Google Testing New Local Pack in San Diego with Rollout of Advanced Verification

In early October, Google announced a new test for service area businesses that offered direct consumer contact and exhibited lots of spam (ie locksmiths, plumbers etc) that involved an advanced verification process. The advanced verification process is similar to, although less rigorous than the vetting process involve

d with the Home Service Ads that were showing in the Bay Area. Along with this Advanced Verification test, Google announced that any plumber or locksmiths in San Diego that did not Advance Verify or did not meet the standard would be pulled from the index sometime after November 10th.

What Google didn’t announce but that has now become obvious from this screen shot provided by Joy Hawkins on Twitter is that were will also be a new local display unit, the Home Services Pack, that highlights SABs that have done through this more rigorous vetting.


The Home Service Pack lists just Advanced Verified local businesses and displays them with a check mark to signify the higher level of verification. And it appears that the unit can appear in addition to the Local Pack which shows store front businesses.

Since this has yet to really role out and seems to still be only occasionally visible we are not yet sure how many previously listed SAB Plumbers and locksmiths will be removed.

More to follow.

Sayonara Google MapMaker – To Be Retired Over the Next 4 Months

Google has announced that MapMaker will be sunset and rolled into Google Maps. Here are some thoughts from Joy Hawkins. I have not yet thought throught the implications of this but they are significant.

I just received this email:

Google Map Maker graduates to Google Maps

We have some important updates to share with you about Google Map Maker. In March 2017 we are retiring the standalone Map Maker product and will integrate its features directly into Google Maps.

This update will enable us to focus on providing the best editing and moderation experience within Google Maps on both desktop and on mobile. We’ll continue to roll out new features to make sure you’re able to do most of the things you’ve grown accustomed to doing in Map Maker – like edit roads – leading up to March 2017 and after.

Since 2008, the Google Map Maker community has edited and moderated millions of features to improve the Google Maps experience for users worldwide. The Google Maps team has since brought Map Maker capabilities, such as adding and editing places, to our desktop and mobile products to make it easier for more users to keep their communities up to date while at home or on the go. These changes have empowered many more users to update the places they care about, view the status of their edits, and moderate other users’ edits.

Starting today, edits made on Google Maps will no longer be available for moderation on Map Maker. This will allow us to streamline our efforts, speeding up the time for an edit to get published. We will continue posting updates here on the Map Maker Help Forum and on as we bring more features into Google Maps.

To keep contributing your local knowledge to Google Maps and engage with a passionate community of likeminded individuals, we invite you to join the Local Guides program where you can earn points, unlock rewards for submitting edits and other information, and get early access to new Google Maps features.

We’ve greatly appreciated your contributions to Google Maps over the years and hope you will continue to update the world around you.

Thank you,

The Google Map Maker Team

Why this makes sense for Google:
1- It will create a single unified interface to be maintained going forward.
2- Google will have a single source for changes so that things like categories and address standards can be handled in a unified way.
3- There is one less data pipeline feeding their local database keeping the whole (complicated) system simpler.
4- There will be one less spam vector.
5- They will have a unified community management process. This means fewer support people, fewer forums etc.

What we hope will happen
1- The interface will hopefully be simpler for things like road edits so that non technical folks can actually make edits
2- As Joy points out, we can only hope that Google will surface listing and feature edit histories. This is incredibly valuable in diagnosing and fixing problems. (That being said the order of the day at Google is less transparency not more)
3- That spam will actually be less (HAH one can always dream).

The not so good about the change:
1- Long term contributors will have to learn new ways of working
2- Their stature in the community and their contributions might not be properly recognized. Google has a very short memory.
3- It often takes Google years to replace features that were standard in the old system as they transition.

What we don’t know
1- Will regional leads, that will now be part of the Local Guide program, have more authoritative editing capability?
2- Will they have the ability to approve other edits or change wrong edits that were made automatically or by someone without proper ground knowledge?

I am sure that you will have additional questions. What are they?

Why the Newest Google Local Guide Give Away Sucks

screenshot-2016-11-01-08-18-18Google’s Local Guide program is a Yelp Elite like program at huge, worldwide scale. Anyone can become a guide and their is are gamefication levels that create incentives for involvement. There are also contests and give aways to incentivize continued involvement of the guides.

The newest Local Guide give away of L’Oréal professional products strikes the wrong chord with me.

Lets for a moment ignore that the give away is clearly targeted at a certain demographic subgroup of guides. And let’s even ignore that the rules in the email and the rules on the web are different.1

What really rings the wrong note for me is that it appears to be a paid ad unit and that Google is “selling” access to the Local Guides for gain. Even if that isn’t true it has the appearance of a conflict and certainly is great advertising for L’Oreal.

The people that “work” for Google creating a ton of content for their local products, whether it be photos, reviews, edits or whatever, deserve better than to become another ad target.


1. In the email it states:
From today until November 17, every high quality review you write on Google Maps gives you a better chance to win 1 of 21 prize packages from L’Oréal
However on the web it states:
Review salons you’ve visited anywhere in the world for a chance to win one of 21 prizes

Google Adds Sharing Link to Local Knowledge Panel

I have not seen this before. Not sure if a test or a release. Google is getting downright social in their old age.

And in typical Googly fashion THEY decide which sharing I should be able to use rather than relying on the iPhone OS level options. Oops just seemed to have forgotten SMS/iMessage. Big surprise there.

It seems that Google just can’t resist falling into this sort of passive aggressive monopolist mode. It must be what is best for the user.


Google Testing Advanced Verification Process for Plumbers & Locksmiths

Google announced today a plan to increase verification scrutiny of plumbers and locksmiths. The beta is taking place in San Diego and every verified plumber and locksmith will be emailed a request to go through the new advanced verification process. The businesses will have their application accepted or denied within a two week period.

Google is  apparently focusing on the types of businesses that are often affected by local business fraud and and “make it easier for verified locksmiths and plumbers to be discovered online”.

The help documents are posted publicly but remember they currently only apply to those SAB plumbers and locksmiths in the San Diego market:

Some tidbits from the documentation and other dteails: Continue reading Google Testing Advanced Verification Process for Plumbers & Locksmiths

Google Posts Directly to Search Feature Expansion Continues – Now What?

1bqmh9Google announced in mid August that they would be expanding their test of the beta ‘direct to search’ posting for SMBs.

Barbara Oliver Jewelry just received her entree into the beta so for the first time I can test the product and assess its value. And learn better what how it performs and what benefits accrue to Barbara when it appears in the search results.

What is the product?

Originally I described it as a local social sharing product. I suppose that it is in some sense but more along the lines of a blog and not really in the vein of a G+ or Facebook. Maybe like Twitter with no character limit.

It is really a publishing platform with the unique distinction of making fresh content available for limited periods of time on the front page of search.

When and where does it appear?

In the current iteration it will ONLY show on a brand search for the entity that is using the product. It presents in an AMP like carousel just below the home page of the entity and to the left of the Knowledge Graph. The pages are extremely fast on mobile.

Relate Post From Local U:

Video Deep Dive: Google Posts, A New Paradigm for Fresh Local Content or Another Failed Social Experiment?

How Sharable is it?

The post has a permanent URL and the built in ability to share via G+, Facebook, Twitter and email.

Ever visible but NOT evergreen

One of the advantages of a blog is that the content, once indexed by Google and visible in search, can send traffic to a business website forever.  Roughly 50% of my 30,000 monthly visitors come from articles written in previous years. It’s content that keeps on giving. Particularly when it’s gotten a few links. 

Content on  Google Posts shows for a limited time on the front page and then it is stored on the business’s Posts page.  BUT it is not indexed for Google search and  can’t be found via Google, they can only be browsed2. Very limiting indeed.

At this point in the beta, the content has nowhere to go. It is conceivable, that with enough shares, it could show in search though we don’t really know. 

But its not too hard to imaging that Google could easily push the content into Google Plus or even back to the SMB website for a more lasting value if the content is good.


The local indexed search results are for the most part very static. A listing from barely changes year to year let alone month to month.

This product actually allows for scheduled minute to minute changes. Since it publishes in real time a business (or any organizational event like the Olympics or Google I/O) can be posting during a live event. The posts can be scheduled to disappear from search as quickly as they appear of they can be scheduled to last up to two weeks.

For sure they bring a dynamic nature to the otherwise boring content of a brand search that currently does not engender repeat visits by the user.

What’s Impressive Continue reading Google Posts Directly to Search Feature Expansion Continues – Now What?

10 Years Ago: Sometimes you just need a name change

dried-plumMy wife was extolling the virtues of Dried Plums as a sweetener in her homemade ketchup the other day. She was convinced that they were better than prunes for the task.

Little did she realize that “in 2001, plum growers in the United States were authorised by the government to call prunes ‘dried plums’. Due to the popular U.S. perception of prunes being used only for relief of constipation, and being the subject of related joking, many distributors stopped using the word “prune” on packaging labels in favour of “dried plums”.

Naming is indeed important in terms of perception AND search.

Here  is one of my earliest posts from September 29th, 2006 about the importance of name in ranking at Google:
Does Business Name = Title Tag?

Then as now I asked the question: Will Google at some point consider it spamming to do so?

2)Enhance the title of the Business to include the key phrase(s)

As I have explored Google Maps local rankings, I have used the models developed for organic search optimization as a starting point to develop understanding and make progress.

The working theory I developed is that the business name created in the Google Business Center functions in much the same as a Title Tag on an html page and that it perhaps has priority over other methods of determining relevancy. Minimally it plays a role, that much is sure.

Google Local (Google Maps) Title Example
Note in this example how Google highlights the search phrase in the Business Name (title) phrase.

Google Maps though has a number of different ways to potentially determine relevancy of a page to a search. One of the most significant besides business name is categories. Since they are limited in number and any listing can only have five they could easily play this role. Description also seems to play a part in reinforcing the relevancy of the listing.

It is certainly conceivable that category and description are more important or equally important to title. My theory is though that they act more like body copy & headlines on a text page to reinforce the business listing name. Can anyone shed more light on this relationship?

From a marketing and branding standpoint, this can have implications. Should a business change its business name in some way to enhance its standing on Google Maps? Will Google at some point consider it spamming to do so?

I have taken the approach that by adding one or two key services to a business name you are probably ok on both fronts. This is an issue that needs to be addressed and perhaps discussed with a client prior to the listing.

In 2009 Barbara Oliver changed her name from ‘Barbara Oliver & Co’ to ‘Barbara Oliver & Co Jewelry’. This past month she changed her name from ‘Barbara Oliver & Co Jewelry’ to ‘Barbara Oliver Jewelry‘. She has done so to better rank in Google and to further her brand her efforts. Initially she was a one person show and wanted to seem larger than she was thus the “& Co”. The recent change to just Barbara Oliver Jewelry reflects her growing understanding that she is the brand even though she has tripled in size and added full time employees.

All the while she respected the guidance in An Internet Change of Address Guide written in 2008. And still mostly relevant.

A Summary of Recent Local Pack Tests

Talk about walk and talking in Local at the same time, Google Local has been on a testing tear with the Local Pack.

Lots of reports of new and different pack layouts over the past few weeks. A special nod to Sergey Alakov, Barry Schwartz and Jennifer Slegg and the many other observant souls who do such a great job tracking these things and reporting on them.

9-28 Distance Filter spotted by Sergey Alakov on Twitter.


9-26 Blue Links in the Pack spotted by Sergey Alakov on Twitter.and reported at Searchenginerountable


9-26 Reported by Barry in Google Tests Hotel Booking Ads At Top Instead Of Right Side and spotted by Craig Harkins posted a screen shot on Twitter

Early September – Search by Rating for Non Restaurant Business (lost my reference on who saw this first but I think it was Sergey).


Local U Advanced Speaker Series Videos

After 10 years writing about Local Search, at one point I wondered  if I could keep the fire in my belly.

But I have realized that there is always something exciting, always more to learn and its just a question of finding the people to learn from.

What I have also recognized is that sometimes just sitting down and talking is the best way to do that.  While I did this series as a way to highlight the great speakers that will be coming to Local U Advanced in New Orleans, the project has had many additional rewards.

Which is why I wanted to share them with you. There are many more than a few gems in these interviews that will make it worth your time:

Ed Reese on Assumptions Driving Conversions, KPIs, Visualization & The Summer of Discovery

Cindy Krum on the Latest Trends in the Local Mobile Space

Darren Shaw on Enterprise Level Citations & Local Ranking

Joy Hawkins & Google Local

David Deering & Schema for Local

Mark Sullivan on Local Call Tracking

Andrews Lock and Key – Locksmith Warrior Mesa Az

Andrew of Andrews Lock & Key deserves more than a link and a citation and a little bit of publicity for his efforts but that is all that I have to offer since I don’t live in Mesa, AZ.

Locksmith spam has long been an issue in Google Maps and has been the baine of consumers and real locksmiths alike. I used to write about it a lot as it was really the first case of widespread abuse at Google and gave an inkling of the deep hole they were in. And to some extent still are. In the end though I stopped writing about it as it was very difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys from my seat in Olean.

Take a look at this video (H/T to Chris Silver Smith for sending it along), share it to your network and if you are in Mesa in need of locksmithing give Andrews Lock and Key a call:
Andrews Lock & Key

Andrew is a good guy… obviously a dedicated locksmith and a very good marketer and willing to go out on a limb for his love of his industry. Running a local small business is effing hard. I know from my 30 years of running them. I can only guess at the incredible pressures placed on a business by the wild west of the Locksmith world when added to all of the other existing stresses. He would have to really love it.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search