Why I love LocalU and Why You Should Come to LocalU Advanced Next Weekend

I love LocalU. Traveling around the country and interacting with small businesses and marketing agencies has been a blast for a number of reasons. Many of my reasons for enjoying the time spent giving these seminars should be enough reason for you to attend as well.

I get to meet up with the likes of Matt McGee, David Mihm, Mike Ramsey, Mary Bowling, Aaron Weiche, Ed Reese, Will Scott and Joel Headley of Google to get picked on. And of course to learn from. And talk local. The learning for me has been key. The picking on not so much.

We get to help digital agencies, big and small, and small businesses better succeed in the sometimes confusing world of local. We often do one on one sessions and help marketers and businesses solve sticky problems like if and why they are being penalized or why their sites are not being indexed. Helping someone find a solution is incredibly gratifying and instructive.

At a LocalU in Cleveland several years ago, an audience member was attempting to have a listing for a women’s shelter hidden because of threats. The Googler there emailed home and within the hour, the listing was gone and the inhabitants of the shelter were safer. That was impressive.

At LocalU Advanced last fall, an attendee that had been de-listed from Google Local due to a call from India, explained the situation to Joel Headley of Google and within days, their listings were back. During that seminar he gave out his email address and told attendees that they could contact him directly. Now thats cool! Where else can you get that.

During the last LocalU in Austin, we were explaining the importance of a consistent NAP both offline and on. Joel Headley chimed in that NAP consistency was important not just offline and on-line but on your incoming phone calls as well. It was later reported out on blogs but the world first heard at LocalU. Makes sense but who knew?

Lots to learn and lots of folks to learn from. We have all new sessions for LocalU Advanced and some great content. The session is in Baltimore and is easily accessible by rail and air. We hope that you can take time out of your busy schedules to join us next Friday night and all day Saturday for 24 hours of learning for both you and us! Read more here or just sign up already:

New Report a Problem Interface to MapMaker Rolled out in the US & France

Two weeks ago in Canada,  Google rolled out an Easier MapMaker Interface that took community edits made via the Report a Problem link on a G+ listing and integrated the input directly with MapMaker. That interface has now rolled out to the US. It does not appear that this interface has rolled out in England or Germany but it has rolled out in France and Mexico. I would be curious to hear what other countries do not have it yet and which do.

The change means that all of the information changed by the public will now go directly into MapMaker and become part of the MM approval hierarchy; some edits will be bot approved or denied, some will be done by MM volunteer and some by Google staffers. As RER Andrew Sawyer pointed out two weeks ago, this change should improve addressing issues that revolved around discrepancies in between how Report a Problem  and MM handled things like suite numbers (although whether it will really solve the problem is unclear). It also means that comments made on Report a Problem form will be seen in MapMaker. It should also make it easier to achieve consistency across the Places Dashboard and the MM data. This is moving Google towards a simpler array of databases where changes reside prior to their approval and inclusion in the main Google Local index.

Update: Here is a list from Google of countries that now have the new interface. For once Denmark was not left to last. :)

AT – Austria
AU – Australia
BE – Belgium
CA – Canada
CH – Switzerland
DK – Denmark
FR – France
IN – India
MX – Mexico
NL – Netherlands
NO – Norway
PL – Poland
UA – Ukraine
US – United States

 

report-problem-update1

Google Updates Mobile Pack Display

Google might have updated the mobile local Pack display a while ago, who knows, but it seems to me a fairly recent change. The change makes for a more modern, cleaner business listing display.

The font size of the business name is larger and the buttons are subtler and now incude an icon for the action to be taken. The actual amount of space used is almost identical but everything seems larger to the eye. A subtle but effective change. It is interesting but in this context the map with the red pins are starting to seemed dated in appearance.

IMG_1503

 

Here is a comparison of new and old display side by side (note the emphasis on the brand):

side-by-side

Because I so quickly forget what things looked like previously I am including a screen shot of the mobile local pack display that preceded this change.  (Let me know if you happened to notice when this change happened):

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Google+ Local: Moving Locations? New Procedure

Preparing-Move-Your-BusinessThe way that Google has been encouraging SMBs to move to a new location has long been a kludge. Last night Google announced a somewhat more intuitive procedure although it still has a touch of kludge about it.

From the forum post by Jade:

Verified business owner of a page, and is your business moving locations? Here’s what you do.

Edit your address in Google Places for Business or in the Google+ page admin area, whichever you are using to manage the page. This will either make a new page or edit the address on the existing page. It may take a week or two after editing your address before you see an update. At this point, you may need to go through a verification process again. Don’t worry — this is normal.
If you see a page that’s still got the old address, click on Report a problem and mark that location as closed. Provide the link to the new address or information about the new location if possible. You can find more instructions on closing a location here: http://goo.gl/YZIjq

Previously it was necessary to create a totally new listing in the dashboard, reverify it,  remove the old listing and then using the “report a problem” feature to report it as closed. Recently Google added the ability to indicate, when reporting, the new location so that the closed listing would point to the new listing and indicate that it had relocated.

The above, if I read it correctly, means that sometimes the intuitive act of changing the address in either the  dashboard or the G+ Page for local admin area will properly update the listing and sometimes it will create a new listing that leaves the old listing open. It appears from the above that  Google may or may not require reverification as well. Regardless the process still requires that the listing owner needs to keep a watchful eye on their listing in both the dashboard and the index for three or so weeks and if there is still a listing at the old address proceed to using the report a problem.

I am sure that Google knows but this is still too complicated and unpredictable for most SMBs to get right. Its better but still not where it needs to be. It would be nice for the listing owner if 1)the procedure was consistent across all listing closing situations (or warned the business what was going to happen) 2)was able to be managed within the management dashboard alone and never required an SMB going to the report a problem area and 3) had a consistent outcome in the index.

In some ways it appears that the system mimics the practice & outcomes that have long existed in MapMaker where you could change an address as long as it was in the same city and the move was not too far.

None of this changes the fact that the business needs to not only change their information at Google but several weeks ahead of that change their information at the primary data suppliers and other claimed listings.

Let me know if you have to close a business and what actually happens to your listing.

Google+ Local Quality Guideline Update Allows for Multiple Departments

Google has just rolled out an update to the local business listing guidelines that once again allow for support of individual departments within hospitals, universities, local governments AND businesses as long as they have unique phone numbers and a unique forward facing presence. In other words the emergency room no longer needs to be listed via the main number or the Community Development agency can now have its own forward facing presence. And the men’s clothing deparment at Macy’s can now be the Men’s Clothing Department at Macy’s. This policy is actually a return to the original policy that was upended about a year ago vis a vis hospitals but opens up a new opportunity for multi department businesses. It also opens up the possibility of spam and new enforcement from Google.

The additional update in regards to individual practitioners is a formalization of a policy that has existed in Places but not in MapMaker. If you are a practitioner that works out of several offices you are now formally permitted to have a practitioner listing at each location but for just the hours that you are actually present there. This statement from below: “The practitioner should be directly contactable at the verified location during stated hours.” if not followed to a T could lead to the listing being rejected for non compliance if Google were to call or find that you show yourself as being in two places at once.

  • Do not create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts.
  • Individual practitioners may be listed individually as long as those practitioners are public-facing within their parent organization. Common examples of such practitioners are doctors, dentists, lawyers, and real estate agents. The practitioner should be directly contactable at the verified location during stated hours. A practitioner should not have multiple listings to cover all of his or her specializations.
  • Departments within businesses, universities, hospitals, and government buildings may be listed separately. These departments must be publicly distinct as entities or groups within their parent organization, and ideally will have separate phone numbers and/or customer entrances.

Compare the New & Old Guidelines:

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An Easier MapMaker Interface

In a recent comment Jeffrey Manger noted that “FYI the Mapmaker interface totally blows. What a confusing, ineffective, waste of my time. Maybe there is written instructions in a booklet somewhere on how to actually use this thing.”

I totally agree that the standard MapMaker interface is a total kludge. Only the most persistent and geeky can find their way around there. But there is a new, simplified MapMaker interface being rolled out in Canada that makes editing directly into MapMaker much easier.

You can see this interface by finding the G+Local page for any Canadian business and selecting the “Report a problem” link. It will take you to the simplified MapMaker front end with this new interface. The URL  contains a ton of unnecessary code.

To use this interface to edit a US business take a simplified version of the url:

http://www.google.com/mapmaker?ui_type=pc&cid=3291747407840809159&src=1

and substitue the CID of your local business for the CID above and you will gain access to an interface that is functional and simple enough for us marketers. :)

LocalU Advanced Coming to Baltimore March 8-9th

LocalUlogoWe just finished up a great LocalU in Austin and we are moving on to Baltimore. In addition to  presenting a basic LocalU (use discount code MB2013) on the morning of March 8th we will also be offering our LocalU Advanced session.

Starting the night of March 8th with a mixer and following up with a full day agenda on March 9th that is chock full of new content. This is a deep dive into all aspects online Local marketing.

Our regular lineup of David Mihm, Mike Ramsey, Mary Bowling, Will Scott, Ed Reese, Aaron Weiche and myself will be there. Joel Headley of Google will be there to answer all questions about Google+ Local and the keynote will be provided by Bill Slawski of SEO by the Sea. Bill, one of the first online marketers that I befriended in 2006 when I started my blog just happens to be one that I have never had the opportunity to meet. I am incredibly excited to both meet Bill in person and hear his keynote talk at the Advanced session.

He will be discussing Google’s geographically-based patents, which provide a great deal of insight into how Google Maps/Places/Local+ functions. Topics include location prominence, rankings in both Maps and in Web results, recent patents on identifying spam in local directories and databases, and how Google might determine whether such a local source might be trusted or not.

He’ll also explain recent patents and papers that provide hints and insights into the workings of Google Maps categories for queries and businesses, and the associations that Google might make with specific sites when indexing them.

Join us for the evening of March 8th and the day of March 9th as we delve deeply into all aspects of Local search and Local marketing. The pricing is $899 for the event but if you sign up before February 14th you will gat the $100 Earlybird discount and a free pass for the basic LocalU on Friday (ping me if you want that pass).

Hope to see you there!

Guest Post: Dan Austin on Google Mapmaker Categories

Categories have been a mess in Google Map Maker for years, as well. GMM Issue Tracker allows you to add categories for potential inclusion into GMM (which hopefully bleeds over into Local): http://goo.gl/OT3VO and star for the ones you like the most. Unfortunately, GMM, like so many other ‘community’ initiatives they’ve sponsored, largely ignores the input of mappers in favor of big bug fixes, UI upgrades, pet projects, and of course, figuring out ways to lessen the people part of the GMM community, whether it’s through limiting communication with mappers (that seems to be a big initiative, right now, especially in the forums and on individual edits) or increasing the bots ability to manage the system independently. AKA havoc!

Anyway, mappers have been requesting that Google re-organize the categories into a better system, clean up the categories, add more categories, restore missing categories, correct buggy categories, and create a category hierarchy, which you can see reflected in this forum post: http://goo.gl/GddFb; this spreadsheet: http://goo.gl/M4XMX by a power mapper (not Google); and this Facebook discussion: https://www.facebook.com/groups/mapmaker/ which Rich Hintz manages, and who discusses GMM category problems a lot.

This is complicated by the fact that Local has its own set of categories, some of which are ‘invisible’ in GMM and vice versa, and some of which can only be edited in one interface or the other. Local adds its own categories automatically, for example, turning Park into Park, Parks. There’s a longstanding bug or ‘feature’ that appends gcid:[name of category] to categories that you add through Report a problem, which don’t appear that way in Maps, but are visible as such in MM. I assume that this is because the Maps categories, even the ones you select from the dropdown, are not recognized as such standard categories in MM, so it appends gcid: to indicate it’s a custom category. As happens all too frequently, the POIs in one database can become out of sync with another, resulting in islands of categories, and trying to get them to sync can be a real chore.

There has been an effort toward changing the UI for Maps community edits to be more like GMM, but it will also end up orphaning categories that are only visible in the current UI scheme for community edits, making them inaccessible to everyone but Support.

Additionally, GMM has a Primary category, and Local doesn’t (just like GMM has a field for suites, and Maps basically doesn’t), so arranging the categories can be a delicate affair, especially if you want one of two categories visible on the Local page. (Good luck with that, as whatever you change in GMM appears first).

Last, some categories are locked in GMM and Maps (like Locksmith and Military Area), locking the entire POI from any kind of editing on any interface except for the Dashboard. So basically, you have to use Report this in GMM and try to explain what you’re trying to do in order to ‘fix the categories’, or Other in Maps Report a problem. Sometimes this works, sometimes this doesn’t.

So, usually what I do is go through and try to rationalize the categories myself. If it’s claimed (and this is not always clear from GMM, since there’s no indicator that a page is claimed), I try to mess with the categories as little as possible unless there’s category spam, in which case, I’ll delete and/or replace with more appropriate categories, including custom categories. I try to use standard categories whenever possible, set a primary category that explains what the business primarily is, and then build out custom categories that exceed the five category limit if the listing mandates it. Since all those categories are searchable in Maps, even if they’re not visible, it can enhance a business listing’s ability to turn up. And even when I make all these changes, business owners of claimed listings may not approve of the changes, so that can end up screwing up the categories even more as the changes may not sync back to GMM.

Between the bots adding junk categories (that has been a big problem with hotels in Vegas, as bots aggregate tons of bad categories from unrelated features to the larger hotel POIs, resulting in a big mess of categories), clueless business owners listing product types rather than what they do (i.e. Swatch instead of Watch Store), and Google’s inability to rationalize categories and harmonize all the different databases with different category types, you have a lot of problems.

Google Local: Rel = Publisher Or Rel=Author? You Should Do Both

There were a number of questions after I reported that a new Google+ Local claim of a business in Plus (not the Dasbboard) generated instructions to add the rel=publisher rich snippet to your website. Many asked whether rel=publisher should replace the rel=author snippet. The answer is that you should do both.

Daniel Berman explained it best in the comments:

Its not a matter of either or, its a matter of both and. You want to setup the rel=”publisher” to provide a context of identifying your business website to Google and especially giving you the chance to give them the categories that your business best fits, and then tying all of that back to your NAP information that Google has on file.

You want to setup your rel=”author” markup to recognize your contribution to the content as published by the business, but recognizing that your role as a human being is larger than just your position at that business. Maybe you also have a blog, and a hobby website. If you setup the rel=”authorship” formatting on all of those sites then your online identify or persona becomes clearer to Google as whole.

That said both are needed, just like getting a yellow page listing for your business and business cards for yourself are helpful so that people can find the business but also personally connect with you as a person.

 

Here is a good slide show by Ann Smarty detailing the differences.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search