fWhat do these numbers have in common?
fWhat do these numbers have in common?
The question of call tracking keeps coming up in local search. Should it be used? Why or why not? The answer is often posed in stark terms of either you should or you shouldn’t use call tracking.
The reality is, as is usual, more nuanced and subtle than that. It is a technology that has incredible power but that is easy to use improperly and when done so it can cause on-going problems in local and a great deal of damage. All too often it is suggested as a tactic to unsuspecting businesses by companies that offer little of real value and use the technique to take credit for calls that the business would have received any ways. Often these businesses are not made aware of the disasters that can possibly ensue.
Given that the first dictum of search optimization is (or should be) do no harm it is easiest, when given 3 minutes to answer the question, to say that call tracking should not be used.
What harm can come of using call tracking numbers? There are actually several situations that can lead to long term problems.
The first is that Google assembles all local listings via a machine. That machine looks to match name, address and phone number of information it finds across the internet with a cluster of similar data about a business. If the match is made with data that Google finds across the net and the cluster, that business is credited with that citation. If it is not possible for the machine to make the match due to the fact that a call tracking number is being used then it is possible that Google will create a new cluster for the data. Not only is a given listing NOT given credit for a citation but it is possible that dupes will appear that will “steal” strength from the main listing. Effectively phone number is the glue that holds the cluster together. If the cluster becomes unglued your listing will very likely rank poorly at Google and it could take months to do the recovery work necessary to make it whole again.
Secondly, call tracking numbers are frequently “loaned” to a business for the duration of the contract and then put back into use for a different business. Unfortunately these numbers are very persistent in the online local ecosystem and may stay at various sites attached to your listing. If the number is no longer in your control it means that the customer attempting to call you will be getting through to some business but not yours! The solution to this issue is simple: NEVER use call tracking numbers if the numbers can not be transferred to you at the end of the contract.
The subtler answer to whether call tracking numbers can be used is that they can be in some very limited ways but the guidelines to proper use are complicated and they need to be implemented in such a way as to not cause damage. If the guidelines can not be followed to a T then it is far better to not use call tracking at all as the damage will far outweigh any benefits.
There are four places that a call tracking number can be used:
I frequently get the question of how a business in the burbs can compete in the adjoining major metro area. Obviously, one tactic is to do really, really well organically and appear above the local search results. As a tactic that is roughly akin to drawing to an inside straight in poker… not impossible but very, very difficult.
I have stumbled upon another technique that might just work for service area businesses that hide their address: adjusting the list of areas served to shift the circle location on the map.
I was asked to determine why an SAB, even though located in the major town, was not showing up in Maps for the search Service+City. It turned out that in setting up his Dashboard and hiding his address he had selected zip codes for the list of areas served to the west and north of the primary city. Apparently the location of the location circle uses some form of polygon weighting and Google Placed the pin far outside and to the west of the city. Changing the values repositioned the circle close to the city and resulted in his listing being returned for the Service + City search.
Here are two screen shots to demonstrate the idea of moving an SAB closer to the nearby town even when located in a suburb. My wife’s at home business is located in Allegany NY but her primary business occurs in Olean, 8 miles to north and east of our home. The original choice of radius located the listing to the north of Olean. By changing from the radius to specific zip codes, it effectively moved the pin location to be within the city of Olean. Note that it will take up to 6 weeks for the changes to be reflected in the local search results. Mileage may vary.
I am curious if others have used this technique and whether it worked to increase your searches in the major metro you were targeting?
Several items of note.
1- Firstly Google has announced in the forums that the new Places for Business Dashboard is now available for NEW users in UK, Ireland. It is nice to see this staring to roll out internationally. That being said the rate of conversions of existing dashboards is not at all clear. None of mine seem to have converted. Yours?
2-Joel Headley of Google noted at today’s Local U in New Orleans that Google was no longer deleting listings from their local index that failed to hide their address. He indicated that Google was flagging them, apparently with no ranking penalty, for later automatic removal of the address if the owner failed to hide it. This solution seems vastly superior to the fiasco of businesses being permanently deep sixed into the hell of “currently we do not support” for the infraction
3- Google is currently testing a soon to be rolled out revamp of the Maps interface. Barry Schwartz noted at SEL:
The new interface is a complete and major overhaul of the current Google Maps user interface. The design and interface changes touch everything from the map colors, icons and text formats to dropping the navigation elements on the left hand side and adding in Google+ integration.
For example, you can filter local search results specifically to friends in your Google+ circles. The navigation seems to have been moved to button like methods, similar to how mobile apps work, with ad overlays hovering below the navigation menus.
4-First noted by Pete Meyers and equally interesting is is the increasingly seen display of the the carousel results for Hotels and Restaurant categories around the US.
Update 1:00 pm EST: Googler Jade has just confirmed that some changes of some sort are on the way. Here is their statement:
We’ve seen some questions about the small update to local search user interface on Google (removal of “More results near…” link) —
Where Has Places Search Gone? What’s Next?
1)Last week Nyagoslav Zhekov did a nice write up on the Google’s proposal as to what Local search results will look like in Europe in an effort to comply with the EU anti trust settlement.
2)Recently Google removed the links for “More Places near by” and and references to Places search in the main search results.
3)Google has been attempting to rebrand G+ Local as Google+ Pages. This was clear with their communications around the release of the Places for Business Dashboard.
4)Google designs the front page results for scale and wants a single display world wide.
EHG, a top contributor from Germany in the Google for Business & Maps Forums, has asked me the interesting question what I made of these changes and whether they are related. He seems to think so and I agree.
When you combine these facts with the current lack of branding (or rather the effort to rebrand Local as Plus) and Google’s desire to have a single universal display for the whole world it becomes plausible to speculate that changes to the display of the 7-Pack that comply with an anti-trust settlement in Europe and solve these other issues are in the wind.
As a part of that settlement Google will include links in the Pack display to their product as well as to competitors. Where will these new internal Google links in the main search results take users? There are two choices: Maps or Plus.
Currently the local search inside Plus is a 2 search box affair that doesn’t offer a map view of the search area specified by the user which makes it a less than an ideal search experience. Thus the current version of Maps with a single search box and Map view port is a more obvious choice.
That being said it would be very like previous efforts of Google to use local listings to boost traffic of a secondary property. In the era when Google was competing against Mapquest, Yahoo AND the IYPS for market dominance in local, they used their business listing to boost their Maps traffic and their Map traffic to boost their listing traffic by combining the two products.
Adding 50 million+ visitors a month to Plus would go a good way to boosting the apparent usage levels of Plus. What local search in Plus will exactly look like I have no idea but my money is that the links take users to the Plus local search results. Whether that means an upgrade to the search capability in Plus or not I can’t say.
Here is the screen shot (from Nyagoslav’s blog) of the changes that Google is proposing in the EU:
A couple of days ago I received this email from Miriam at SolasDesign and my first thought was: what rich Google irony:
I was doing a search in Google today for ‘google+ local error 500′ and one of the results Google returned was this page of your site: Google + Page ‘500 error bug’ work around.
Bizarrely, when I clicked on the link, I was redirected to a page of pornography at http://youdon’treallywanttoseeit.com. I immediately hit the back button.
Even stranger, when I re-clicked the link in the SERPs, I was taken to your page correctly. I am not terribly educated on the awful topic of hacking, and I’ve never encountered any information about something that could intermittently do malicious re-directs, but I wanted to let you know about this ASAP. I haven’t ever seen something like this happen before, but hopefully, your team can figure out if your site has been compromised in some way. So sorry about this. It’s awful.
My immediate second thought was that my down home farmland wp theme that Mike Ramsey loves so much had been hacked. When Linda Buquet and Brandon Monchamp contacted me with similar stories I was convinced of it. However none of the external malware test tools from Google or Sucuri could find anything.
I contacted Sucuri (who does a great job of site security by the way) and learned that the reality was worse. The cPanel server hosting my site had fallen victim to a new Apache kernel hack: Linux/Cdorked:
In fact, Linux/Cdorked.A is one of the most sophisticated Apache backdoors we have seen so far. Although we are still processing the data, our Livegrid system reports hundreds of compromised servers. The backdoor leaves no traces of compromised hosts on the hard drive other than its modified httpd binary, thereby complicating forensics analysis. All of the information related to the backdoor is stored in shared memory. The configuration is pushed by the attacker through obfuscated HTTP requests that aren’t logged in normal Apache logs. This means that no command and control information is stored anywhere on the system.
The only tell tale signs were the external reports of redirects to porn sites on Google searches. The symptoms that Miriam described are in fact diagnostic which is my reason for sharing them here. Forewarned is forearmed. Apparently this hack “exploits the fact that cPanel doesn’t use a packaging system to install Apache”.
Hopefully you will not suffer the same fate and if you do you will know what it was quicker than I. The servers were taken down last night for the patch and cleansed. Thanks to all that alerted me to issues.
Today, Google announce the closing of foreign language forums for Google Places as of May 13th. It is not clear if language specific support will be available via email. The announcements can be seen in these various forums:
Here is the Google translation of the Spanish language announcment:
Important Announcement: We decided to consolidate our resources Google Places Help and close this forum on May 13. The following resources are still available:
– Help Center Google Places
– Forum Help Google and your Business (English only)
– Google and your Business Blog (English only)
Last week Bill Slawski wrote about Google’s categorization of web pages for use in local search. The patent he writes about is one in a long line of related works that discuss this sort of web page categorization. That or something very similar to it appears to be occurring that allows Google to include multiple locations per brand search in these locallly generated site link results.
Danielle Owens of Powerchordsystem.com sent along these screen shots that clearly show that Google thinks these pages that include local information for nearby locations to be important.
I don’t look for these sorts of results that frequently so these may have been appearing this way for while. But if the message has not gotten through to brands both large and small with multiple locations this sort of display should make it clear: you need a stand alone local landing page for every location.
Google has never clearly indicated which pages they will include in their sitelinks display or why they will include them but here are some ideas that might help make these pages show for brand searches.
1- Have a local landing page for each location that is clearly Title tagged and optimized around location
2- Be sure that all locations are properly claimed and located in Google Places for Business and that it references the local landing page
3- Use that local URL in all directories and upstream providers
4- The location page includes complete address information that is marked up using Rich Snippets formatting
5- Reference each of these local landing pages in the sitemap and the KML file for the site
6- Make sure that the location pages are easily crawlable by Google and are not hidden by some search routine
7- The site architecture should relatively “flat” and the local landing pages are not too distant from the home page
Update from Darren Shaw of Whitespark: You can still access Places through a URL parameter: “tbm=plcs”. Not sure how long that will last though. For example:
This came to me from Andy Kuiper of Calgary and Vancouver: the Places search menu option has been removed from Google.
Google has been cleaning up and removing links from Google search and attempting to rebrand Places as a part of Google Plus. Last week they removed the related search option from the search menu. While Places has been retained as a brand on the business listing side, the branding of the consumer side is still not clear and Places has not really been replaced with any clear forward facing consumer branding.
Google has been discouraging the use of Google+ Local (coined by Marissa Mayer) and is attempting to shift the name of the business pages to simply G+ Pages (although there still is a dizzying array of page types). But the net result is that for the first time in many years there is no local search option available from the front page of Google other than the main search box. Users can only make it to Google’s local search options if they are in Plus. Equally significant is that there is no unique locally focused brand.
Laura Behny of Attaboy Plumbing and at least one poster in the forums have noted what appears to be a new bug when clicking on the the “Google reviews” link in the pack results. Either a blank page is delivered or these very weird results are shown instead of the local G+ Page. It is not happening on all results and appears to be focused on SAB results.
Update: The bug seems to show regardless of how the page is accessed with most SAB pages that I have tested showing a blank page that include only their business name at the top and no content. Google has been notified of the bug. If you want to chime in at the forums at your comment to the existing post that has been elevated.