Google Rolls Out Major Update to Google My Business Guidelines

Google has rolled out a major update to their My Business (ie Places) Guidelines. The new Guideline offers much more concrete examples and clarifies a number of situations particularly multi-practitioner listings and their naming.

Some obvious highlights:

  • Descriptors of any sort are NOT allowed
  • Categories should be the more specific category and NOT the overarching, general category
  • Increased name and category consistency amongst multi location chains
  • Two or more brands at the same location must pick one name
  • If Different departments are to have their own page they must have unique categories
  • Practitioner’s pages, in multi location practices should have their name only and not the name of the practice
  • Solo Practitioners only can use the format of Practice: Practitioner
  • Virtual Offices are NOT allowed unless staffed. (If they are staffed then they aren’t virtual are they?

Guide to Using Call Tracking for Local Search

phone-tracking-ga-iconI wanted to circle back to the call tracking issues in local. In my previous post, I wrote a great deal about where it doesn’t work. I also have wanted to cover where and how it does work. It made sense to me to ask someone in the industry to put it together so I asked Mark Sullivan, Director of Analytics, CallRail to write a guest post on the topic. Let me know what you think.

Mark Sullivan has directed online marketing at various companies since 2006. Most recently he worked at Yodle on the team in charge of local SEO performance for multi-location & franchise businesses. He left Yodle in 2013 to start growth consulting firm Vasolo, where he learned the effectiveness of using call tracking data to better drive business growth for his clients. In 2014 he joined the CallRail team, where he is the Director of Analytics. Mark spends most of his time educating SMBs and marketing agencies on how to better analyze marketing metrics to extract meaningful insights. Feel free to reach out to him on Twitter @mpsulli.


As our appetite for better business data increases, so do the tools we use to capture that data. Call tracking technology is no different. Adoption among local businesses across North America is increasing. Many local search products now come out of the box with some form of call tracking. Whether it’s a visibility package tailored for dentists or a one-size-fits-all SMB automation package, it’s becoming more common for marketers to quantify lead generation through inbound calls.

When it comes to using call tracking for local search, there are special considerations to keep in mind. Adopt a call tracking strategy that doesn’t account for NAP consistency and you’re setting yourself up for a lot of citation cleanup at best, and utter failure at worst. Many of us have heard the nightmare stories about some company that used call tracking and rankings completely tanked. Or possibly worse, we’ve heard the story of a business losing access to a call tracking number that was used to represent their business all over the web. It’s understandable to be wary of call tracking numbers and local search.

However, there is one foolproof way to get the benefits of call tracking without sabotaging your local visibility. This guide aims to show you how to get your call tracking cake and eat it, too.

So Why Care About Call Tracking for Local Search?

  1. Accountability – One of the toughest parts of what we do in local SEO is communicating clearly, concisely, and convincingly the answer to this question from our clients: “What have you done for me lately?” Often we’re left educating our clients on NAP consistency, the importance of unique content, citations, and the invaluable nature of reviews on IYP’s. Fortunately for us, our clients aren’t really interested in learning how to become local search marketers. What they want is more accountability from their local SEO investments in the form of lower funnel metrics that directly impact their bottom line.

With call tracking enabled we can get deeper into the customer funnel and become more accountable search marketers. As a business owner, if my $500 per month local SEO campaign shows me inbound call volume reports alongside the other metrics, I’m able to better account for the ROI of my investment. Add in call recordings that can be reviewed to determine the quality of phone leads coming in, and you’ve introduced a level of accountability that business owners are craving from their local SEO efforts.

  1. Better KPI’s – KPI’s are a fancy way to say “metrics that matter”. For many of us working in local SEO, the Key Performance Indicators we’ve focused on for years have been based on rankings and traffic. Relying solely on these metrics nowadays, with the advent of personalized search and the rising importance of IYP’s like Google+ Local & Yelp, means you’re likely missing conversions that your local SEO efforts should get credit for. After all, when someone does a search on Google for a cosmetic dentist and calls directly from the SERP without ever visiting any business website, that valuable phone call isn’t fully being accounted for in a rankings/traffic only performance report.

With a better KPI like call volume, we as local search marketers can get a better picture of how well our work is paying off. There’s some guidelines on how to best use this data to prove performance. Later in this guide, we’ll get more into how to slice up aggregate call data to best avoid counting existing customers.

  1. Advanced Features – Modern call tracking platforms include much more “under the hood” than just attribution (i.e. tying calls back to a campaign.) Most platforms come out of the box with advanced features like call recording, advanced call routing/handling, interactive voice response menus, and customizable dashboards. When we surveyed CallRail clients about how they get the most value out of call tracking, an overwhelming number of them talk about how call recordings have helped them identify training opportunities for people answering the phones. Others have pointed out that by implementing a 15 second greeting at the beginning of the call they were able to significantly reduce the amount of time employees spent on the phone answering repetitive questions.

As the Swiss army knife is versatile, so are modern call tracking platforms. Combined with built in integrations with Google Analytics, CRM platforms, and open API’s, the permutations of what you can do with your inbound phone calls are numerous.

The Main Concern: NAP Consistency Continue reading Guide to Using Call Tracking for Local Search

Apple Maps Vs. Google Maps – ThrowDown in Buffalo

B23gC0cIIAAhNeuAs many of you know I live in upstate NY about 70 miles due south of Buffalo. You may not know that I am flying home today from Denver after speaking at the Hospitality Marketing Conference.

You also know that there has been a boatload of snow in Buffalo and that people have died. And that the storms are continuing. You may not know that most snow fall throughout all of Western New York is caused by the lake affect of the cold westerlies passing over Lake Erie, picking up moisture and then dropping snow in very narrow west-east bands. These bands are often only a mile or two wide north to south so if you get through it is often clear on the other side.

You probably know that a number of roads have closed in the Buffalo area and that includes the major north south routes that parallel the lake that I take to get home, routes 400 and 219. You probably don’t know that the airport is open and only got a few inches of snow and that where I live in Allegany, NY 70 miles south of Buffalo is about 10 miles outside of the snow belt and also has very little snow.

As I was getting ready to start my day, I was wondering if there was a route home from the airport that somehow avoided the many road closures and perhaps navigated to the east of most of the snowfall. I checked both Apple Maps and Google Maps and got two very different but interesting answers.

Google Maps says No Way Jose!
Apple Maps suggests a route that is about 30 minutes longer than normal but does get me home and likely avoids the snow.

You also probably know that I would rather spend the night in my own bed rather than in Buffalo tonight. Or maybe not. It will be interesting to see “ground truth” when I land this evening.

Accurate driving directions obviously can be a matter of life or death. Heading off into a serious winter storm can be dangerous but sometimes it makes sense. Google says no go, but Apple could very well be correct in this situation.

I am not sure if I will test the directions to find out. Although if you live or work near the Buffalo Airport I would love to hear from you.

Update: After battling Waze with its overly invasive privacy settings, it surprisingly confirmed Apple’s routing. Curious that Waze, which is owned by Google and often supplies data to Google Maps, is not used in this situation.

Some Thoughts On the New Pak Results from Google

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 5.59.40 PM
Click to view larger. An answer box displaces the new Pak in this example.

Some thoughts & observations on the new [Hamburger] Pak from Google which for now, like the Carousel, is US only.

1-The local carousel is still in use and shows when you select a result delivered by “People also search for” in a 7-pack result. Will we soon see its demise as well? Currently Google shows five competitors, not three, below the brand Knowledge Graph. Not sure how that would work with the new [Hamburger] Pak.

2-Obviously that question raises the related question of whether the traditional 3/7 Pack is on the future chopping block as well. The new Pak targets the same leisure and entertainment activities as the carousel; music, hotels, restaurants etc. These “do and see” experiences are both more popular in local search and likely to be more profitable to Google than the results returned with “traditional” Pack results. The Local carousel, introduced in June, 2013, had a time to death of little more than 16 months. And since its inception there has been the general belief that the traditional pack would be replaced. I guess it will, someday. Or not.

3-The new Pak is consistent with both Google’s material design language and mobile first approach. The design even lifts the hamburger menu icon from the mobile design arena.

4-Like the carousel before it, there is no phone #, address or map associated with the display of the listing in the [Hamburger] Pak. To see those things it is necessary to click through to the Knowledge Panel. And if you want to see the details of another listing it is necessary to go back out and then in again. This is one of the worst local users experiences that Google has rolled out to the desktop in a long time. It really should not be that difficult to ferret out a phone number or see comprehensive information for a list of results.

5-This contrasts to the mobile experience. Once you choose Map view on a phone, and view any given equivalent of the Knowledge Panel display, you can swipe forward and backward to easily move through the full details of any single listing. It still makes the phone number too many steps away. What is mobile all about if not clicking to call?

6-One of the biggest changes from my POV is the loss of diversity in the display. The carousel, even though it was ranked, showed no obvious rank in its horizontal display and essentially made position 5 as valuable & visible as position 1. It was relatively easy to scroll to see spots 10-20. This display picks 3 winners and makes those in position 4-10 significantly less visible.

7-In about 3-4% of keyword searches where one would predict that the new [Hamburger] Pak would show, Google showed a branded One or three Pack instead. Obviously the brand predilection of Hummingbird and Pigeon is still in play and is no way affected by this.

8-On “average” screen sizes on the desktop, there is little else that can be seen besides ads and the new Pak. Thus in many search results that return a new Pak, only 3 listings are returned. If there are two ads at the top then only 2 results are visible above the fold.

9-I would love to hear what happens to web traffic for the directory type sites that seemed to be doing well when shown below the Carousel. Clearly this was prime space for TripAdvisor, Yelp etc and this can not have been good for their traffic. In unpublished user research that I did, a number of users would flat out ignore the carousel and move right to a branded website like TA or Yelp. I doubt that behavior persists with this display.

10-Interestingly even though the new [Hamburger] Pak almost always returns at the first position after the ads, it doesn’t always do so. In the searches done so far that trigger the new Pak, it shows at position two, following either images, an answer box or  a web result with site links  about 4% of the time with no geo modified queries (2% of overall queries). The non geo modified queries are obviously more ambiguous than the geo-modified ones and it makes sense that Google might slot something above the Pak. .While is hard and rare, it does seem possible to “dislodge” the new Pak. Images, answer boxes, really strong web site and, of course, branded results all do so.

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 10.45.13 AM
Click to view larger. Images displace the new Pak in this example.

Continue reading Some Thoughts On the New Pak Results from Google

Google Achieves 100% Monetization Above the Fold with New Pak

We knew that this day was coming. Like frogs in slowly warming water that ultimately reaches a boil we hardly noticed.

On “average” screen sizes on the desktop, there is little else that can be seen besides ads and the new Pak. Thus in many search results that return a new Pak, only 3 listings are returned. If there are two ads at the top then only 2 results are returned. And in the case of hotels those are monitized. Thus 100% of the area above the fold is monetized.

This is screen capture on a 1440 x 900 display. 62% of all users have this size display or smaller displays. Even on a very large display there are only 2 additional “organic” results.

Unlike the ads that do take a user to a website, these results take users back to Google. Thus the only way to get measurable traffic is via Adwords if you are in a leisure type industry that returns the new Pak. This is certainly one way to filter out the cesspool that is the internet.

Perhaps it is time that we begin to think of Google as an ad engine that also returns some search results.

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 10.16.28 AM
Click to view larger.

Which Terms Trigger the New Entertainment Pack

The new carousel replacement, like the carousel, shows for entertainment and recreational searches. This entertainment pack almost always (but not quite always) starts at position one right below any ads. I wanted to see which terms that previously showed the Carousel were now showing the new Entertainment Pack.

When the original local Carousel first came out in June of 2013, we were able to identify a list of 350 terms that produced a local carousel. I tested a sampling of 50 of those terms to see which results were now showing the new entertainment pack.

I ran 100 searches with my location set to New York, NY (to be sure that there was always enough inventory) and searched on 50 terms both with and without NYC as a geo modifier.

33 of the 50 geo modified search terms now showed the entertainment pack instead of the carousel. Of the Non Geo modified terms 29 now showed the new pack. Thus of the 100 searches that originally showed carousels, 52% were showing the new display. Of the 48 that weren’t showing the new pack, 17 were showing a traditional pinned pack of some sort (1,3, 5 and 7). Of those 17, 5 appeared to be branded packs results.

In 3 of the 100 searches performed, the new Entertainment Pack showed in position two on the page. So while it usually shows in the first position below the ads, that is not always case. Once it showed below a definition, once below an image result and once below a website result with site links. This was the case only on non geo modified queries.

Ypou are welcome to test some of the terms that generated the original carousel to see if they are now generating the new Enterntainment Pack. Here is the spreadsheet with the search phrases.

Here’s the summary of the results:

Old Carousel Carousel Replacement w/o geo modifier Notes CR w/ geo modifer "NYC" Notes
Accommodations Not showing Shows 7 pack not showing
Entertainment Club Not showing   not showing
video Not showing   not showing
alcohol Not showing   3 Pack
alleys Showing Shows below definition 1 Pack
American Food Catering Showing   Showing
American Restaurant Showing   Showing
amusement Not showing   Showing
Amusement Center Showing Shows below Images Showing
Amusement parks Not showing KG Carousel showing not showing KG carousel showing
Arcades Showing   Showing
art Not showing Shows 7 Pack not showing
Art galleries Showing   Showing
Art Gallery Showing   Showing
Asian Not showing Shows 7 Pack Showing
Asian Cuisine Showing   Showing
Asian Delivery Showing   Showing
Asian Food Showing   Showing
Asian Grocer Showing Position 2 Showing
Asian Market Showing   Showing
Asian Restaurant Showing   Showing
Asian Supermarket Showing   Showing
Asian Take Out Showing   Showing
Attractions Showing   Not showing KG carousel showing
Auditorium Not showing Shows 7 Pack Showing
Authentic French Cuisine Not showing   Not showing
Authentic French Restaurant Not showing   Not showing
Bagels Showing   Showing
Bakeries Showing   Showing
ballrooms Showing   Showing
Banquet Hall Showing   Showing
Barbecue Catering Not showing   Showing
Bars Showing   Showing
BBQ Not showing Branded 3 Pack Showing
BBQ Restaurant Not showing Branded 3 Pack Not showing Branded 3 Pack
BBQ Ribs Restaurant Not showing 1 Box Not showing
Beach Motel Showing   Showing
Beach Resort Not showing   Showing
Beachfront Weddings Not showing   Not showing
Bed & Breakfast Not showing Shows 5 pack Not showing Shows 7 pack
B & B Not showing Branded 7 pack Not showing Shows branded 7 pack
Beer Showing   Showing
billiards Showing   Showing
Boat Charter Service Not showing   Not showing Shows 7 Pack
bowling Showing   Showing
Box Lunch Supplier Not showing   Showing
Breakfast Not showing Shows 7 pack Not showing Shows 1 Pack
Breakfast Restaurant Showing   Showing
brew pub restaurant Showing   Showing
Breweries Showing   Showing

Google Rolls Out Carousel Replacement

Update 7:00: Greg Sterling notes that Google has confirmed that this is now being rolled out.

Per James Gibbons and Brady Callahan on Twitter, Google is testing another variation of their Carousel Replacement. I was able to see the test in Safari on my Mac but not in Chrome or Firefox. Mileage may vary.

It is similar to the display first seen in August but with three differences. One, the display is only showing at position 1 of the organic results and two, there is no embedded map.

The striking third difference though is that when you click through one of the list results you are presented with only a Knowledge Panel that appears dead center in the results and not off to the side. Depending on the KP content, virtually all other information can appear below the fold.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 5.34.50 PM

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 5.34.40 PM
Clicke to view larger. Note that this KP pushed right to the fold on my 27″ screen and was dead center on the screen

Last night I saw the same test being run on Safari for the iPhone.

Continue reading Google Rolls Out Carousel Replacement

A Visual Guide to Using My Business Bulk Business Accounts For Multi User Management

Google is in the middle of a transition for bulk users from the Places Bulk dashboard to the My Business Bulk dashboard. Like the single location transition before this, it is frustrating and appears to a bulk user in the old dashboard to move excruciatingly slow*.

But the technical aspects of the transition are not easy, even for Google. This transition is made even harder by the vast difference in “ownership” rules between the old and the new dashboard and the many states that any given listing (let alone a group of bulk listings) might be in.

Under the old Bulk environment, bulk data was viewed as a data feed not as an actual “ownership” privilege. Google would accept data from all verified comers and essentially publish the most recent or most trusted data. Any given location might have been verified in multiple bulk and individual dashboards that could have been both historic and current. This led to massive conflicts between franchisors and franchisees and between owners and management groups. It was not helpful in a large number of settings.

How the Google Bulk Dashboard Used to Work
Multiple Ownership Roles in the old dashboards Click to view larger.

However with the release of the new bulk dashboard and the attendant release of the Business Accounts, Google has started to provide a management product that reflects the multifaceted realities of the real world.

In this new environment an agency could make the primary claim, each brand could have access to and manage their own listings and the store manager or franchisee could still control and enhance any specific or group of locations.  It might even lead to a situation where Franchisors and Franchisees can actually get along and team up to manage their listings (god forbid). I do think that it is a harbinger of a social future where the best companies will figure out how to share responsibilities for the most productive outcomes in local

Here is a schematic of a current possible bulk “arrangement” with me being the owner and allocating management privileges to either regular or Plus Google accounts via a single Business account:

Google new Business Account can offer significant flexibility. Click to view larger.

But this is a simple scenario that doesn’t begin to demonstrate some of the possible combinations of management that can account for more complex real world situations which the new Business accounts can handle

In this following example a single company that owns multiple brands (for example KFC and Taco Bell) can distribute management privileges at both the bulk and even the individual store location levels:

Distributed responsibility across distinct brands. Click to view larger

Likewise, a similar construct might apply across departmental or regional responsibilites. An example of this might be Sears and Sears Auto Centers:

Continue reading A Visual Guide to Using My Business Bulk Business Accounts For Multi User Management

Google Releases Mobile My Business Updates

Google has just announced several updates to the mobile capabilities of My Business.

Business Owners can now respond to reviews via the MyBusiness mobile app (Android today, iOS very soon)

Call Analytics from within MyBusiness – this was a feature that was rolled out temporarily last month, but is now (permanently) available in mobile and desktop analytics.

Another major feature just rolled out is the ability to receive active notifications of newly received reviews within Google Android App. This feature appears to also be imminent but not yet released on the desktop.

According to Google help files: Every time you get a new review on Google, you’ll get a notification in the top right corner of Google My Business. You’ll also get notifications on your phone if you’ve installed the Google My Business app.

This system uses the G+ notification system so it appears that you can toggle on email notification if you so desire. I am attempting to confirm that as the feature is not yet showing in my settings panel

Concurrently, Google is releasing AdWords Express to 20 additional countries. Adwords Express has continued to improve on the client side, offering better value than originally and apparently, given this broad rollout, is providing Google with the success that they were looking for as well.

Yext – List your email everywhere‎

We recently embarked on a clean up campaign across the internet  for a client that had serious NAP issues. We used a corporate email address that forwarded to me. Somewhere along that line whether by hook or by crook or an errant check box, Yext picked up our email address.

And started spamming me.

7 days, 5 emails showing me exactly how problematic our listing is. While in some senses, this client is a qualified prospect, it is totally unclear how we managed to get subscribed to Yext’s email list and unclear why I now get almost one email a day from them.

I did send an inquiry off to Yext but they have not yet responded. Howard, whaz up?

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 10.53.33 AM

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 11.03.49 AM
Continue reading Yext – List your email everywhere‎

Developing Knowledge about Local Search