September 24, 2012
Since Google started clamping down on review solicitation, particularly in the dental and auto dealer worlds, many businesses have expressed fear, dismay and discouragement about reviews in general and Google’s review policies in particular.
Comments like “At this point I am ready to give up and ask my customers to avoid Google and go to Yelp. it is not worth all of the brain damage. does anyone at Google care enough to help? or should I just move on?” or “I’m completely moving away from encouraging customers to leave reviews on Google.” were all too common in my post on Google’s newest “guidance” in the arena.
My suggestion? Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Google may be frustrating and they may be opaque but they are still generating 60-90% of your leads. Endorsements on the front page of a search result are still very valuable. The issue is finding a way to continue to get reviews around the internet, including Google. You may need to test a few tactics until you find one that works but it is worth the effort.
But you say: How can I possibly ask a customer to leave a review there if Google is going to throw it away and waste their time. I say: Tell you customers what to expect, give them choices and let them decide.
The reality is that you don’t need 10 reviews a week at Google. In fact you don’t need 10 reviews a month or a quarter there to succeed. Most businesses need to accrue one review every month or two so that at the end of 3 years you will have 30. You need to ultimately get more than 10 so you get Zagat rated and you need to stop fretting about how many you have there and how many you have lost. You need to keep putting one foot in front of another, keep gaining endorsements across the internet. In the end if you run a good business and have loyal customers you will get your share of reviews at Google and elsewhere.
If you have had massive review take downs at Google you need to review your processes and procedures and acknowledge that what you were doing was not working and will not work. If you are a car dealer you need to stop spiffing your salesmen to hustle a customer over to an on-sight review work station. If you are a high volume dentist you may need to simply hand out a piece of paper explaining the review process rather than actively soliciting reviews of 20 clients a day via email. And if you were buying reviews or using a review service to enter comment cards well DUH!, time to stop. If you were helping folks sign up for a Google account, that probably needs to end as well.
So what is left for a business to do that wants to gather reviews? The same as has always been the case. Put in place a review process that gives customers lots of choice, generates reviews at a wide range of sites in addition to Google and is easy for your staff to implement. Keep it ethical, keep it simple and you will find that you get the enough reviews at Google and lots of reviews elsewhere.
Here is a sample email/letter that I have crafted for a client. It was written for a legal client but the logic of it can be used for any business. (more…)
September 21, 2012
Update 9/22 1:00 pm: Google has fixed this.
Google has confirmed a new bug for G+ Local pages this afternoon: Many uploaded photos are missing in action. They are looking for additional examples so if this has happened to you please report it in this post at the Google for Business Forum. (Thanks to Dr. Paul Parker of Parker Center for Plastic Surgery of NJ for the heads up.)
With the help of Annie & Lisa Kolb from Acorn, I became aware of a new bug affecting Google’s local index where the URL of the listng’s site and occasionally the telephone number are stripped from the search result and the G+ Page. The URL is replaced with the plus.google.com URL in the search results. It seems to strike listings that have been claimed via the dashboard as well as merged listings that have been verified via Google+.
The problem seems to reside in the final local index as there is no indication of the problem in the respective MapMaker records or the Places Dashboard. The problem is fairly widespread. Google has acknowledged and is aware of the problem and has started a thread to collect reports of the issue.
Here are some links that Acorn discovered in their research if you want to see other examples. (more…)
I am sure that Google will take this review down quickly but is there not more than a little irony that this one made it through the filter when so many other reviews land on the cutting room floor?
(click to view larger?
September 20, 2012
Getlisted Local University is in full swing for this fall with a range of events in Minneapolis, NYC and Tarrytown, NY. Hopefully I will see you at one of them. If you are a reader and do come, be sure to take a moment and introduce yourself.
MN SEARCH PRESENTS LOCAL UNIVERSITY – TWIN CITIES, MINNESOTA
Friday, September 28
Deluxe for Business, Google and the Board of Directors at MN Search has invited the Local U faculty to the Twin Cities for a presentation to their clients and membership, respectively. The event is most definitely open to the public, however, and both the agenda and tickets are available from EventBrite using the link above. This event offers the basic 4 hour intro session in the AM and more detailed topics in the PM so a you can come for either half or the full day. To receive a discount use the code MB2012.
LOCAL UNIVERSITY ADVANCED AT SMX EAST – NEW YORK, NEW YORK
Monday, October 1
Super-excited to present another Advanced edition of GetListed.org Local U the day before SMX East with David Mihm, Matt McGee, and all the other regulars! Like Seattle the day is chocked full of advanced content …we also added birds-of-a-feather roundtables to allow for more 1-on-1 questions from attendees–ask your questions & get a look at real client issues directly from Google +Local’s support guru Joel Headley!
There is no discount code available for this one. Seating is limited to 50 but there are still a few seats left if you are thinking of coming
LOCAL UNIVERSITY – TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK
Tuesday, October 2
The following morning, in conjunction with Google and Progressive insurance, we’ll be presenting our standard small business-oriented edition of Local U at the Doubletree Hotel in Tarrytown, NY for businesses in Westchester County and Northern New Jersey. This is a morning only session and speakers will include myself, David Mihm, Joel Headley from Google, Mike Ramsey, Mary Bowling and Ed Reese. If you know of SMBs or those new to the Local SEO field that would benefit from this crash course give them my discount code of MB2012.
For more information on any of these events feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit the Local University site. If you have a group of clients that you would like to bring or a number of staff members we can provide a group discount as well.
We are now in the process of working out the winter/spring schedule for 2013 and if you are interested in helping to sponsor an event in your market we would love to hear from you.
Since early in the year when Adwords Express, Google’s simplified Adwords product for SMBs, was upgraded we have heard little about the product. The interface was removed from most dashboards and we have seen no effort to promote it. Today, every Places Dashboard account that I have received this email providing a $100 discount and a strong pitch for the full Adwords product. Where has Adwords Express gone? Is it history or will it return when Google finally finishes the integration of local into Plus and offers a full on marketing portal?
This sort of ad leaves plenty of doubt about its future.
September 19, 2012
The initial rollout allowing single location businesses to merge their G+Local page into the fully social G+ Page for local, while very limited, has surfaced very few bugs. The rollout which occurred on August 3rd has been smooth by Google standards for local but any time a company strives to “release early and often” there will be some.
Here is the list of known bugs, assembled with the help of the top contributors in the forum, to be on the watch out for. Most of these are non threatening but given the limited targeting of this rollout I strongly suggest that you be sure that your business is a good fit for merge. You should be a single location b & m business with both a G+ page and a Places/+Local Page, not be a service area business with hidden address and most importantly be sure that there are no duplicates or other issues with your existing listing.
September 18, 2012
Darren Shaw, creator of the Local Citation Finder, recently asked me this great question (I seem to be getting a few of these lately) via email:
I’ve heard people talking about how citations might not be a valuable ranking factor in the future. What do you think? Will they stop being effective for local optimization in the future?
Google’s local search algo is a complex multivariate, bi-modal algorithm that is continually evolving. Thus predicting the future for any Google process is likely a fool’s errand. That being said, I will take the bait.
It might be better to ask what is the role of citations in the current state of affairs and given how it is interwoven into the algo how it is it likely to change.
Google works at scale. In the case of local search, world wide scale. Any local algo needs to account for the great variation in information available and yet still be able to effectively rank businesses in any given market based on some sort of virtual proxy for business prominence. This has always been the case with the local algo and that is not likely to change.
Imagine if you will what Google can learn about a shoemaker in Kazakhstan versus a famous restaurant in Paris. Or closer to home what Google can see about a single plumber with no website in Utica, NY versus the Plaza Hotel in NYC. One has some entries in the yellow pages and the other has thousands of reviews, links, a complex website with a ton of information and an entry on Wikipedia. On the one hand there is little more than a few citation references and the other there is a trove of online information that can be mined.
This data set does not just change across industries and regions but over time as well. Businesses that were not web savvy in 2005 when the basic local algo was released have become so now. The ranking system needs to be flexible enough to deal with these spatial and temporal changes.
When you read Google’s Location Prominence and Local Authority patents you see different types of citations mentioned; everything from a basic listing at a reputable site to a link on the brand name. And you also see that Google will mine whatever data is available whether they need to buy a list from InfoUSA or scrape a local directory.
In 2008 when a number of us explored correlation with ranking we found the impact of citations and reviews to diminish in importance as a ranking factor as we explored markets that were more competitive and had more web based data available. In 2012 we still see that a solid, consistent citations effort can effectively improve the standing of a listing. But we also saw the rollout of Venice in 2012 where Google acknowledged that traditional web signals would play an increasing role in the ranking of local results.
The outcome of that? To be ranked in the top third of local results a business has to do well with both web prominence AND location prominence. But even now you can see pinned listings in the lower 2/3′d of the blended local results that have no effective web presence and whose ranking is predicated on location prominence and nothing more than a lot of citations.
The algo has been dynamic and adaptive. It is a mistake to view any single ranking factor in isolation from all the others that we know (and don’t know) about. Citations are playing less of a role now because Google is able to get more and more signals about many businesses in other ways NOT because it has diminished importance in the algo. But we are also seeing the introductions of new signals like web prominence.
Given that there will be situations like the plumber in Utica and the shoemaker in Kazakhstan for years to come, it seems likely that citations as we have known them will continue to play a role.
I think that near future will look very similar to the recent past. In those geographies, industries and markets where things are getting more competitive citations will have less of an impact in and of themselves on ranking. In those instances where signals are thin and there is little for Google to go on, they will continue to play a significant role. We need to view them as a variable in an ever changing landscape.
The question that was asked was very narrowly framed. The reality is that citations have never been a stand alone tactic but were always best approached as part of a broad, holistic plan to make a brand more prominent on the web. That too will likely remain the same for some time to come.
September 17, 2012
Google MapMaker has become a tremendous resource for cleaning up listings in G+ Local. While it can be incredibly confusing, it provides a window into the complete cluster data that Google has for a given listing, provides a detailed history of activities vis a vis that listing and allows for direct editing of it. The results typically show back up in the G+Local listing within days if not hours. But the product is buggy and very opaque.
One of the more arcane mysteries in MapMaker revolves around the many Google bots that work their way through the listings, often with disastrous results. The Regional Expert Reviewers at MapMaker, those high level volunteer editors with more power to approve edits, have assembled this GDoc MapMaker Bot List spreadsheet as a reference to the many bots that run wild in the MapMaker world. It’s a great resource for understanding some of the history of the listing and how certain changes came about.
|Current Name & Profile
|| 1251 days , 16278 edits
||Possible bot; may not be active anymore
|| 841 days , 3614717 reviews
||Approval bot; either approves an edit or adds a tag
|| 561 days , 7160629 edits
||Possible bot based on the number of edits
|| 907 days , 9692721 edits
||Places Import Bot; imports features from other databases if it’s not in the Map Maker database at the time of editing
|Google Automated Deactivated Accounts
||Deactivated Map Maker Account(changed Sept 2012), Google Automated Wipeout (changed Aug 2012)
|| 398 days
|| When a Google account is deactivated, all edits made using that account are attributed to this profile. ** Not Technically a Bot **
|Google Automated Address Fixer 1
|| 521 days , 1486 edits
|Google Automated Bounds Fixer
|| 77 days
|Google Automated Cleaner 2
|| 1550 days , 117557 edits
|Google Automated Flyover Fixer
|| 577 days , 207 edits, 2 reviews
|Google Automated Reconciler 3
||Map Maker Syncer (changed 8/23/2012)
|| 64 days
|Google Automated Reconciler 4
||Map Maker Instant Syncer (changed 8/23/2012)
|| 24 days
|| 192 days , 20 edits
||Adds the height to buildings
|Map Maker Revert
|| 878 days , 7673953 edits
September 13, 2012
The ability to upload videos to your G+ Local listing via the Places Dashboard has long been broken and the feature was missing on the merged G+ Pages for Local. I am not quite sure when this happened but you now can upload videos if you have a (re)verified G+Page for Local. As reader Julie Larson from Divas Mobile Solutions pointed out to me, the feature is isolated to G+ and doesn’t allow for easily integrating YouTube channels into to your profile but with drag and drop it does allow for bulk video uploads. And more importantly the feature seems to just work.
The interface is simple, the uploads moved along quickly and I was able to upload both WMV and FLV files simultaneously. The uploads can be easily shared on G+ as well. You can see the results on Barbara Oliver & Co. Jewelry’s merged G+ Page.