining a service area?
Don’t receive customers at your location? Serve customers at their location? Select the “Do not show my business address on my Maps listing” option within your dashboard — if you don’t hide your address, your listing may be removed from Google Maps.
Update: Google has added this new requirement to the Guidelines:
If you don’t receive customers at your location, you must select the “Do not show my business address on my Maps listing” option within your dashboard. If you don’t hide your address, your listing may be removed from Google Maps.
I am heading to Munich today for a few days off and a presentation at SMX Munich. Posting will be light to none. If you have suggestions on what I should not miss seeing while in Germany, let me know
March 21, 2012
Google sends Barbara Oliver & Co Jewelry a lot of business. Local search, organic search, Adwords Express have all worked well for her. Despite the ups and downs, the ins and outs and the many changes in Google Places search, Google has been the primary generator of web visits and phone calls for her business.
The contest isn’t close. Google sends 20-25 times more web traffic (and uncountable phone calls and store visits) than the either Yahoo or Bing and 60 times more than the any of the directory, IYP or social sites.
Yet when a review is lost by Google, that is what Barbara remembers. Not all the traffic she gets from them, not the calls, not the visits but the lost review. Even if it is one or two reviews out of 45, when one goes south she knows, she feels it and she remembers it with frustration.
Here is an email string that I had with her over the past few days:
Barbara: Hi Mike, So yesterday I had 45 reviews with a new one from Monday and today back to 43. Do they cut off old ones or just do that to p-ss me off?
Mike: Google taketh and google giveth. Note these search results… your mug is all over them (referring to her having an Author photo)
Barbara: I see they also dropped 2 from my buddy at [a competitor] and the mug all over makes them [customers] think they know me when they see me so I am appeased…
Mike: You have a recent new review! from a Courtney D on Mar 16, 2012 -
Barb took my dream wedding ring and brought it to reality. There is no one better to trust than Barb with your precious gems or dreams! Thank you!
Barbara: Nice, let’s see how long it stays up – she said with sour grapes.
Mike: The cup really is more than half full… if THE GOOGLE decides to nuke a review or two, at least they are still sending you a lot of business
Barbara: Just saying I get them and I am a bit protective. I have been getting a lot of new customers for everything lately so thanks to THE GOOGLE and the MIKE.
Mike: I know you are protective. Losing one is like losing a close friend….
Even if Google got it right nearly all of the time (and they have yet to achieve that standard), most small retailers will focus on the pain of the bad memories and mistakes that Google has made and not the many positives, even when reminded.
This conversation demonstrates why Local is so hard. And will continue to be hard for Google.
March 20, 2012
It is hard explaining to small businesses that when their listing merges with their competitor’s business it is a feature of Google Places NOT a bug. Well not actually a feature but a known and predicted artifact of Google’s automated merge & purge routines.
The flip side of removing duplicates is some amount of merging. The algo does not have enough granularity to clearly see that two similar businesses are in fact distinct. It thinks the listings are either duplicates or spam. The more dupes that are removed from the index the more merges increase and vice versa. Google is continually tweaking this algo to minimize merges but perfection in big data is “right most of the time”. In running the routine the overall index might improve by some significant percentage BUT some much smaller percentage of listings will be inadvertently and inappropriately merged with a different listing. It was this “behavior” that motivated me to name this series of Google Places comics “False Negatives”, the name I give to these listings that Google says exist with wrong information but really don’t.
What Google sees as acceptable outcomes are in fact worse than collateral damage to the smb. They are a direct hit on one of their most successful marketing avenues. Google giveth and Google taketh away.
Here is Margaret Shulock’s latest comic in the Google Places False Negatives Series. Feel free to copy the snippet and use on your blog or website.
“Google Places Merge Routine – Acceptable Outcomes = Collateral Damage” by Margaret Shulock is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at blumenthals.com.
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