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:

Continue reading

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.

Google Acquires Incentive Targeting For Coupon Programs

Mike Dudas of Google just tweeted that Google has acquired Incentive Targeting to power highly targeted manufacturer and private label coupon programs. He noted that “Incentive Targeting..[does] for retail couponing what Google [does] for online advertising: make simple, relevant, measurable, & effective”

It would appear that the acquisition is for both talent and IP. And as Greg Sterling points out strategic. The company website notes that their “patent-pending technology allows non-technical marketing executives to design sophisticated, relevant promotions—and measure ROI in real time—directly over the Internet”. The product is interesting because it will deliver the coupon either via cell phone & social networks or via traditional methods of print and register receipt AND closes the loop for easy redemption and tracking.

It is an intriguing acquisition in a number of ways. It obviously puts Google directly into the coupon business. In the past they have never committed to couponing in any significant way and it had been said that Larry Page in fact had a disdain for coupons. Their past behaviors have certainly reflected a certain schizoid, on again off again approach to coupons.

This product, while currently serving large chains and manufacturers, could readily scale down to a single merchant and fit into the SMB dashboard/integrated marketing portal that is rumored to be in the works. Imagine a single location grocery store or our local 30 location chain being able to have an advertising person easily issue coupons across media & track the results in real time. It sounds like a winner to me. It could obviously move beyond groceries as well.

Now lets hope that it sees the light of day sooner than Google’s last local purchases of PunchD and TalkBin.

Ah… the Irony Of Google Local – International number handling issue is solved, no it isn’t

There has been a persistent bug in G+ Local’s (mis)handling of international phone numbers that Barry pointed out in his blog today. This problem has been on-going for a number of months and Google is aware of the issue.

However I found the irony of these two posts showing together in my G+ stream too rich to not note. As I pointed out in another post that in Google Local:

Google’s policy of release early and iterate often and innovate often, leads to more than its fair share of bugs particularly when they forget the iterate often part.

Google+ Page 500 Error Bug & Work Around

There has a been a persistent, infrequent bug in the management of merged Google+ Pages for local where the owner of the page is unable to access the management of the page and receives a 500 Error from Google. Google knows about the bug but has been unable to quash it as of yet.

Kaleh, a Top Contributor in the Google for Business forum with lots of experience on the Plus side of the house had this to suggest.

Another option to try (based upon a report in a Google+ Discuss Forum topic) is accessing the following modified version of the URL:


The other user’s situation is very different from yours, but I find it interesting that he can perform most management tasks when he has the /b/ in the URL, but can’t even see the page through the page management interface.

If you have experienced this bug let me know whether this work around solves the problem.

9 Questions To Assess Your Review Management Stress Levels

Actively engaging your customers in the review process and management of that process has its own sets of concerns. This is particularly true if you are too focused on certain areas of the process rather than others.

Take this simple quiz to see what your Review Management Stress levels are and to measure where you are on the Review Management Stress Scale (RMSS):

Did your reviews get reduced by more than 20% of the total by the new Google review filters?

Are you asking questions like: Why is this happening to me? Doesn’t Google care?

Did (or does) your listing have 100% or more reviews than your nearest competitor on Google?

Does your “More Reviews” section on Google show less than four review sites?

Do your clients often complain that their reviews are not showing at Google?

Have you thought: I should focus my review efforts on Yelp instead?

Are you handing users an iPad or directing them to an onsite workstation?

Are you sending out more than 20 emails a week requesting reviews at Google?

Are your following up only with happy customers and not every customer to ask them to leave reviews?

Scoring. Add 1 point for each yes answer.

What your score means… Continue reading

Nokia HERE Maps Sucks (Significantly) More Than Apple Maps

Nokia, with the help of Navteq, is a seasoned mapping company. Arguably they are in the top tier of digital mapping. Their new product, Nokia HERE Maps for the iPhone, should show Apple what good mapping is all about. It doesn’t. In fact basic interface issues prevent the product from being a serious contender in the iPhone navigation market. Apple can now proudly say that there is a mapping product for the iPhone that sucks more than theirs.

Visuals: When I read reviews online about it being blurry, slow, ugly and lacking turn by turn, I couldn’t believe that Nokia would put out an inferior product. Now is the time to strike while Apple is still recovering from their Maps fiasco and come out with a great product. I thought Apple fan boys were just ranting. I particularly could not understand a map that was blurry. But sure enough the maps are totally fuzzy, hard to read and annoying. The ONLY thing clear on the map was the “here” brand name. And as Andrew Shotland pointed out even that can be confusing in the context of a map.

Basic Interface Screw Ups: My first search was for 1 Riverside NY, NY. A search that both Apple Maps and Google Maps understands. Apparently Nokia HERE does not understand common abbreviations like NY for New York. When searching for NY it turned up a foreign airport who knows where. When I searched on SF, CA it turned up Santa Fe, New Mexico. Forcing users to type out every word on an iPhone is a big hurdle from the get go and not understanding common naming short cuts is a deal breaker.

Kludgey Interface: Generally the interface for anything other than basic directions is confusing. Certain tasks like looking up nearby business are totally opaque and often non functional. I searched for nearby Grocery stores and was shown a department store.

Business Listing Quality: As far as I can tell other than certain categories like food, entertainment and shopping these are missing altogether.

Routing: I do not live in a big city so my tests typically reflect testing a product’s familiarity with back roads and short cuts. I figure if the product can get these back country roads correct far away from urban centers then the chance of getting the more important stuff right is far higher. Apple and Google both gave me a choice of routes although Apple gave the better choices and in its current iteration, a better way to select the route. HERE offered no such options and offered no alternative routing. It was their route or the highway so to speak.

Things Nokia HERE Has: It does offer public transportation routes which Apple does not. For me that is not enough to get by the egregious interface issues. They also offer the option to save a map for offline use, although the many warnings and caveats were discouraging. A map can take up to 13 mbytes of storage.

Bottom Line: Don’t waste your time or bandwidth to download the product unless it is for a case study in the decline of Nokia as a force in the mobile world.

Some additional screen shots comparing Apple Maps & HERE Maps output (click to see images at full resolution): Continue reading

Google+ Local Finally Supports Businesses Open 24 Hours

Updated 5:00 pm

Eagle eyed Matt Gregory alerted me to the fact that the Google for Business Dashboard (and apparently the G+ Page for local as well) that a business can now indicate that they are open for 24 hours and it will display correctly on the G+ Local page. This is a feature that has long been requested in the forums.

To have your hours show as open 24 hours in either the Dashboard or the Plus Page management area indicate an opening and closing time of 12 a.m.

Google has yet to fully clarify who is eligible for using this feature and whether a physical presence is required. It would seem that brick and mortar shops that have a physical presence would clearly be eligible as would service area businesses that hide their address and make house calls 24 hours a day. Beyond that it gets murkier. Would a lawyer that has a call center answer for them qualify? Would a bricks and mortar shop that is willing to come in on an appointment basis if called?

I asked Google to clarify their policy as to who was eligible to use this 24 hour designation. Their response:

The hours on the listing need to be the hours that location is directly contactable–meaning if calls are routed to a call center after-hours, only the call center listing should be shown as open during those hours. If a service-area business located at the business owner’s residence is willing to receive calls and go to customers’ locations 24hours/day, it is welcome to list its hours as such.

Ed Parsons: 1 in 3 Searches at Google are Local

Updated: 9:26 am 11/14/2012

Ed Parsons, the Geospatial Technologist of Google,  has indicated in a recent talk at Google PinPoint London 2012 that “about 1 in 3 of queries that people just type into a standard Google search bar are about places, they are about finding out information about locations. …this isn’t Google Maps just people normally looking at Google”.

The number of searches with local intent at Google has long been a topic of interest to marketers, directories and SEOs. In December of 2010, Google indicated that searches with local intent were 1 in 5 of all searches. Recent research by Chitka indicated that the number was closer to 1 in 4. Ed Parson, who should know, says that the number is 1 in 3. Based on Comscore’s September Core Searches that puts the total number of Google searches with some local intent is in the ballpark of 3.6 billion searches a month. Clearly not all of those show pinned results. It is not clear from Parson’t talk but it would appear that the 1 in 3 number applies to the desktop. If one were to then include mobile the % would obviously be higher.

 

Yesterday afteroon, I put this question to Ed Parsons on Google Plus to get a better understanding:

I was wondering if you add some detail to your quote at about 2:16 where you said: “about 1 in 3 of queries that people just type into a standard Google search bar are about places, they are about finding out information about locations. …this isn’t Google Maps just people normally looking at Google”

Is that both desktop and mobile? What percentage are Map/Driving direction related? What are the other categories of query types?

Ed’s answer:

It’s a composite figure both Mobile and Web, we don’t have an exact number but it’s between 30-40% – These also [are] not always [as] explicit [as] ‘Find me a pizza restaurant in Chelsea’, a more generic search request say for Football Teams would be framed geographically to highlight teams local to the individual searching..

This answer validates David Mihm’s logic in his post 20% Local Intent Number Is 50% Too Low where he put 30% as the lower boundary for searches with local intent at Google.

Here is the complete video. The comment about local search volume occurred at 2:15 of the video: Continue reading

Developing Knowledge about Local Search