Google Plus has released their new responsive, mobile first design. It indicates a very clear direction for the product with its focus on collections, communities, content and curation.
What it doesn’t focus on is of more interest to me. It doesn’t focus on businesses, their description, reviews, videos or business photos. In fact the complete absence of those features in this initial roll out seems to indicate the final and rather draconian separation from any business related function.
Over the past two years I have discussed the parting of the ways between local and Plus but through all of that Google had retained the essence of tabbed business pages and given the owner the ability to add a description, photos, videos and provided a place to send customers to see and leave their reviews.
That is all gone. In focusing on content, communities and collections Google has hung out a new and bold sign.
If you haven’t gotten the message yet it should finally be clear in the release of their new and improved G+: BUSINESS UNWELCOME.
This dramatic change will leave small businesses not just frustrated but angry as they shake their heads and head out the exit.
Facebook, over the past 18 months, has slowly been pushing into the local space. One of those efforts has been in the review space and they have managed to become one of the leading general review sites because of user familiarity and Facebook’s periodic promotions of their review capacity. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that they have apparently not yet put in place filters and processes to deal with the problems and abuses that can occur with reviews when not managed correctly by the platform.
Lynelle Schmidt of Long’s Jewelry Store in Boston writes of a Fiverr driven review attack on their Facebook page that landed over a hundred negative reviews on their page in the span of a few minutes. She noted at inbound.org :
I was so disheartened to see that someone had hired over 100 people to give us fake one star reviews. In the span of just a few minutes, we went from a gleaming 5 star reputation to just barely over 2 stars.
Initially Facebook refused to do anything. After several attempts by Lynelle at communicating with Facebook they have agreed to reexamine the situation and apparently have at least temporarily removed the review page.
One hopes the Facebook steps up and resolves this particular case of abuse but it points out that their review platform in being unregulated and unsupervised is rife for this sort of attack on small businesses. Reviews are a particular pain point for most small businesses and if Facebook does not put in place both filters and processes that handle these sorts of events effectively, what trust they have built up with businesses will soon dissipate.
Facebook has clearly committed resources to their local efforts. If reviews are going to be part of that effort then Facebook has to “put on their big boy pants” and start to be a steward of that trust in a way that respects both the consumer and the business. And part of that trust is putting in place both algorithmic and management processes that minimizes the impact of these sorts of review attacks.
CNBC is reporting that “as of today, homeowners searching for contractors on Google will be shown results that are “HomeAdvisor screened and approved” and come with profiles, price estimates and the ability to “book now” or schedule an appointment to compare estimates for work”.
This appears to be a new ad format although as of yet there are no details what it costs and where the payment is made. It is not clear if the process is completely driven by HomeAdvisor or if the business needs to interact with Google directly. It is also not clear what happens if the selected business is not immediately responsive. Does the request go to the next plumber in HomeAdvisor’s queue.
I have yet to see a live example of the booking screen but here is the screen example shown in the CNBC article:
This comes on the heals of IAC’s offer to buy Angies List and merge it with HomeAdvisor. IAC has taken an offer directly to Angie’s List stock holders at a 10% premium over the current price. Together the combined entity would have $700 million in annual revenue.
Interestingly Google has previously invested in home services startup Thumbtack and has continued their own HSA test in the San Francisco market. They seem to be pulling out all of the stops in going toe to toe with Amazon.
The Google Franken Page problem seems to have largely if not completely disappeared. In a check of 54 links from Uncle Bob’s Storage that were known to have suffered from the problem only one remains that has not yet been fixed. That is down from 2 bad listings this AM so a fix seems to be rolling out.
I asked Google to comment on the situation and here is what they said: Thank you for reporting this. We’re working on a fix and apologize for any inconvenience.
Here is the bad Uncle Bob’s listing that still is not resolving correctly:
If you recall, these franken pages started showing up early last week when Google, for whatever reason, was re-directing Plus pages to new URLs for some percentage of Plus pages. At the time we were seeing about 10% of all pages that had been redirected failed.
There appeared to be two types of these pages that were similar but had subtle differences. Some, which had just been separated from their local knowledge graph appeared as brand pages but verified. Others, a much smaller percent, though showed a 0 instead of a phone number. These are the few that seem to be still outstanding.
The risk level has dropped significantly and hopefully those remaining broken pages will be fixed in the near future.
And the description of what’s in that field now says:
“url contains the URL of the official Google page for this place. This will be the Google-owned page that contains the best available information about the place. Applications must link to or embed this page on any screen that shows detailed results about the place to the user.”
Those maps.google.com links bring up a regular Google map with a pushpin. If you click on the pushpin, you get the business info that you’d have gotten from many other kinds of searches, and that WOULD HAVE BEEN stored in the Google+ page for the business.
Google My Business List (aka GMBL, Bulk) has not seen this many upgrades in a quarter since the financial meltdown in 2008. Google rolled out last night a small but helpful upgrade that allows businesses to set different hours for different days both en masse and on a daily date basis. The feature rolled out in the GMBL via the bulk upload is also available to individual businesses via the List view in the dashboard. Help file instructions are here.
Starting in September Google released a visual upgrade on the search results that alerted searchers to the fact that a business might be closed on a given national holiday. If a business adds special hours specifically for the dates of the holiday the .ours will clearly indicate that they are open thus avoiding the consumer confusion.
Both the old style and the new style hours are supported in the upload file which is good as it allows large organizations and the software that generates these files a few weeks to adopt before Thanksgiving in the U.S.:
If a single location business or a bulk wants to change the hours directly they are able to do so via the List view interface in the new dashboard by selecting “special hours” in the hour area. Once there a user can select any number of individual days and times to indicate their specific status. If there are multiple locations that you manage in the dashboard, these changes can be applied to all locations for which you have management approval:
There is no real restriction on how far into the future a business could make these changes so they could conceivably add the holiday hours well into the future with one fell swoop:
As I noted above, the GMBL has finally started to get some serious love from Google. It has sat largely untouched and unchanged for a long time and it retains many of the oddities of its pre 2012 existence like 200 character limits and no html in the description field (not that anyone can actually read the description field).
In late September we saw the major update to the GMB interface that integrated the single and list view into a consistent experience. And in mid October we saw the release of the API. Google noted to us in a show and tell of the new product that they were the first local platform to support holiday hours across both single and bulk listings. But the really big change in all of this is the obvious reality that Google understands that agencies are a real and significant part of the ecosystem and their existence needs to not only be recognized but helped.
I met with the new GMBL product manager while at Google several weeks ago and he is a forthright, articulate and forward thinking person. The many and frequent changes we have seen in the GMBL is an optimistic sign that GMBL is not just alive and breathing but that it is finally looking to the future.
Local U Advanced is my favorite local event of the year; its collegial, casual, intimate and leading edge educational. This year the event will be held in Williamsburg, Va the night of March 4th and all of March 5th, 2016.
The agenda for the event will be coming out on November 8th but if you are interested in a ticket prior to that LocalU is offering up a Pre Agenda special for only $499 ($449 if you are a Local U forum member).
That’s the good news.
The bad news? There are only 2 tickets left at that price.
I am a student of local. I read Google patents, I study legal documents. And I am reasonably a good speller. That doesn’t mean that I can spell Acxiom’s name correctly very often. Nor can I pronounce it.
It is one of those corporate branding exercises that must have looked great on paper but never quite worked out in the real world and should be changed. I have at least 3 spellings that I use with regularity and I am sure there are variations I haven’t thought of.
As incontrovertible proof I offer up this document from the Google Legal team, known for dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s:
5.2 Google Local Business Listings in the United States
When you search for local listings, Google displays business listings which may be supplied by Acxiom Corporation and/or infoUSA Inc. (“Axciom” and/or “infoUSA”). This information is proprietary to those corporations and is protected under U.S. copyright law and international treaty provisions.
Even Google’s Legal Department gets it wrong 50% of the time.
Another thing about Acxion that is worse than their choice of name?
Their choice of URL for claiming local listings: http://mybusinesslistingmanager.myacxiom.com/
Starting Monday we started seeing a growing number of weirdly formatted G+ Pages for local. Apparently it is being caused by the fact that Google has changed EVERY MANY G+ Plus page url for local (not all pages but definitely some…).
Most of the new URL’s redirect accurately but for some fairly large percentage that is not the case. In those cases, the old URL’s 404 and the new ones take users to a franken-page that looks half local and half brand.
Uncle Bob’s Storage, a large national storage company with their HQs in Buffalo, was tracking the change and noticed that of their 537 locations, 482 correctly redirected but that 55 of their locations did NOT redirect correctly. Thus somewhere on the order of 10% of all G+ Pages for Local that were redirected may be in this malformed state*. And the old URL’s are generating 404 errors!
Here are two URLs from Uncle Bob’s larger sample that show both a malformed & problematic outcome and one where the redirect works correctly:
A bigger problem confronts those of you that were using your G+ Page URL in your marketing to get your customers to your page. Some fairly large* percentage of those URLS are currently broken and need to be tested.
The problem is that these new franken-pages do not show reviews and do not offer any way to gather reviews so until Google fixes this there is no easy work around if you are using the Plus url for your review program other than sending users to a search for your company.
This sort of craziness demonstrates why as a user or agency you should always track the URLs for your local page in Plus, Maps and Mapmaker and track the core CID.
* We don’t really know how many pages were affected by the redirect and of those how many didn’t redirect correctly. While my sample size is largish, it is for just one business. They could be the unlucky ones. We don’t know whether their % is typical of those pages that were redirected and we have no idea of how many pages in total were redirected. Regardless, capture your URL now and watch the page for the next several weeks if you are using the URL in your marketing
Reviews and testimonials are powerful social proof of your business’s capabilities but they are often hard to get. Incentives, including contests and discount coupons as well as direct rewards, often will increase your review counts. But at what cost?
*Full disclosure: I am a founder and co-owner of GetFiveStars.com