Google Local Tidbits from LocalU and Beyond

At the last Local U Advanced we were fortunate to have two Googlers present; Joel Headley of Customer Support and Dan Pritchett, the lead engineer on the new Google Places for Business Dashboard. The environment was very open (with cameras and tweets off) and it was an incredible opportunity to get questions answered about Google Local. I picked up a few very interesting tidbits during these sessions that I can share.

– Custom Categories are going away. Except in the bulk upload environment where they can still be used (hmmm).

– The new Google Places for Business Dashboard had a recently imposed 25 business limit. But Dan Pritchett, hearing the sigh of dismay in the room, returned to Mt View and had the limit upped to 100. (wow)

– As a result of this inquiry I learned (since I don’t deal with very many service area businesses) that SABs can not use the bulk upload tool and are relegated to having to claim each listing (Thanks to Linda Buquet). Thus the 25 business limit meant endless account creation for SABs with 100 listings or more. And still does if you have more than 100. (grr)

– During LocalU I received an inquiry from a local SEO that wanted to report some spammy service area businesses but as you may or may not know, since SABs have been pulled out of MapMaker, the report a problem link does not work. The solution? (thanks to Keenan Glass for this tip.) Search for the business on the main page results and click on the “Feedback” link at the bottom of the Knowledge panel. This sends reports directly to the Google quality team rather than into MapMaker. (cool)

– Joel noted during the presentation and reiterated via post yesterday: “if you’re calling my support team for verification, have the listing’s account email posted somewhere on the website of your business”. Thus if the account is under a generic gmail account instead of the domain email Google can verify that the listing actually belongs to the account. This protects both the account holder and Google and provides them with one more tool to resolve disputes. Worried about spam? Put the information on an obscure page that isn’t indexed and as an image. (nice to know)

– And for those of you NOT in the US – Google announced that the the new Places for Business dashboard will be rolling out to new users in the following countries: Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Norway, Croatia, Finland, Singapore, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. (Liechtenstein?)

-Not related to LocalU but the link at the bottom of the 7-pack has returned although now it goes to Maps view with the list and not to the Places search (egads…what happens when you have the new Maps?)

– I also made an inadvertent discovery  as  how to allow for Google reviews on the iPhone and iPad. (Let me know via email if you need this information).

-Those that attended LocalU noted how refreshing and useful it was to actually hear from Google themselves about the realities of Local. In fact at both SMX Advanced and LocalU applause broke out spontaneously several times when the discussion of Google local support came up. Now thats a change. (Its about time. Nice to see Google finally growing up. :) )

The joke was that perhaps some day soon Matt Cutts would be referred to as the Joel Headley of Web Search.

And the required caveat: Google is one of the sponsors of LocalU (although not this one).


Local Carousel Ranking = Maps Ranking = Location Prominence

As Dave Rodecker pointed out the other day in his comments on the roll-out of the Local Carousel, the ranking algo that Google is using is the same location prominence algo used in the current/old Google Maps. There does not appear to be any blended/organic influences in the results that I have looked at so far and the ranking matches pin for pin in both Maps and the 7-Pack display for the same search results. This pattern has held true across every search that I have examined so far.

That being said, it is not at all clear to me that a first, left position is all that advantageous and the jury is still out as to user behaviors with this new display. It is likely that clicks will be more evenly distributed.

A comparison of Carousel, 7-Pack and Map ranking on the query "Pool Hall NY NY"
A comparison of Carousel, 7-Pack and Map ranking on the query “Pool Hall NY NY”

The implications?

1-Traditional Location prominence factors of citations, reviews, branded links etc are more important than pure web rank.

2- It also means that if you have a strong ranking web page for the same search it will also show.  And for those users that move down to the organic results that will be very important. Authorship in this context would be hugely valuable.

3- The photo is going to have a huge impact on click through.

4- Given that Google might choose a different photo than you provided it is necessary to be sure that ALL of your photos around the web are as good as possible.

How Many Results Are Required for the New Local Carousel to Display? At least 5

It would appear that the new Local Carousel will show up to 20 listings if there that many in any given market. But how few will it show? It seems that the answer is five listings. And at five they look weird on the screen. If there are fewer than five available to display then the results retain a traditional 1, 2, 3 or 4 pack display.

To determine the limit as to when the carousel would show I queried on the non category search “pool hall + geo” in a range of city sizes across NY State. I made the following searches (plus a few more) to find results displaying each number of results up to 5 and beyond. I was unable to find a search for pool hall that resulted in a 20 listing Carousel.

pool hall Corning NY – 1 Pack pool hall Jamestown NY – 2 Pack
pool hall Avon NY - 3 Pack pool hall Fredonia – 3 Pack
pool hall Amherst NY – 4 Pack pool hall Buffalo – 5 Listing Carousel
pool hall Arcade NY – 5 Listing Carousel pool hall Geneva NY - 6 Listing Carousel
pool hall Medina NY – 9 Listing Carousel pool hall Albany NY – 9 Listing Carousel
pool hall NY NY – 18 Listing Carousel pool hall Brooklyn NY - 18 listing Carousel

Depending on the screen resolution less or more black will display when only 5 or 6 results are showing. The first image is on a 1330 x 1000 display (typical of the average user – 46% of users have this size or smaller screens) and the second is the 1920 x 1200 pixels(7% of screens) display of my 24″ iMac. Both have a disconcerting amount of black in the displays and are both visually very distracting. Where is Steve Jobs when we need him….oh wrong company.

5 Listing Carousel on 1330 x 1000 pixel monitor
5 Listing Carousel on 1330 x 1000 pixel monitor. Click to view at actual size.

Continue reading How Many Results Are Required for the New Local Carousel to Display? At least 5

Why the Local Carousel Make Local Branded AdWords More Important

The new Google Local Carousel provides a striking design at the top of the SERPS that not only provides significant eye candy and for some users a click attractant but also leaves little room below for the display of many organic results. This is true on very large screens but is even more so on a typical home screen or in searches categories that are ad heavy and Google displays two ads below the carousel.

The display arrangement offers a huge opportunity (or pitfall as the case may be) to achieve hight visibilty at the expense of local competitors. Or a huge incentive for local businesses to start taking out Adwords.

Once someone starts clicking through the images and Google returns the branded results with ads just below the carousel, anyone who hasn’t taken out Adwords on their brand runs the risk of their search being disrupted by a more visible local competitor. This has always been true but in the limited geography available with the carousel the competitor ad becomes a highly visible obstacle for any local business.

At home I have a not untypical 1440 x 900 pixel display (~60% of all displays are this size or smaller). Compare these two branded results for “singing lessons Chicago“. Stacy, the soprano, went to the length of keyword spamming her business name and managed to achieve visibility in the carousel. However she not only neglected to add a photo (and this carousel highlights the importance of a good one) but left the ad space to a competitor that is taking full advantage. Takleson’s on the other hand advertised on the keyword, their brand AND on competitor’s names.

PS On the issue of how users are behaving with this new display see this interesting research by Mike Ramsey: 10 Random People’s Reactions To Google Local Carousel

Stacy the Soprano branded result - click to view larger
Stacy the Soprano branded result – click to view larger
No photo, Taklesons Ad

Continue reading Why the Local Carousel Make Local Branded AdWords More Important

Google Rolls Out Local Carousel Display in US for Dining, Nightlife, Hotels, and Other Attractions

As suspected Google has announced the roll out the Carousel Display for local results “for local dining, nightlife, hotels, and other attractions on desktop”. Here is Jade’s post in the Forums:

Today, we’re announcing an interactive “carousel” of results on Google search for local dining, nightlife, hotels, and other attractions on desktop. This launch is English and US-only for now. The carousel has appeared since December in tablet searches in the US, and the desktop local search experience is now consistent.

To give it a try,  search for something like “mexican restaurant.” Users can click on a specific place to view more details and scroll through more results by clicking on the arrows on the side.

How can I get my business to show up in the carousel?

While we can’t guarantee inclusion in search results, we can say that the carousel will show results from listings in Google Maps using categories. Just as in regular ranking, Google’s algorithms take into account many factors to select the places and results that are most relevant to the user. This algorithm based approach is also used to decide which businesses are in the carousel.

Why is this feature only available for some business verticals?

We’re committed to providing users a high quality search experience for every query. The carousel filtering experience is a good fit for some categories of local businesses. We will continue to experiment with different designs and interfaces to make sure that users get the information they’re looking for, fast.

I’d like to see this feature in more languages and countries, please!

We’ll work as fast as we can to roll out new features in as many places as possible, but have nothing to announce at this time.

My business is on the carousel, but I’d like to change the photo. How can I do that?

The Google business listing is one of several sources we use for the photos in the carousel, and making sure high-quality images are posted to it will help improve your photo. However the image selection, like the actual ranking of businesses, is primarily decided by algorithms and so we can’t guarantee complete control over the image.

Some notes:

1- The carousel will display as many restaurants as there is room on your display. On my iMac with a 1920 x 1200 displays 15 listings left to right. On my 1280 x 960 display it shows 9.5 listings.
2-It still retains the Zagat rating number
3-None of the displayed results from the carousel have an organic listing until the image is clicked
4-When you cursor over the image a pin is raised on the map
5-When you click on any given image you remain on the main search page for a branded search for that listing and the number 1 listing switches to the brand’s web and a knowledge panel is displayed to the right
6-Given the ease at which a branded search is executed (by a click), even though the company web site shows first, this will be a huge win for Yelp and others doing good seo in the entertainment and restaurant industries
7- In the hotel searches only advertisers and Google’s hotel finder are visible above the fold even on larger displays.
8-The displayed listing is a blended listing and shows site links and title tags when available.
9- I can currently see the display in Firefox but NOT Chrome (how weird is that)

How Good is Google Places for Business Phone Support? Very Good

Google first rolled out phone support for businesses using the Places Dashboard in early January of this year to deal with verification issues and subsequently announced additional phone support for data quality issues in late January for all English speaking users.

They had introduced email support in the US in Oct 2011 and rolled out email support worldwide in May of this year when they closed the European forums. One assumes with somewhere on the order of 100 million businesses world wide, somewhere north of 8 million claimed and their highlighting of the call in system in the help files the loads on their support system must be significant.



(First help screen seen when you click on the help link in the dashboard)


 (Screen seen when you click on “Contact Us”)

Yet their support fulfillment seems to be consistently very, very good.

I had a data quality issue with a secondary phone number showing up for a listing and it seemed that nothing I did over the past 13 days could disuade the Google algo from showing the incorrect number. I called support yesterday and here is the time log of the events:

10:28 Initiated call back support call

10:29 Received call back and placed on hold

10:32 Customer rep picked up the phone

10:32-34 Discussed issue with rep

10:34-36 Rep goes off to interact with tools to fix issue

10:36-37 Rep reports that issue should be resolved within several hours to a day

10:37-39 Rep chit chat.

4:00 When I bother to look the problem is fixed on the main search result page Knowledge panel for the location.

This day has been a long time coming.

Continue reading How Good is Google Places for Business Phone Support? Very Good

New Google Places for Business Dashboard Upgraded to Handle 100 Entries

Now-supports-100Last Thursday at the Advanced Local U, Dan Pritchett, the engineer heading up the Places for Business Dashboard effort and Joel Headley, joined us for the day long discussions.

During the day, the arbitrary limits to the maximum number of listings (25) in the dashboard were discussed and bemoaned by the folks at the seminar. For service area businesses with more than 25 locations, it meant there would thus be a need for multiple dashboards. Not a great solution. Dan heard and he acted.

I have just been informed that based on the feedback received Dan lifted the 25 listing limit to 100 in the new Places interface. Kudos to Google for listening and responding!

Is Google Debranding Local?

Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 10.26.40 AMLocal, like many developments at Google, has always been many things; a brand (G+Local, Places), a product (Places Search, the +Local App) and an internal & external API service (local data in Now, Earth or 3rd party products).

And as David Mihm has pointed out, Google’s branding of local has always been muddled and caused confusion in the market place. But now it would appear that the confusion will someday end and that both the local brand and the forward facing search product (Places Search) are falling by the wayside.

Local will persist as a service feeding critical contextually relevant data to the many current Google products that use local data and the many that are likely to be coming rapidly down the pipeline.

Local as brand & product – a History

Continue reading Is Google Debranding Local?

Google Local Carousel Display Showing More Frequently, In More Categories

google local corusel display

Image courtesy of Greg Gifford.

Greg Giford of Autorevo and Dr. Pete Meyers of Moz are both reporting increased visibility of the Local Carousel display that highlights local businesses at the top of the SERPS in a highly photographic style rather than the embedded 7-Pack Local Universal display of a list of pins.

Interestingly, for the first time, these are showing in categories outside of just restaurants and hotels. Greg reported the carousel as showing in a range of recreational, leisure and entertainment categories like golf, bowling alleys, movie theaters, night life, ballrooms and art galleries. (For the complete list of searches that Greg saw these results be sure to read his post.) No reports yet of retail or service area business listings in this new format.

Whether these are still in test mode or actually slowly rolling out is not clear as there have been sporadic sightings elsewhere around the country. It would seem that regardless they are getting closer to being fully baked.

First spotted in the wild by Dr. Pete in early May and analyzed in depth by Lisa Kolb these carousel results along with the Maps display seem to point to a shift in the ranking metaphor that Google has so long used in the display of local results. Highly visual in design, with a bold black border accentuating the color photographs, Google is almost saying “these are the most relevant results but are of equal value for your consideration”.

Much like social annotations and the pins, it appears that these types of results will “disrupt” traditional searcher behaviors that heavily favored the first search results by spreading clicks more evenly across the page. With a horizontal display it might be equally advantageous to be 3rd as it is to be first in order.

credit Dr. Pete Meyers, Moz

New Places for Business Dashboard Has 25 Listing Limit

As the new Google Places for Business Dashboard is being adopted more widely, we are starting to gain insights into its strengths and limits. One of its great strengths (besides a much enhanced interface) is the speed at which data typically makes it to the public listing making the use of MapMaker no longer as critical in the listing management process.

Apparently though there currently is a somewhat surprising hard limit that imposes a maximum of 25 listings in the new dashboard. The Google Help documentation notes a limit of 100 but that obviously applies to the old Dashboard and not the new one.

Brian Rutledge of Get Page One, LLC received this message while managing a large SAB with a number of locations.

Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 4.36.27 PM

Google introduced the new Places for Business dashboard on April 2nd. Initially the product was only available to newly claimed listing. Google started the process of converting existing dashboard users to the new dashboard late last month, beggining with the simplest dashboard use cases first. Those with lots of listings, AdWords Express ads in play or listings claimed into multiple accounts have not yet started the conversion process.

This new found limit at a fairly low number effectively forces more businesses into the bulk upload process which, while a good solution for many, does not offer the speedy data updates of the dashboard, easy access to the simplified marketing products or any obvious path to a social presence.

Hopefully a more graceful integration of the two disparate products can be achieved. It would be ideal if the dashboard could handle more listings or perhaps there was a migration path from the single listing dashboard to the bulk upload process for growing businesses.

While the Dashboard has never been intended for managing a great number of business listings or as an agency level product it is unfortunate that businesses. particularly in the 25-50 location range have so few good choices currently for listing management if they want a partial social presence or limited use of Google’s marketing products. They could migrate over to the G+ management interface but that appears to me to be a much less efficient listing management environment than either the dashboard or the bulk upload.

Regardless there is nothing more frustrating than a forced do over when an agency or SMB runs up against an undocumented limit of a product and has no elegant way to make the switch.

Update: Apparently Google will NOT approve these listings under the bulk upload program and the business is forced into using multiple dashboards. Although why that is, is unclear:

Continue reading New Places for Business Dashboard Has 25 Listing Limit

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