Google+ Local on Suspensions – The Algo Did It!

All too many Places dashboard users are seeing this message of late: Account suspended. Make sure your listings meet the quality guidelinesCathy Rhulloda of Avante Garden, a long time user and promoter of the Google Places and extremely knowledge about local marketing and the google Places Dashboard, was one of them. Her account was unceremoniously suspended despite a listing that was clean. This has happened to a number of listings of late in both the Dashboard and G+ Page for local environment. The problem however is that in the Dashboard the reinclusion process doesn’t work.

She reached out to Joel Headley via a G+ post and the forums where she noted:  I logged into the Places dashboard last night and received a red message across the top saying ‘Account Suspended’. This listing has been verified for many years. Google photographers have even visited my flower shop (twice!) and shot our location. The images and tour are visible on our G+ page (under Photos -> View All).

Joel’s response on both G+ and in the Forums was illustrative and helpful:

Hey Cathy – account suspensions are best dealt over email. I sent you one. Hang in there, and we’ll get this sorted out. 

 Of note – the phone call had nothing to do with the suspension. As far as I can tell, you didn’t do anything wrong. Instead, for your case, it looks like it was an automated process gone awry. We’re looking into that general problem to see what fix can be made. 
If anyone wants their account fixed after seeing the message below, please email our support team though the Google Places for Business Help Center and we’ll look into it. 

I have run into several of these account suspensions over the past few weeks that appeared to be erroneously applied. In several the account was reinstated. In the other the client received  the dreaded support email that the account could not be reinstated and to start a new account. It is not yet clear why support would say one thing and Joel the other…. we are still working on that.

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The Pendulum Swings On Google’s Review Spam Filtering As Google Relaxes Filter

rockGoogle has announced in the forums that some of the reviews lost to their review filter will be returned. Apparently it will also be slightly easier for new reviews to be left as well.

Last year with the rollout of G+ Local, Google implemented a much more aggressive review filter. Many businesses, particularly in certain industries like legal and dental, saw massive review take downs. Many SMBS had difficulty  even getting any new reviews to show. Complaints amassed in the forums as businesses small and large were stung with massive review take downs and consumers could not understand what had happened to their reviews. The consolidated post that I created last July in the forums now has 743 posts alone and there were many, many additional posts as well. Clearly Google’s aggressive filtering had hit a nerve. As result consumers AND businesses felt that they were now between a rock and a hard place.

While we don’t know exactly the degree to which the filter has been loosened yet, along with a recovery of some old reviews, new ones that comply with the rules and don’t trigger the algo should be somewhat easier to place. Any old reviews that are no longer filtered should be showing up over the next 24 hours. Obviously for old reviews to come back they need to meet the standards defined by the new algo mentioned below. If a businesses reviews still do not show there is no review reconsideration process.

During the many months of discontent Google refined their review policies but did not loosen the filter:

What led them to ultimately relax the filter is unclear. But the recent effort at education in the policy changes noted in this posting are commendable.

Here is the announcement in full:

We’ve made some recent improvements to our spam detection algorithms that have increased the number of reviews that appear on some local Google+ pages. We hope this improves your local experience!

Online reviews have been in the news a lot recently, and we at Google are committed to helping people to get ratings, reviews, and recommendations that are relevant, helpful, and trustworthy. To protect both business owners and customers from spam reviews, we have systems in place that may remove individual reviews.

No one likes spam, and we’d like to talk about what you can do to make sure all of the reviews on Google+ Local are useful, honest, and written by real people!

For reviewers:

  • Make sure you’ve taken a look at our review content guidelines.
  • Sometimes you may want to review multiple locations of the same business, such as your favorite fast food chain. Just remember to tailor each review to the specific location. Others will want to know what sets that location apart – be it the super friendly drive thru person, or maybe the unexpectedly awesome lake views.
  • Don’t write reviews for your current employer. We don’t allow reviews from current owners or employees.
  • Spam bots use URLs to redirect to other sites or potentially spread malware. We won’t show reviews with links, so, don’t put URLs in the text of your reviews

For business owners:

  • Be wary of an SEO or reputation management service that promises to generate reviews for your business. We’ve seen companies make up fake glowing testimonies — and we’ll take them down.
  • We don’t take down negative reviews for simply being negative for anyone, regardless of any other relationships with Google. Instead, we encourage you to utilize the owner response functionality to respond to the review and address the user’s concerns.
  • If a third party claims that they know how to remove reviews from Google, don’t believe them. Google does not work with any third party reputation management companies and we certainly don’t remove reviews unless they violate our guidelines.
  • Don’t set up a computer or tablet device in your place of business for customers to leave reviews on site. Consider printing out a QR code or sending a reminder e-mail so customers can review on their own time.
  • Remember, we don’t allow you to give customers free gifts or discounts for leaving reviews.

For SEOs:

  • If a business accepts paper comment cards it might be tempting to collect them and “digitize” them by posting the reviews on Google+ Local. We ask that all reviews come from first hand experience and do not allow posting reviews on behalf of others.

For everyone:

  • If you see a review that violates our policy guidelines, you can report the review to us by clicking on the gray flag icon next to the review in question. You’ll be taken to a form where you can tell us why you’re flagging that review. Please note that we won’t follow up with you individually, but we do review every piece of content that is flagged.

 

Google Local Announces Upgraded Phone Support

Last night Google announced that they had formally upgraded their Local listing phone support rolled-out in January to include data issues in addition to the previous phone support that had been added for verification issues. Commenters have previously noted that Google support personal had responded to requests for data fixes on the call line but the process is now formalized via the Help System Fix a Problem Troubleshooter.

While it is possible to get support without filing a “report a problem” first (by telling a little lie), Google has suggested that the problem is likely to be resolved more quickly if you file the report and only call if the issue has not been resolved in a week or so. I think that the reason for that is that the phone support person uses the same back end support infrastructure as the “Report a Problem” process.

To initiate a support call back select the troubleshooter: My listing has incorrect information, highlight the radio button for “Listing data, including title, address, phone, URL, “at a glance” terms, categories, hours, description, or coupons”, indicate yes to question as to whether you have reported a problem and click on the link to call us.

The limits:

  • Click to Call is available weekdays from 6am – 5pm Pacific Standard Time.
  • Google “restrict[s] phone numbers to the US, US business hours, and English, the team should be able to work with any location where Google Places for Business is”

I am glad to see that, despite my initial skepticism, the call support system is being expanded to cover more problems.

Here is a screen shot of the My Listing Has Incorrect Information: Continue reading

Google+ Local Categories Inadequate for the Job

In rolling out the update to the editing interface for business listings claimed into a G+ Page for local Google has fixed a longstanding problem with the G+ local product and answered (inadequately) a long standing question.

The problem they solved was adding the capability to add categories to listing that had been verified in the G+ Pages for local environment. One reason I have not recommended the switch away from the dashboard was that this functionality has been missing from the first several iterations of the G+ Pages for local. If you verified your business’s G+ Page there was no option to add category information and you had to add or manage categories via either MapMaker or the old Dashboard. Both kludgey and complicated solutions beyond the reach of most SMBs. While I still am recommending caution in claiming the business in Google’s social environment at least one of the barriers to making G+ Pages for local a functional environment has been removed.

The long simmering question that now also appears answered is whether Google will be supporting custom categories for local listings. The answer seems to be an emphatic NO (at least in looking at the interface). When you attempt to enter a custom category you are told that “We didn’t understand your category. Please select from the suggestions that appear when typing”.

Why is this a problem? Because Google’s category system is woefully inadequate at its job of indicating what a business actually does. Categories are a critical piece of how Google determines the relevance (not rank) of a listing in local search and there are so few categories that the consumer search results will likely not show businesses that should be shown. For example some jewelers specialize in engagement rings, some in glassware, some in antique jewelry restoration, stone setting or hand carved designs. Google’s categories capture none of these nuanced specialities. Making Google a less rich environment for both the searcher and the business owner.

Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 3.22.12 PM

Categories have never been a strong point of Google’s local products. In the early days there were only ~450 categories in total. In an upgrade in 2008 Google increased the number of categories to roughly 2200. Still woefully inadequate given the varied nature of business Google initially offered the option to have all of the categories as custom and then limited it to one standard and four custom categories.

Usually I don’t make technical recommendations to Google as they have more brain power per square foot than I could ever muster. I am making an exception in this case because I see the direction that they seem to be choosing as inadequate in serving the needs of small businesses.

I recognize that there are taxonomic problems with custom categories and that they can be messy.  I recognize that their has been category abuse leading to spam. But the world is messy and full of variety that it should be Google’s charge to capture that variety. And they should be able to deal with the spam as they have done over the past several years.

How might Google handle this better?

1-They should increase the number of categories. Many IYPs have at least 8000 categories. Some have as many as 12,000. The ~2200 in Google’s category list come no where close to describing the many types of businesses that are out there.

2- I can understand the potential taxonomic issues dealing with custom categories. But who better than Google to solve this problem? If four custom categories are too many then Google should offer at least one or two. Then a small business with a really unique service might have some chance of being found in that specialized niche and equally important Google would have a dynamic resource for category data.

3- Google should allow for more than 5 categories for each listing. If you want to understand how a business sees itself then don’t force it to fit itself into 5 slots. If there is an issue with abuse then require that the business prioritize the most important ones. The Bing Business Portal does an excellent job of that. This solution obviously only works if there are significantly more category choices than there are now.

It feels like Google is taking a step backwards in their move towards offering a fully functional local search product. It’s a step that I think it unnecessary for them to take and one that will hurt both searchers and small businesses.

 

Google Upgrades the G+ Local Editor

Google has announced an upgrade to the Places Dashboard G+ Local Page editor that moves it closer in design to the G+ Pages editor. As Jade noted the quality checks remain the same (and the time to live is likely the same as well).  This upgrade removes one of the bugaboos of the G+ Page for local in adding the ability to add categories. Here is the link to the Updated Help Center Content

Jade’s post in the forum:

We’ve made some updates to the verification and editing experience for users managing pages in Google+ (in the Local Business or Place category). Take a look by visiting the page for your business, navigating to the About tab, and clicking Edit Business Information.

What’s new?

- better status updates that tell business owners if their edits are pending or rejected

- progress bar to help business owners fill out the most essential information

- can now add categories via Google+

- updated look and feel (tell us what you think!)

Turnaround time for quality checks on edits will remain the same but we’re working hard to improve this experience as well. We hope you enjoy the new business information editing experience in Google+!

Here is a screen shot of the new interface:
Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 2.55.19 PM

Loci 2012 – Andrew Shotland

Andrew Shotland is a well-known SEO practitioner and author of www.localseoguide.com and the trendy new applemapsmarketing.com.  His proudest achievement on the Web can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipkSRwgVtpA

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When reflecting on the year, I like to think about it less in terms of specific niches like “local seo”, “seo” or even “local search”.  It’s not that 2012 wasn’t a watershed year for a lot of this stuff, but rather that the forces that are shaping the landscape of these niches are often the same that are affecting the Web as a whole.  So here’s what caught my attention in 2012:

1. 2012 – The Year We Start Paying For It

In 2007, Radiohead released it’s new album, “In Rainbows”, online and offered it at whatever price you wanted to pay for it.  Many opted to pay $0 while some paid more. It was a big success.  In 2011, Radiohead release “The King of Limbs” via their website and this time charged $9.99.  It too was a success.  And there was no record label between Radiohead and its fans.  In 2012, it seemed as if more “creators”, particularly media creators, were experimenting with getting their customers to pay for these creations, thus avoiding business models such as advertising and using distribution middle-men.  My favorite examples of the past year include Marco Arment’s “The Magazine”, Louie CK’s “Live At The Beacon Theater”, show, The Oatmeal’s Operation BearLove Good, Cancer Bad and Andrew Sullivan’s soon-to-be-independent Daily Dish (technically announced in 2013, but the deal was cut in 2012 right?).

While each is an example of a strong voice with a loyal following tapping into their fan-base, I was particularly impressed with the launch of The Magazine, as it stood in direct contrast to the failure of News Corp’s “The Daily”.  It’s a classic story of an independent Web developer who understood the medium and his audience to produce a low-budget, high-quality service while a media giant spent $30 million doing the exact opposite.

And let’s not forget about the millions raised for new projects by Kickstarter.

For me, this trend, along with the continuing shift of our time spent on the Web to mobile and tablets, is critical to my thinking about how I am approaching this year, and how I am approaching SEO for myself and my clients.  After Google’s Farmer (AKA “Panda”) Update in 2011, I wrote a piece entitled “Are You Radiohead?”, where I wondered aloud that with today’s SEO, you need to be the Radiohead of your particular niche to succeed. If I were to write that piece today, I might change the title to “Are You The Oatmeal?”  In other words, ask yourself is what you are doing so great that people want to support it?

And I think this is going to be a key philosophy driving Web strategy, and not just to rank #1 for “Viagra”.

2. Mobile Customer Loyalty Apps Are Da Bomb
Let’s get a bit more down-to-earth on this one.  Sure Google Places + Local had a lot of drama in 2012.  Yes, Apple launched maps, Facebook launched Nearby.  There were a lot of big events.  But to me, the fact that my local burrito joint started texting me with points everytime I bought the kids an Itty Bitty Beanie Burrito and the local butcher shop had a tablet near the register that I could use to check in, was a telling signal to me that this stuff was suddenly everywhere.  For those of you who are not on the local SMB text messaging bandwagon, you are missing out on one of the most cost-effective, high-growth ways to keep in touch with your customers.  That said, I think we are going to see a shake-out of the hundreds of start-ups that are operating in this area, while at the same time, I don’t think we’re going to see any one platform become dominant.

3. Local SEO ToolSets Become All The Rage
As I mentioned in my SEL piece “SEOMoz + GetListed: Let the SMB Toolset Death March Begin”, last year it seemed like everyone I knew was developing some kind of local SEO tool.  That trend is only going to continue in 2013.

4. Google+Local Keeps On Iterating & Irritating
I’ve got to mention Google right?  For SMBs and SEOs that serve them, Google+Local 2012 was an absolute train wreckStill is in many ways.  That said, it seems like Google is slowly starting to improve things.  From actual phone support to the G+ page management you recently reported on, I think we are going to see a continual gradual evolution of the service.  It will still have plenty of bugs.  Data will continue to disappear.  SMBs will continue to be frustrated.  And SEOs will still have a lot of work to do.

5. Apple Maps Will Sneak Up On Us
While my recently launched Apple Maps blog may bias my thinking, Apple Maps’ launch last year was perhaps one of the most significant events in the local search world.  Say all you want about how screwed up the service is, the fact is that even with the Google Maps iOS app out there, I bet millions of people are still using the Apple Maps app.  And the fact that it is baked into all iOS apps that use maps means it’s not going away.  In the long-run, Apple Maps is the biggest threat to Google when it comes to local search.  I expect Apple to quietly improve the service significantly this year and towards the end of 2013 I wouldn’t be surprised if they announced a big update that stimulates a lot of people who switched to Google Maps to retry the app.  It’s still going to be a rough go for businesses that want to optimize for Apple Maps, which of course means more fun for SEOs who figure it out.

6. 2012 – Great Year For Local SEO
I think Aaron Wall said that SEO is getting so tough that in 2013 we will see a lot of consultants exit the business.  In some ways he is correct.  I already see a number of my colleagues moving away from Google Places SEO services.  But 2012 created so much opportunity to help and educate marketers that I see nothing but green field in 2013 for those that have the enthusiasm and think of themselves as the Radiohead of SEO.  Stay thirsty, my friend

Google Rolls Out Adwords Express Plus

With Google’s new Adwords Express Plus rollout another piece of the coming SMB Business Builder Portal has fallen into place. Dan Petrovic of DejanSEO noted over the weekend that Google had started pitching Adwords Express to G+ Local Page owners. It turns out that what they are actually offering is a newly revamped & enhanced version of the product called Adwords Express Plus. The product includes a totally revised interface as well as product enhancements that make the product more functional in many situations than the existing product.

New features:

  • Ability  to identify a radius (up to 40 miles) within which the ad will be shown
  • Ability to send the ad to a custom landing page instead of just the home page
  • More Ad types
  • Ability to preview the ads in a sample page
  • Cleaner and easier to understand self serve interface that is similar to the new G+Page dashboard

 

Step one: Select your audience geography and primary sales category
Step one: Select your audience geography and primary sales category. Note that when you type “engagement rings” it offers top level categories only.

It was never clear in the previous version of Adwords Express that ads would appear on Google’s ad network. That has been made much more obvious in this version with an appealing eye candy to make it seem like a real plus. There is no option to choose not to do so. Thats one way to expand ad inventory at the expense of unwitting SMBs.

Since April when Adwords Express was removed from the Places Dashboard and given its own home as a subdirectory of Adwords, little has been heard of the product. There was no way for businesses to easily access its interface either via the dashboard or the G+ Local social interface. In September the product was promoted via an email & a $100 coupon to businesses that had claimed their listings. It has been assumed but never confirmed by Google that their simplified Adwords product would show up again more prominently once Google had rolled out its “Business Builder” smb social local portal. While that has been a long time coming this AdWords Express upgrade along with the recent G+ page management interface upgrade seem to be part and parcel of a bigger upgrade  and monetization process that is gradually taking shape.

Here are screen shots of the new interface and process:

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Google+ Adds Improved Multi Page Mgt Interface

First reported by Google Plus Daily and highlighted by the always observant Matt Gregory on Twitter, Google has rolled out an improved interface for those of you managing multiple G+ Pages social local pages (G+SLP?).  The interface allows you to quickly view all of the Pages that you are managing, provides a single view of ALL notifications across all of your pages and allows quick access to each page’s settings.

The URL for the interface  is telling: https://plus.google.com/dashboard. This new Dashboard appears to be part of an overall redesign of Plus elements as well as a future part of the coming replacement for the current Places Dashboard.

Screen Shot 2013-01-26 at 11.45.08 AM

 

 

Suspension and Reinclusion on social G+ Local Pages

This is a good news bad news Google story. At least there is some good news.

The good news? It appears that Google has dramatically improved the messaging around a listing suspension on a merged social G+ Local listing and is offering a direct link to a reinclusion request within the context of the suspension notice on the local Google+ page. No more hunting around trying to figure out whats next.

The bad news? There are an increasing number of suspensions in the social G+Local environment and there are now TWO sets of rules (the Google G+ Local Places (?) Quality Guidelines & the User Content & Conduct Policy) that a business needs to comply with to be sure that the listing is in compliance. It isn’t always clear which guideline has been violated either. I suspect that language use that a lawyer might view as categorical, the algo views as inappropriate (ie drug cases or DUI).

Update 1:30 pm: More good news. This particular client that requested reinclusion yesterday, heard back already that they were accepted. Good that they heard so quickly and good that the news was positive. It makes me think that an algo has been unleashed that might be overly aggressive.

Screen-Shot-2013-01-22-at-4.58.22-PM

Click to see the reinclusion request form:
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