May 31, 2012
I was on the road yesterday after the Google + Local roll out so I was unable to answer questions that showed up in the comments on my two posts. Vanessa has been answering a number of questions in the forum so it also makes sense to follow her post there.
Rather than answer them in line, I have created a FAQ and done my best to answer the questions in one spot for all to see. Google is providing TC training shortly and will be answering additional questions so if you have them post them here and I wll try to get them answered.
If a user just has a gmail account will they be able to write a review or must they also sign up for Google+?
They will need to sign up for Google +
So our customers are not able to leave reviews unless they are on Google+?
Yep, you need a Google+ account to write a review. See the help page.
Can reviewers leave anonymous reviews?
No. At this point it is real names only.
Is there any way to choose a nickname like we had in Places reviews?
Why am I not seeing the “Leave a Review” button?
These had been removed from the Places page in anticipation of this move and put on the new Google+Local page. If you are still not seeing the review button it is because you have landed on the old Place page which is still accesible.
Why would Google make my re-publish old reviews while I’m trying to publish a NEW review for a different business?
Why it happens at that point in the process was an intentional design decision. It is a one time process needed since Google is moving from anonymous and nicknamed reviews to full, real identity reviews . This necessitated some sort of user approval process to explicitly allow your user name to be seen or to choose to make the review private.
Oh Google, you are driving me CRAZY! Can you please tell me how a dentist can have a Zagat review rating on their places page?
In this case it will be a single number indicating quality on the 0-30 scale.
I have my Google+ Business Page and my Google+ Local page claimed into different accounts. What do I do?
Keep managing them separately. From Vanessa: “We know it’s not ideal right now, but we’re working to consolidate these pages into a single page where you guys can manage your presence across Google. We’ll keep everyone posted on news in that regard.”
“To be very clear here, we will be combining any Google+ page you may have created with any matching upgraded Google Places listing (what we’re calling local Google+ pages). ”
If I have several hundred listings how to I enter them in Google+Local?
Bulk Upload was recently upgraded and is the method of choice for getting data into Google+Local. Given its very recent upgrade that is likely to remain the case.
Do you think we’ll be able to create one Google + page for a franchise type business and link it to all of the listings? Otherwise, I fear that my clients will either a) be forced to create (and manage!) 400+ Google + pages or b) Take a huge rankings hit!
We do not yet know how Google will this parent child relationship. Google has given a great deal of thought to the needs of large companies in Google + and were slow to implement the needed features to get them right.
They have added multiuser management to Google+ and it appears that it will likely be a feature when the merger of the Business and Local pages occurs.
Based on this evidence I am optimistic that Google will put in place some a way for a large, multi location chain to easily mange both + and +Local page.
The fact that the bulk upload was recently updated implies to me that these issues were considered and likely already “baked in”.
Do you know if the Google + page is automatically linked when you set it up and find it via phone number?
The claiming process has not changed.
How can I upload Videos?
You can no longer upload videos or use the Post to Place page feature in the Dashboard. So for now there is no way but obviously video is a critical part of Google + and it will be integrated sooner rather than later.
Why does the “See your listing on Google Maps” link in the dashboard not take me to the new Google+Local page?
From Vanessa: “We’re working to update that link so that it redirects to the new local Google+ page. Stay tuned.”
Is the Google Google+Local page still considered a search result?
Interesting question that I will put to Google. As it stands today the answer is yes AND no.
The Google + Local pages are indexed pages and are now showing up in the search results as a stand alone result in addition to a pinned result. So in that sense they are a web page and not a search result.
This will create some opportunity to use the page for reputation management and perhaps long tale strategies. They may become more important over time.
But the pages will still be updated automatically at Google’s whim if they suspect bad data and currently include competitors nearby so in that sense they are a Google controlled search result. They do not yet have ads on your page but that seems inevitable.
Can you please explain the difference of a Google+ Page compared to a Google+ Local Page? It seems like a lot of duplicate content? I don’t want to spend time and money creating both for all of our clients if they will eventually merge into one in the future?
From Vanessa: “A Google+ page has all the social features available to Google+ users — Hangouts, sharing to circles, video uploads, etc. A local Google+ page is just a new look to the Google Places listing, minus the social features. Those social features are coming soon, as I mention in my original post above. And as I also said, we know it’s not ideal needing to manage two separate pages.”
How will Google know to merge my Google+Local Page and my Google+Business Page?
From Vanessa: “Be sure to choose the Local category so that we can bring your multiple pages together to create one listing later on.”
How will I know when Google is planning on merging the two pages?
From Vanessa: “Go to this form — http://goo.gl/8apbo — give us you’re email address, and we’ll let you know when we can combine your pages in to a single page — like the ones we feature on the Google and Your Business blog post (http://goo.gl/lhF6S). ”
Where do you find a link for a Google+Local listing if you wanted to report a duplicate VIA the Troubleshooter?
Use the URL you see at the top of the local Google+ page.
Do the Place’s Dashboard Analytics track impressions and actions on the Google+Local Page?
From Vanessa: “activity from your Place page as well as new click and impression metrics on the local Google+ page that originated from Google.com and Google Maps. Metrics originating from within Google+ Local or from searches within Google+ Local won’t be displayed in the dashboard.”
Comment: It is not at all clear to me that blended results are currently being counted in the current view of the analytics so this might not be completely accurate.
Will this upgrade solve the duplicate listing problem?
The backend system that creates listings is largely unchanged. So some problems will persist. Certainly with a new level of trust and verification provided by Google +, additional ways to triangulate who listings belong to may mitigate the problem but this remains to be seen. A possible result is that dupes will be pushed so far out of sight they don’t have the same affect as they do currently.
The rapid fire changes are difficult to keep up with. One has to wonder – why is Google deliberately creating such a chaotic situation?
Google has yet to learn that change is an anathema to most businesses. The updates occur on their development timeline and that is apparently chaotic.
Hopefully Google has taken the time to resolve some of the under the hood problems that have been so painful (merges, dupes, lost reviews) so what we lose in learning about the changes we can make up in efficiencies down the road. Here’s hoping!
What a mess it’s going to be when you’re trying to manage the new Plus+Places, but your login for each is different….
It would appear to me that the when the new local environment is fully fleshed out there will be multi user management so it MIGHT be workable.
I have a hard enough time trying to get small businesses to adopt Facebook and Twitter. I am concerned that the small businesses I work with will get frustrated with the lack of engagement they see with folks on G+.
It seems to me that the Google+Local page can be approached with passively or proactively. Your clients will be able to manage it passively much like they do today. IF the Google+ starts gaining traction AND Google starts showing local results in the main SERPS based on that activity then it will clearly be in the client’s interest to engage with Google + (or have you engage in Google+ on their behalf).
While it complicates things somewhere in the future, it holds out the promise of greater direct affect on business results than either Facebook or Twitter.
If the algo is going to continue to include social signals what do you think this means for the all mighty local citation?
At this point the algo has not changed and remains intact. So it plays whatever role it currently plays and will for some time.
Historically in both organic and local, elements of the ranking ago persist even when new signals are added. But like all of Google’s algos if Google upgrades it, it will need to handle a range of situations where some business categories have social signals and some do not. In this case, it will be a long time before there are signals in many categories of local business.
I added Google + account, and now I lost my first page indexing.
The two are likely not related. Penalties that we have come to know and love as well as glitches like dupes that cause ranking issues are likely to persist. It is more likely that you are experiencing one of Google’s traditional brain farts rather than a new one
Looks like Google+Local page is showing only the first two categories that are listed in Places.
That is odd but accurate. It is not clear why Google is only showing two and if that has any significance in terms of ranking.
The “owner verified” designation is also apparently gone. It appears that the listings all have a “Is this your business?” and “Manage your page”.
According to Vanessa Google is working on fixing that.
May 30, 2012
Apparently as part of the migration of Google Places to Google+Local pages, Google has updated & consolidated into one form the input forms for community edits and the Report a Problem form.
Now whether you select edit or report a problem in Google + Local, the current Place Page or from with Google Maps you are presented with the single consolidated screen:
Google + Local help files are now online.
One of the big changes that has occurred with the rollout of Google+ Local has been the change to the Google review environment. Google is moving to the 30 point system developed by Zagat. If there is granular detail Google will show it.
If there is not enough data on different aspects of the business Google will display a summary only.
The scale for rating is from 0-3 but the results are multiplied by 10 and averaged to get final score. In theory it allows for greater distinctions. You can see the rating system in action at this Google+Local business page for The Meatball Shop.
Google will be integrating OpenTable reservations into the Google+ Local Page for restaurants.
The review process will no longer allow for anonymous reviews. Here is what the review button notes:
With Google+ Local, all your reviews and associated photos are visible to everyone on the web, under the name Barbara Oliver (your Plus name). Your reviews and associated photos are displayed to:
- Anyone who views your profile on Google+
- Anyone who searches for places, if they’ve added you to their Google+ circles
- Anyone who views places you’ve reviewed
Google notes that you will need to provide explicit permission and actively migrate your old reviews if you want your previous anonymous reviews to show. Google will ask you if you want to do this the first time you write a review in Google+Local.
Thus old reviews apparently will NOT migrate to the new Google+Local Business page and the business owner must either ask previous reviewers to migrate or start afresh. (I need to confirm this.) Reviews will migrate, the review just won’t be attributed to the user’s Google+ name unless the user explicitly OKs it.
If you previously wrote reviews or uploaded photos in Google Places, all of your old Google Places reviews and photos are currently public but attributed to, “A Google user.” If you want to attribute these reviews and photos to your Google+ name, all you need to do is migrate your old Google Places reviews and photos to Google+ Local. At that time, you can choose which content to make public and attributed to your Google+ name, and which content to make private. Private reviews and photos will not appear publicly across Google, but you can view or delete your content by clicking on My Places in Google Maps, and selecting Rated from the More menu.
Google+Local will be creating a class of reviewer known as a Top Reviewer and your reviews will be highlight more broadly across the network.
Oddly, the search function has returned to a two field search where you need to enter the what in the first field and a where in the second field. How retro is that?
The exploring feature has integrated a Hotpot like recommendation function. Google+Local will recommend places they “think you’ll like based on your reviews, check-ins, and suggestions from top reviewers”.
The review policy seems to remain unchanged and the review spam algo will still be in affect.
Here are screen shots from the review & migration process: (more…)
Today Google announced the integration of business pages with Google + and the demise of their Google Place page. This is a change that has long been anticipated and one that simultaneously gives a business more control over their page AND dramatically enhances the review environment. Greg Sterling has a good overview of how specific details will change.
Effectively Google + has become a destination for local search and a shared local experience. And tasks that were accomplished on the Place Page like reviews will happen on Plus instead. This explains the missing review buttons on mobile and the desktop.
According to Greg Sterling “Not unlike some similar functionality offered in Foursquare, users will be able to sort and filter search results by several criteria, including “your circles,” which will reveal places “touched” by friends. Currently this means reviews and posts, but could extend to check-ins later.”
But while the display of the page has changed, many other parts of the local ecosystem at Google have remained the same. Google Places is composed of three parts; the business listing display, a backend management tool and a ranking system.
This change essentially moves the location of the business listing display, gives a business more control over the visuals and allows for more segmented social activity around reviews. However the current backend, the Places Dashboard will remain the primary location for input.
Here is what I posted at David Mihm’s recent article about the coming Place – Plus merger:
There is no doubt that Google is integrating (slowly) Places with the social backbone and the single login logic of their update. There has also been a trend away from highlighting the stand alone Place page… For example Google has pushed the Places result out the front page with the rollover option and made the Places page difficult to get to from Maps…
So when thinking about what is coming I segment Places into three components
1)The display (search result or otherwise)
2)The SMB management interface
3)The back end architecture that assembles Places listings, dedupes the list, attaches reviews to a listing (or not )
Lets look at #3 first. This might be upgraded but it appears that the technology to automatically generate a business directory world wide will continue to persist and will survive any changes. Google is actively investing in the architecture with recent changes and tools & staff to fix the artifacts of its workings.
#1 – Certainly Google is interested in displaying search results where ever and when ever they make sense and can generate ad revenue. While Place Pages are perhaps being directly displayed less on the desktop they might still make sense in mobile. They most certainly would make sense in the context of Plus in the many ways that you point out.
#2 the Dashboard – It is likely that an SMB dashboard will continue to exist in some form or another. It will likely undergo a radical redesign so as to be able to provide a simple self service interface to Adwords, Analytics, Offers, Punchd etc. It makes all kinds of sense to add Plus to that mix for all the reasons that you point out. There certainly needs to be more reasons for SMBS to return to it but it seems unlikely that the primary interface for SMBS with Google will go away.
Essentially this has transpired. The Dashboard is still awaiting an update but Google has confirmed that it will remain the point of contact for creating a business listing.
The algo, while it will evolve to include more social signals, is still the algo and it will still rank businesses. It has been evolving right along but Google rarely throws away ranking algos rather they add and change the important elements.
As for the backend that assembles the listings, dedupes the list, merges similar businesses that too will stay. It is being improved and enhanced but over the past year signficant investments in this technology has been made and it will not disappear.
Google is still rolling out the change so the details of how all this will work are not yet clear. But they note “If you don’t yet have a Google+ Page for your business, we encourage you to create one now. And if you do already have one, hold tight for news on how to get it linked to your local listing.”
So while some has changed, and the change is important, it is incremental change and not revolutionary change. It is a change that will hopefully engage more businesses in claiming and keeping their “place” current and one that will hopefully engage more customers with the business.
But it is not a change that will fundamentally change (at least initially) how a business is ranked in the main search results nor how listings are created and assembled.
May 25, 2012
Google rolled out a very slick update to their iPhone App several days ago. Its fast and essentially makes Place page content almost instantly available. Google apparently upgraded the iPhone Safari app at the same and provided a similarly fast access to the Places data.
Unfortunately as you can see in the Google screen shot above, in the app, in Safari search and on some Androids, the button to review a business is missing in action. Google has indicated that they are aware of the bug and are working on a fix.
In the meantime if you are using an iPad or mobile devices to access your Places page so that client can leave reviews you are in a bit of a sticky wicket. There are two work arounds until Google fixes the issue.
To get to a page that will give users the review button you can create a url like this that will work on an iPhone or iPad:
To generate the URL with the srcid code go into the dashboard and click on View and it will generate the URL.
Another tactic is to take the regular cid link and add the “open review box” code (&dtab=2&action=openratings) to the end of the standard Place page link:
This URL will take the iPhone or iPad directly to the mobile review form rather than stopping at the Places page which might be a better solution anyways.
May 24, 2012
Eric Goldman of te Technology & Marketing Law reports out a recent Missouri Supreme Court ruling that upheld a jury award of $150,00 against an ex-partner that wrote 3 fake reviews on Yahoo & Google about his former business. The ruling should cause competitors leaving fake reviews to take note as it substantially eases the burden on the defamed business to not have to demonstrate direct losses (which is impossible on the interent).
Hosto and Mitchell formed two companies together. Eventually, the relationship soured, and they acrimoniously split their empire. Still grousy, Hosto (pretending to be former customers) posted three fake derogatory Google and Yahoo reviews of the company operated by Mitchell. After a John Doe lawsuit, Yahoo disclosed enough information to identify Hosto as the author, and Hosto confessed to the vendetta. Thus, we have the unusual situation where a pseudonymous review author isn’t contesting authorship. After a trial, the jury ruled in favor of Fireworks Restoration’s (the plaintiff’s) defamation claim.
So far, everything makes sense. But then we get to the remedies, and things get puzzling. The jury awarded $1 in compensatory damages and $150k in punitive damages. On appeal, the court rejects Hosto’s attempts to undermine the jury award: that Mitchell’s company didn’t suffer any reputational harm; that Missouri law doesn’t allow nominal damages; and that the punitive damages were unconstitutionally large in light of the compensatory damages award. As a result, the jury verdict stands.
What to make of this jury verdict? One way to interpret it is that the jury felt that the company suffered no real harm, but Hosto’s behavior was so outrageous it needed to be punished anyway. While the jury’s first conclusion might seem initially counterintuitive, it’s entirely possible that the company suffered no actual harm from the negative fake reviews. Research indicates that a few negative reviews mixed into an otherwise all-positive review set lifts sales conversion because the negative reviews increase the credibility of the positive reviews and help prospective consumers visualize and assess the possible bad outcomes from their wrong choices. Without more detail, for all we know, Hosto could have done his target a favor.
Yet, the judge refuses to put the burden on the plaintiff to find actual lost customers:
We reject Defendant’s contention that Plaintiff needed to produce testimony from potential customers who opted to turn elsewhere due to the web reviews. With the internet, consumers are able to compare businesses and their wares with unprecedented speed. Interpersonal contact is characteristically absent, so if a consumer declines to engage a business it encounters on the internet, that consumer continues his or her search and the business has no knowledge it has been passed by. As such, it would be unreasonably burdensome to impose upon a business plaintiff the requirement that it locate potential customers that it never knew in order to successfully demonstrate actual damage to its reputation. The deleterious impact of such a constraint far outweighs any benefits it would have in proving reputational harm.
In the end, the lesson from this case is obvious and hardly novel: fake competitive reviews are a bad idea. The jury verdict here shows that the jury will punish anyone caught red-handed. At the same time, the jury was quite savvy about the compensatory damages from fake negative reviews. I hope future judges will be equally savvy.
Google has announced in the forums that they will update the Guideline to explicitly ban the use of PO Boxes in both line 1 and 2 of the address fields.
P.O. Boxes (and their UPS equivalent) have long been banned by Google for their use in the primary street address line of a listing. This came about due to the widespread abuses in the locksmith industry a number of years ago.
However, there are many businesses in rural America that can not receive mail at their primary location and Google has allowed the use of PO Boxes in the line two address field to accommodate them. Unfortunately this was open to abuse by spammers as well (I demonstrated how this hacked worked in late 2010 with the creation of Illusory Laptop Repair).
Early on in the evolution of Google Local, Google actually encouraged the use of PO Boxes by businesses that did not have a physical local presence. However their use quickly got out of hand.
Google first added the prohibition on the use of PO Boxes in 2009 after widespread abuses of the feature to create additional locations. In late 2010, after the November 2010 guideline update, they actively began removing rejecting listings that had PO Box in their first address line. Subsequently they added a nanny bot filter in the Places Dashboard that prevented the use of the words PO Box when creating a new Places listing that gave a Term Not Allowed error if the term were used.
In February of this year, Google went through several rewrites of the Guidelines to require that internal mail stops and office suites be placed in line 2 and this practice was reinforced by Google Places Community Manager Vanessa in her video summary last week.
The announcement in the forums that they will update the Guideline seems to have preceded the actual change to the Guidelines.
Here is the evolution of the guideline from 2009 till today with the changes highlighted:
|Do not create listings at locations where the business does not physically exist. PO Boxes do not count as physical locations.
||Do not create listings at locations where the business does not physically exist. P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations. Listings submitted with P.O. Box addresses will be removed.
||Do not create a listing or place your pin marker at a location where the business does not physically exist. P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations. If you operate from a location but receive mail at a P.O. Box there, please list your physical address in Address Line 1, and put your P.O. Box information in Address Line 2.
||Do not create a listing or place your pin marker at a location where the business does not physically exist. P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations. If you operate from a location but receive mail at a mail box there, please list your physical address in Address Line 1, and put your mail box or suite number in Address Line 2.
||(No change in wording, just a change in enforcement)
Google will be emailing all businesses that still have PO Boxes in their Places listing and asking them to remove the PO Box information. If the change requires reverification by post card Google is asking that the business request assistance via the following Google Help Troubleshooter path:
Select: I tried PIN verification for a single listing ? Yes, the listing already appears owner-verified
Are you setting up a brand new Places listing?
Try creating and verifying the listing using your physical location. If you don’t meet customers at your address, make sure you hide your business location. Places may give you the option to verify by phone.
If you cannot verify using the available options, you’ll need to request a manual verification using this troubleshooter path:
Select: I tried PIN verification for a single listing ? No, I am attempting to verify my listing –> The status is not Needs Action –> Postcard –> Yes
Once you submit a request via the contact form, please give the Google Places support team up to a week to get back in touch with you via e-mail.
Note: Users with a “P.O. Box” in Address Line 1 or 2 should have received an e-mail by now explaining this policy change and next steps (via the e-mail associated with your Places account).
May 21, 2012
Bruce from Aim Marketing in Denver pointed out an article and an investigative news report that highlights a positive review only service posting positive reviews on behalf of their client’s customers . Essentially the Denver based service surveyed the clients post sale for a number of Denver businesses and posted 4 star and higher reviews to Google. The story covers the legality of the process very superficially and doesn’t note at all that the practice violates Google’s TOC. They did note that the businesses subscribing to the service were not aware that negative reviews were not being posted (I am not sure I believe that).
The story does not cover any new territory but it is interesting in that the problem of positive only review services and fake reviews from online marketplaces has risen to the level of visibility that it is being covered by the investigative news world of local television.
May 17, 2012
A common issue that arises in the forums is the business owner that is unable to change or enhance their listing because they no longer have access to the account that it is in, perhaps because they lost the password , the employee that had claimed the listing is no longer employed or they had a falling out with their SEO company.
It is possible to reclaim the listing and last year I provided instructions on how to do so. The instructions are accurate as far as they went but there are often complications with a listing claimed into multiple accounts. For example the Place page might display unwanted photos or categories from the previous Places Dashboard. Worse might the fact the even though you had claimed the listing, you would still not be able to comment on reviews as the system thought that the other claimant was domininant.
With Google now offering additional customer service it is possible to solve some of the quirks and issues that arise with the reclaiming process.
Here are the updated steps:
1) Go to the Places dashboard/locations page of the new account and select Add another business.
2) Enter the phone number for the existing claimed listing, select “find business information” and go through the process of editing the listing that Google displays.
3) Change as little as possible initially and be sure to keep name, address and phone number the same.
4) Google will require you to reverify but you will be the dominant controller of the listing. As the last to claim the listing most of your data will be given preference.
5) It is preferable to claim it with an email at your business domain so if there is a dispute in the future, you will be recognized as the authoritative listing holder.
Suggested Additional Steps:
6) Get in touch with Google Places support using this form:
Select: Someone else has verified the listing.
This will have the previous claimant removed and prevent the listing being reaccessed from this account. This will guarantee that the new claimant will be the account that is able to respond to review. It will also prevent the other account holder from making changes to the listing.
If there are still unwanted photos or categories still in the listing (from the old claim) communicate back to the Google support person that helped originally via the same case number and ask them to remove them.
Google support still has a long way to go but it has made progress and at least now common problems like this can be addressed.