Google Continues Test of Horizontal Local One Box

Frank Motola of Brandastic shared with me another recent example of Google’s test of a horizontal Local One Box that sits prominently at the top of the serps rather than to the side.

This test has been reported for several weeks although I have not yet seen it in the wild. It would be one more step towards aligning mobile and desktop results. And of Google dominating the results with their own properties.  I am sure that it will further inflame Yelp’s antitrust fervor as well.

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Click to view larger


Comatose Google My Business Description Moved from Hospital to Long Term Care on Path to Burial & Replacement with Attributes

attributesThe business description that Google has been asking businesses to create forever and that has not been seen anyplace for about half that long has finally been removed from Google MyBusiness. (Thanks to Dan Leibson of Local SEO Guide for pointing this out). It is soon to be “replaced” with “attributes” that offer more granular characteristics of your business.

The description field has long been in a near dead state with no obvious purpose other than to possibly give Google clues as to how businesses might spam them. But its demise is interesting on several fronts.

August 2016
The Introduction/Description field is no longer editable in Google My Business. It only displays to users in Google+, and may still be edited there. Editing of attributes, coming soon to all Google My Business views, will be an improved way to describe your business to users on Google Search and Maps.
Help Center

The description data has not seen the light of day for many many many months (has it been years?) but Google hung on to requesting the data.

I can imagine the discussion between the Local group and the Plus group as their relationship frayed and finally dissolved: “You take it. No you take it. You take it. No you take it. You take it. No you take it.” Low man on the totem pole finally “won” the discussion. Why wasn’t it just thrown away? Google NEVER throws data away. Even in the negative (i.e. spam) use case when they can extract value from it.

But even more interesting is the fact that Google will now be “giving” businesses the ability to contribute their own attributes from a more structured list of attributes helping define the local business in ever more discreet ways.

However as you look at the history of these attributes you realize that Google is not single sourcing them from the business owners. Google has never trusted businesses enough to give them the freedom to be the sole source of their own information. Not even things as basic as hours or phone number. If Google finds information that they trust more than yours, they have and will replace it in your listing. Now at least they have the courtesy to alert you in the GMB dashboard that they arbitrarily changed your hours.

android-crowdsource-e1467049941816Attributes appears to be no different in that regard. Google is multi sourcing them. If you recall Google first started publicly asking Local Guides to identify attributes of places that they had visited late last year. More trusted bulk accounts received the privilege with the release of the GMB API in May. Then last week they gave “regular” Map users the ability to confirm or nix the attributes that Google had identified for a business. One presumes that these structured attributes have also been sourced from a 3rd party data source and, if your website is well structured and informative, from there as well.

Once they have in place enough sources that they can predict with some big data based broad strokes what any given business listing’s attribute should be, they will then give the business owner the “privilege” of adding them. This effectively gives them both a way to extend the reach and depth of their data AND check it for veracity.

Don’t for a minute think that you somehow own or even are a primary source for Google My Business data. You are one source for that data and a not very trusted one at that.

Dumb & Dumber: Houston Lawyer Sues Over Review

The Houston lawyer who decided that he needed to show a reviewer that they “need to learn the consequences of their actions,”  for a bad review must not have gotten the message that suing customers over online reviews is a terrible idea.

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 10.57.20 AMThe act is usually dumb* and the consequences almost always counter to the interests of the business doing the suing. That certainly seems to be the case here where the law firm’s actions are being splattered over the local Houston news and he has been hit with a veritable torrent of bad reviews and comments.  It will get worse if he loses the case.

The claims the lawyer is making are weak and his behaviors left a lot to be desired. He may have thought he could win this in a court of law or won by intimidation but he certainly won’t win this in the court of public reviews or public opinion. And if (more like when) he loses the legal case, the public perception of his legal capabilities, to say nothing of his integrity, will be questioned. I can’t think of worse outcome to befall a business.

Yelp may be disingenuous in their defense of free speech in highlighting businesses that sue customers over bad reviews but their highlighting of the behavior certainly serves Yelp’s interest and has its merits . Although in this case Yelp will have to wait for their Active Clean Up alert to be removed before they can add the Questionable Legal Threat alert.  It is but one more reason why a business should be sure that there is no other avenue before pursuing a legal case and that the gains will far outweigh the losses.

The legal system is stacked against a review suit, the costs are high and the barriers are real.  But I would never say never sue over a review. I think there are times when a competitor or an ex- employee or ex-spouse is behind it and the damage so great that the perfidy needs to be exposed publicly. But those situations are rare, even in the wacky world of reviews, and targeting a customer always appears to be an act of desperation.

This lawyer is going to get his reputational clock cleaned both socially and legally. And he inadvertently makes a great case why it’s almost never rational to sue over a bad review. At this point the lawyer should probably withdraw his suit before he is further embarrassed.


*Notice I didn’t say the attorney was dumb, I wouldn’t want to be sued. That is yet to be determined. 🙂


Local U Advanced New Orleans – October 21st – Pre Agenda Tickets Now on Sale

Local U Advanced
is a great event; its collegial, casual, intimate and provides leading edge local marketing information. When you add New Orleans to that equation and the fact that it will be on Friday so you can spend the weekend in New Orleans it becomes even that much better.

The agenda for the event will be coming out on August 1st but if you are interested in a ticket prior to that LocalU is offering up a Pre Agenda special for only $549 ($479 if you are a Local U forum member).

The Good news?

We will be covering, in depth, topics like developing local tactics in the age of voice, mobile and AI, insights into local ranking signals, Advanced Schema markup, Reporting and KPIs that clients actually care about and more.

Because it’s on a week day we will be offering both an Enterprise and an Agency track. In addition to your Local U favorites, we will be joined Darren Shaw, Cindy Krum, Joy Hawkins and more.

The bad news? The ticket price goes up on Monday.

Buy your ticket to Local Geekdom here. 

Yelp Promotes Free Speech But Only for Active Yelpers

I am a big supporter of free speech. I am though always a little suspicious when the likes of Yelp is its protector.

Yelp is “actively defending” reviewers right to free speech with a new wave of consumer alerts placed on business listings. Yelp nukes by their own admission 25% of all reviews. Thus it would seem that this right only applies if the reviewers are active Yelpers that have previously left 4 reviews and have 10 friends. Or some such metric that Yelp refers to as “established users”.


Several days ago the Yelp VP of  , Vince Sollitto made note that Yelp will be adding this Consumer alert to the Yelp listings for business that Yelp thinks is inappropriately suing or threatening to sue consumers over reviews. He noted:

Consumers don’t necessarily know that these threats are sometimes empty or meritless (and often both!), so the threat of legal action is enough to scare them into silence. We don’t think that’s right.

For example, earlier this year, a Texas couple was sued for posting an honest but critical review of Prestigious Pets, a pet-sitting service in Dallas. As a result, Yelp issued a Consumer Alert like the one above to serve as a warning for consumers. We’ve also placed Consumer Alerts on the business pages of Superior Moving & Storage in Pompano Beach, FL and Nima Dayani, DDS in New York City.

With all rights come responsibilities. We all know that the right to free speech is not absolute and learned as school children that we can’t expect to be protected if we yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater.

Yet Yelp seems to view their responsibility in this regard as non existent. While Yelp makes some efforts to keep spurious reviews out of the mix, they impose no requirements in the review process that a reviewer actually patronized the business they are reviewing.

And ironically they receive uncategorical blanket Federal protection against the use of their platform for libel. And are under no obligation to take libelous reviews down even if proven to be defamatory. This protection occurs under the Orwellian named Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act 

Don’t get me wrong I think the right to speech is a powerful right that should be protected (although I am even more concerned about habeas corpus), I don’t think that businesses should engage in gagging or frivolous (operative word frivolous) lawsuits. But when Yelp starts touting themselves as the Protector of Free Speech as a marketing ploy I feel compelled to call bull shit. The “Right to Yelp Bill”? Gag me with a spoon.

Google Rolling Out New Business Listing Image Display Carousel

For the past several weeks Google seemed to have had its heart set on screwing up Knowledge Panel and Local Finder Business Photo display. That apparently was in anticpation of a new, more attracitve display of both images and interior views that is slowly rolling out.

Spotted by Segey Alakov, a Toronto SEO, the new display is currently showing in the Local Finder but has not yet fully migrated to the Knowledge Panel.

Why Google didn’t bother to make an announcement at the time that they managed to hose the business photos is typical Google communication style… ie none.

I would imagine that this might take a number of days to fully roll out as it currently is working from the Local Finder but not yet functioning fully from the Knowledge Panel although it is working better than last week in that it shows the profile photo rather than an image search.

Screenshot 2016-07-25 17.08.49

While most images in the Knowledge Panels goto to a single image when clicked, those Knowledge Panels that still show the “See photos” label are now working correctly like this search for busch gardens tampa.

Screenshot 2016-07-25 17.50.25

It provides direct access to the new image carousel when clicked:

Screenshot 2016-07-25 17.53.24

The new photo carousel, when fully working, also integrates Streetview directly into the same scroll view of the photos when you click to view the Streeview image. You can see this via Cadillac Jack’s   Restaurant in Ellicottville’s Knowledge Panel where when you click through the “See photos” message the Street View is integrated with the images as you scroll down. Likewise when you click on “See outside” you are taken directly to the Streetview image in the scrolling environment.

Screenshot 2016-07-25 18.00.24
Screenshot 2016-07-25 18.00.48


Google MyBusiness Email Verification Now Confirmed

Update 7/20 Google has confirmed the new email verification feature. It would appear that Google is auto selecting the email address to which to send the verification email. This implies all of the things that an algo based trust solution would entail; scrapping of the email from the associated website, ideally at the same domain, found on the contact us page and possibly in the footer, perhaps longevity of the domain and association. And like all algos, and thus their instruction to be sure you have access to it, wrong in some percentage of cases.

Google’s statement:

“For select businesses, we now offer users the option to receive their verification code by email.

Before choosing verification by email, make sure you can access the address shown in the verification screen. If you don’t have access to this email account, or you don’t see this option, then please select one of the other available options, such as postcard.

To verify by email just click the Email option, check your email and enter the code we sent to you.”

Kiran C Kumar spotted this option to verify a business listing via email when the GMB account is using the domain email. It is not clear if it is just a test or more widespread or if it also requires that the domain have a Search Console account. It is not yet mentioned in the help files.

I am asking Google for more details. Have you seen it?
Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 8.01.44 AM

In related GMB editing news (this has been visible for a while) Google has increased their call to action to edit your listing if you do a brand search for a business for which you are the owner or the manager. Google first introduced authenticated Knowledge Panel editing in January. This upgrade is significantly more visible. The “edit information” choice allows you to edit primary data directly in the KP while the “Add Photos” and “Do More…” options take the user to the GMB dashboard.

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 8.02.49 AM

Google Mobile Knowledge Panels Now Showing Time “People Typically Spend”

First reported several days ago by 9 to 5 Google and highlighted again by Local SEO Brian Barwig on Twitter, Google is now showing average times spent at different businesses.

It can report either a specific time or a range of times and only appears to be showing on businesses that have a lot of traffic. For example the local Walmart does show it but the busiest local restaurant does not. It also appears to be showing on mobile but not yet on the desktop.

While I find the usually popular feature helpful, it is not clear that this new feature offers similar benefits. But maybe I am missing something.


Google, with the growth of Android, obviously is gathering massive amounts of location data. The location history is opt in but I would imagine that Google still is generating enough data to make these predictions.

One more creepy development in a long line of creepy developments.

Yelp Implements Active Cleanup Alerts

At GetFiveStars I have just published:    Yelp Implements Active Cleanup Alerts When a Business Hits the News – Tituss Burgess Vs Frank’s Express   (h/t to Local SEO Gerry Foster)

Yelp has started implementing active monitoring of businesses that become the target of political reviews due to having their story go viral. While I think that the business’s behavior in this case was reprehensible, I find Yelp’s new approach to be appropriate. Google and Facebook would do well to follow the policy.

Screenshot 2016-07-14 11.11.15

5 Reasons Why the New Google Business Photos Image Search Sucks

Google has yet to make any announcements vis a vis providing business photos to the Knowledge Panel via Image Search rather than from the GMB and Google Maps. Whether the change is permanent or “just a test” we do not know. It is very widespread though and appears to be the new normal. Google’s new normal is always more than a touch abnormal and this case is no different.

But we do know that there are problems with using Google Image search in lieu of business provided photos, some of which probably can be resolved and some of which can not.

Here are some of the issues that I see:

1- Google is very good on parsing user intent on partial searches and delivering the One Box when appropriate. However these same partial searches might return total crap for imagery. For example if you search for “Barbara Oliver Jewelry” and you click through to the images, you will get mostly relevant images. But if you search on the more common but less complete “Barbara Oliver” and click through the profile photo in the One Box with the specific intent of seeing more photos you get totally irrelevant photos:

barbara oliver Google Search

2- When a user does a local keyword search and clicks through to the Local Finder and explores the profile images, Google is still presenting the traditional More Photos view with images from the Google My Business Dashboard and ugc from Maps. Should a business be expected to manage and monitor images at both the GMB and Image search?


3-Google My Business has provided a structured, relatively easy place to add photos that would be one click away from your Knowledge Panel. A business could put a stake in it and, for the most part, understand how to use it and have some modicum of control over the images that showed. Should small businesses now have to learn about Google Image Search SEO to have control over the images?

target amanda lane orchard park Google Search4-Some listings, mostly larger brands and hotels, are still delivering the “original” See Photos option. Is that because they are using bulk upload? Will that continue to be the case? Will brands with bulk be handled differently than SMBs?

5- Some local listings from the same company have it one way and some have it the other. In the case of Busch Gardens, which has two locations, one goes to Image Search and the other to the See Photos box. What gives? Is it because they are slightly different types of Knowledge Panels? Will a business have both types to deal with?

Google, in typical fashion, is not making life easy but worse they are not communicating about what is going on with one of a business’s most important digital asset, their Knowledge Panel. (Oops I forgot it’s not the business’s, it’s Google’s.)

Google, Google, Google. Complexity instead of simplicity. Change instead of consistency. Insular instead of communicative. Its no wonder that most businesses throw up their hands in disgust.

I'm smart; you're dumb. I'm big; you're little. I'm right; you're wrong . I am always reminded of Danny Devito in Matilda when dealing with Google.
I’m smart; you’re dumb. I’m big; you’re little. I’m right; you’re wrong . I am always reminded of Danny Devito in Matilda when dealing with Google.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search