Google Updates Review Content Policy

Google has just updated the review content guidelines to explicitly prohibit review stations AND employee reviews.

The changes to the policy are noted in italics:

For instance, as a business owner or employee you should not review your own business or current place of work. Don’t offer money or product to others to write reviews for your business or write negative reviews about a competitor. We also discourage specialized review stations or kiosks set up at your place of business for the sole purpose of soliciting reviews.

The Disconnect Between What SMBs Use Facebook For and What Consumers Use it For

Last week at Kelsey it was reported that an “astounding 41.7% of SMBs surveyed by BIA/Kelsey say they see Facebook most importantly as an acquisition tool”. Astounding is right. That is a huge disconnect with reality.

My recent survey of how consumers find lawyers tallied that 2.1% of the US adult internet users would start their search at their favorite social network. 32.7% indicated that they would start their search at a search engine or elsewhere on the internet. In other words a consumer looking for a lawyer is almost 16 times as likely to start their internet search for a specialty lawyer anyplace BUT Facebook. They indicated that they were 5 times as likely to start their search in the printed Yellow Pages than on their favorite social network. Granted this is lawyers but it is likely that these percentages hold roughly true for other industry segments as well. We have seen a similar disconnect at our Local University presentations where SMB attendees have reported that 68% Have Facebook Pages but only 28% have claimed their Google Places Listing.

Facebook is an incredible platform for retention, community building, awareness but I see this huge disconnect amongst SMBs that think that it is prime territory for client acquisition. If any of you have clients that have missed this critical point, I am reprinting last week’s graph sideways so that it is more obvious. (The number on the far right is Facebook.)

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This disconnect could actually lead to annoyed customers rather than new customers. Facebook is social. Direct customer acquisition activities is just the opposite. My wife said to me the other day that she DID NOT want her lawyer, doctor or dentist interacting with her in that environment. Certainly there are some business types that she wouldn’t mind interacting with, for example the local cupcake bakery, but even there interacting needs to be more social than anything. I don’t think her atypical. I think Facebook runs a grave risk of losing their core users if client acquisition becomes the standard operating mode there.

What Makes for a Good Author Photo in the Local Results? (Part 1)

What makes for a good Author photo in the Local results?

Author photos are increasingly showing in Google’s local search results. Since first appearing in local results in February of this year, author photos have slowly and steadily increased in frequency. In most markets you may only see one author photo in the local results but in some markets a preponderance of results display them. This blended result from a legal search in the Orlando market, with its variety of images, put the question front and center as to what makes for a good avatar in local results.

The interesting variety in the array of photos in this particular search result – some old, some young, no women, bordered, without borders, bright colors, muted colors, looking left, looking right – immediately elevated for me the idea that click through rates AND conversions would in all likelihood be influenced by differences in these photos. In looking at the results perviously, I had encouraged my client, Moses and Rooth Attorneys at Law, to use an open, friendly close up photograph. But after showing these results to several people I realized it likely that there was more to avatar photo preferences than met the eye. And that the role of an author photo in local might be different than in general search results.

I wanted to better understand the issues with these photos so I embarked on an effort to learn how other experts might address the situation and how consumers might evaluate these photos. I invited Cyrus Shepard, who has done thorough testing of his own author photo, AJ Kohn who has written extensively about authorship and Matt McGee, an editor at MarketingLand that has written broadly about social (and who has the best avatar of all time), to give their opinions as to which of these photos were most effective and why.

The second prong of my effort to understand how these images might influence results was to create a consumer survey using the Google survey tool to ask 1500 adult internet users the question: If you were selecting a lawyer based on these images, which would you select? The results of the survey with comments from Cyrus, AJ and Matt will be published in the very near future.

My goal in doing this exercise was not to profile the ideal avatar photo but to start a conversation to get myself and others thinking about what questions we should ask when creating these photos, how might the role of avatar photos for local differ than that of regular author photos and how to get started advising a client as to the direction they should take. In other words, what is a good starting point for your local author image.

I gave Cyrus, Matt and AJ the following charge:

1) Which avatars in the above search result do you prefer and why?

2) What makes for a good avatar. Are there design principles or other general guidance to use when creating one?

3) I am going to do a Google survey and see what consumers say about this specific group of photos

4) And then show you the results of the consumer survey so you can comment and add additional insights

Before I share the initial, pre survey impressions of Cyrus, AJ and Matt with you, take a moment to examine the avatars yourself and decide which ones you like best, which ones you think would perform best in the real world and why…..

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Local Onebox Display Now Upgraded to New Universal OneBox Display

Ol’ Eagle Eye, Matt Gregory, caught a change that I had anticipated. The Local OneBox has been upgraded to the same format as the other OneBox results.  The Onebox display, in general, was upgraded earlier in the week in the week to match the mobile display. Note that the user now needs to click into the photo to see more. Whether part of the change or not, fewer review sites are now showing as well.

Getlisted.org is Joining Forces with SEOMoz – Local U is growing up!

Good friend and advisor, David Mihm, has just announced that Getlisted.org is joining forces with SEOMoz. From the Getlisted Blog:

It’s a great day for us, but we’re equally excited for you guys, our users and audience. Everything GetListed has been about so far–giving away a ton of knowledge and as much great functionality as we could–is about to get super-charged with SEOmoz. With their technical expertise and design-savvy, we’ll be able to scale way beyond what we’ve been able to do as a two-person company. It is awesome to have this firepower behind our site, our product, and our Local Search community. The overlap between organic, social, and local has never been closer, and it’s only going to continue in that direction. It’s phenomenal to have a ready-made team in place that already has some great tools that address those first two areas. And then there’s SEOmoz’s amazing Help Team. Their knowledge and speed is going to help us scale our knowledge to the community so much better than we’ve ever been able to before.

This is an incredible opportunity for David and it is wonderful to see the success that has made for Getlisted. What does this mean for Local U? As David said:

We’ve operated Local U as a collaborative, cooperative, total team effort under the GetListed.org brand. We are all REALLY pleased with the brand that Local U has built on its own, and it will continue to operate independently. While Local U was not part of the acquisition, it’s safe to say that:

- SEOmoz will be involved on a sponsorship level on an extremely regular basis

- David will still be speaking at most/all of the events

- David will continue to offer input on content and logistical considerations and generally be a part of the team

We have already been planning several events for Spring 2013, including return visits to Austin and Seattle, and new events in Corpus Christi, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Houston. So if you’re in any of those markets, email questions@localu.org for more details.

Google Local: Train Wreck at the Junction

Google Local is a veritable train wreck for business listing management. The Dashboard is in a state of non functioning disrepair, the + Page path to listing management is full of bugs. The current business types supported by the feature set in the +Page environment is extremely limited. The rules for business listings in MapMaker differ from the rules for Places/+Local/Pages and bots there often run amok with listing data. Factor in the technical difficulties of legitimate listings going into “We currently do not support this location” purgatory and being lost for months on end AND the bevy of old issues like merges and duplicates and the wreck starts to take on epic proportions.

The problems are compounded by Google’s unclear complete lack of  guidance as to whether the Dashboard or the social local management environment is the future of their local interface. This adds a level of uncertainty for businesses small and large as to how to proceed with effective listing management. Should a business commit to the new G+ Page local environment? Is this Dashboard being phased out or is it just undergoing a renovation? There are “indications” that both products will exist going forward. Yet Google, rather than laying out a road map so businesses can plan in an intelligent manner, plays 3 card monte with press statements and or makes public utterances that lack clarity.

Has Google Local fallen prey to a failure of management or management turnover?
Is Local under funded?
Is it under focused?
Is it too complicated?
Is the project so big (and incredible) that its gestation period is longer than that of an elephant?
Did the Local team get side tracked by the forced march to social?
Has the strategy of release early and iterate often failed because Google local has forgotten the iterate part?
Are we just seeing a failure of execution?

Who knows. Google is not saying. The problem is that businesses need to plan, they need to keep moving forward on their marketing and unfortunately, for many, Google Local is a key component of that plan.

Here is how I see the situation and my recommendations for the next 60 days as to how a business should proceed given the many, many vagaries of the current situation and why I am suggesting that for most business the best tactic for now is to just sit tight in the old Dashboard and wait:

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Having Issues with Your G+Local Social Merge? My Advice: Don’t

Googler Jade has posted a tip at the Google for Business forums with resources for solving the issues that might crop up if you are doing a merge (hat tip to Linda Buquet for highlighting this). My recommendation: DO NOT MERGE YET. Wait for Google to fully flesh our their product line and feature sets so you can make an informed decision.

Here is Jade’s post:

Issues with merging the local business/place page in Google+ and the local Google+ page (with reviews)?

Wondering whether you should attempt the merge/verification? Read this post first. More information and FAQ on the original announcement post.

  • Help! My social local Google+ page (that I made in the local business/place category) has been verified but doesn’t seem to have merged with the correct reviews.
    • Submit these pages to be merged as duplicates here, selecting, “There is a duplicate listing that I would like to have removed.”
  • The social local Google+ page I made is stuck in verification and still says “In progress” after over a week.
    • A handful of pages appear seem to be stuck in verification, and we’re working on getting them out. Sit tight!
  • The PIN I received isn’t working.
    • Make sure your business location is findable on Google Maps. Go into http://maps.google.com and type in the exact text you have as your address on the page. Make sure Maps can find your location without needing to go through any “Did you mean…?” links.
    • Make sure no information on the page is set to “Private.”
    • Don’t change any info on your page in between requesting the PIN and entering the PIN.
    • Request a new PIN if possible.
    • If you can’t request a new PIN, contact support via the Google+ verification troubleshooter.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search