LocalU Advanced Williamsburg March 5th 2016 Pre Agenda Special

Local U Advanced is my favorite local event of the year; its collegial, casual, intimate and leading edge educational. This year the event will be held in Williamsburg, Va the night of March 4th and all of March 5th, 2016.

The agenda for the event will be coming out on November 8th but if you are interested in a ticket prior to that LocalU is offering up a Pre Agenda special for only $499 ($449 if you are a Local U forum member).

That’s the good news.

The bad news? There are only 2 tickets left at that price.

Buy your ticket to Local Geekdom here. 

Why Acxiom Needs a New Name and Always Has

I am a student of local. I read Google patents, I study legal documents. And I am reasonably a good speller. That doesn’t mean that I can spell Acxiom’s name correctly very often. Nor can I pronounce it.

It is one of those corporate branding exercises that must have looked great on paper but never quite worked out in the real world and should be changed. I have at least 3 spellings that I use with regularity and I am sure there are variations I haven’t thought of.

As incontrovertible proof I offer up this document from the Google Legal team, known for dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s:

Legal Notices for Google Maps/Google Earth and Google Maps/Google Earth APIs

5.2 Google Local Business Listings in the United States

When you search for local listings, Google displays business listings which may be supplied by Acxiom Corporation and/or infoUSA Inc. (“Axciom” and/or “infoUSA”). This information is proprietary to those corporations and is protected under U.S. copyright law and international treaty provisions.

Even Google’s Legal Department gets it wrong 50% of the time.

Another thing about Acxion that is worse than their choice of name?

Their choice of URL for claiming local listings: http://mybusinesslistingmanager.myacxiom.com/

Someone else can rant about their actual UX.


Current Google Plus Page URL Cluster F%&k Alert

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 4.44.48 PMStarting Monday we started seeing a growing number of weirdly formatted G+ Pages for local. Apparently it is being caused by the fact that Google has changed EVERY MANY G+ Plus page url for local (not all pages but definitely some…).

Most of the new URL’s redirect accurately but for some fairly large percentage that is not the case. In those cases, the old URL’s 404 and the new ones take users to a franken-page that looks half local and half brand.

Uncle Bob s Self Storage About Google

Uncle Bob’s Storage, a large national storage company with their HQs in Buffalo,  was tracking the change and noticed that of their 537 locations, 482 correctly redirected but that 55 of their locations did NOT redirect correctly. Thus somewhere on the order of 10% of all G+ Pages for Local that were redirected may be in this malformed state*. And the old URL’s are generating 404 errors!

Here are two URLs from Uncle Bob’s larger sample that show both a malformed & problematic outcome and one where the redirect works correctly:

Old URL New URL Status
https://plus.google.com/104293257073313824810 https://plus.google.com/104654323590397403528/about Old URL 404’s and new one is a Franken page
https://plus.google.com/116238460079913628835 https://plus.google.com/b/114198565595588604622/ Was broken and now fixed
https://plus.google.com/110463140997869677948 https://plus.google.com/103476571530254149133/about Redirects Correctly

A bigger problem confronts those of you that were using your G+ Page URL in your marketing to get your customers to your page. Some fairly large* percentage of those URLS are currently broken and need to be tested.

The problem is that these new franken-pages do not show reviews and do not offer any way to gather reviews so until Google fixes this there is no easy work around if you are using the Plus url for your review program other than sending users to a search for your company.

This sort of craziness demonstrates why as a user or agency you should always track the URLs for your local page in Plus, Maps and Mapmaker and track the core CID.

* We don’t really know how many pages were affected by the redirect and of those how many didn’t redirect correctly. While my sample size is largish, it is for just one business. They could be the unlucky ones. We don’t know whether their % is typical of those pages that were redirected and we have no idea of how many pages in total were redirected. Regardless, capture your URL now and watch the page for the next several weeks if you are using the URL in your marketing

Review Incentives – Are the Costs Worth It?

I have just published a new post on incentivizing revies at the GetFiveStars* blog: Review Incentives? Are the Benefits Worth the Cost?

Reviews and testimonials are powerful social proof of your business’s capabilities but they are often hard to get. Incentives, including contests and discount coupons as well as direct rewards, often will increase your review counts. But at what cost?

*Full disclosure: I am a founder and co-owner of GetFiveStars.com

Google Adding Desktop Hangout Calling to Knowledge Panel in Search & Local Finder?

kp-click-callI have been traveling for the past week so I am not sure when this hit the street or that I am seeing it because I am inside of Google but Google has added the ability to directly contact a business via the Knowledge Panel.

This is a feature that was first tested in 2006 and made appearances throughout the years.

The current iteration that I am seeing drives the user from the linked phone number directly into a hangout screen and is immediately ready to dial the business.

Are others seeing this? I am inside the GooglePlex and no one here seems to know about the feature.

Here are the screen you see when you click on the phone number in the knowledge panel: Continue reading Google Adding Desktop Hangout Calling to Knowledge Panel in Search & Local Finder?

Google Best Practice For Different Businesses in the Same Dashboard

Google, with the release of the new Google My Business API, is perhaps suggesting one of the biggest “best practice” shifts for handling SMB Google My Business accounts in years by suggesting that it is not only ok but preferred to claim multiple listings in a single Google My Business account. Yesterday in the Google Ads Developer blog post discussing the new GMB API Google said:

 “For developers managing AdWords accounts with a large number of locations for small and medium businesses, we recommend creating one Google My Business account as a central repository for all locations. Each physical location should be created only once. If different owners and managers are involved per location or for sets of locations, we suggest using Business Accounts“.

For years as Google approached the small business market, it has long been Google’s recommendation for each business to create their own dashboard account. They made life hard for agencies in this mix and made claiming a business listing by someone other than the business an onerouse task. Despite on the ground reality Google stuck with the fiction of the small business owner claiming their own listing and barely tolerated agency involvement in the process.

So what is best practice for verification going forward? Should you claim the new listings into a master account? Its a little too early to make that call but it would appear that a possible small agency work flow would be to spreadsheet upload new listings into a master GMB account and individually verify it. Once you have access to the API that could occur within your own dashboard.

Until such time as this is clarified it makes sense to create a master GMB account and add it as a manager to all of your individually claimed listings and use the Business Accounts feature to organize them per your internal priorities.

The two worlds of bulk and single business listing management were long kept apart and the Google My Business dashboard had a singular focus on the small business owner. However with the rollout of the new integrated Google My Business dashboard and now the GMB API (can we get any more acronyms together?) Google is clearly shifting management and development priorities away from the single business towards the Adwords resellers.

Their needs in a location management product are much different than the needs of the small business and these recent developments speak to that. Larger Adword resellers need the ability to have many different companies in one account, they need the ability to easily use location extensions with these locations and they need it to be easily and centrally managed.

This would explain the lack of SMB polish in the new dashboard and why the bugs that were there at launch seem to disadvantage the single location owner more than those used to the workings of the Bulk dashboard. IE development priorities were focused on using the dashboard to manage multiple businesses not a single business.

There are many questions that remain unanswered as this shift of priorities and functionality moves forward:

Will large Adwords resellers ultimately be able to get whitelisted for individual small business verification added to this central account?

Will this single GMB account be used for AdWords and location extensions work equally well for managed as well as owned listings?

What happens for example when a small business shifts Adwords resellers will the verification go along with it?

Will adding Adwords into the already complicated GMB product (or in reality vice versa) make support totally incomprehensible?

And where does one go to get these questions answered?

When will the API for Bulk listings be opened as that seems a critical step to really make this work for larger resellers?

Will smaller resellers with Adwords accounts for 50 or 75  different small businesses be able to play?

How should they organize their accounts?

Are Business Accounts the answer?

What market driven distortions will occur short haul that are not aligned with Google’s long term goals but ultimately leave agencies or small businesses disadvantaged?

The flow and the reality within the new GMB is still unclear. So what else is new. As Google My Business appears to be pivoting yet one more time, the only thing we can count on is change.

Google GMB API Becoming More Available

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 10.40.22 PM

Updated 10/15

Google has started to open up the Google My Business API. The API allows “authorized representatives to manage business location information on Google that you can use with Ads, Search and Maps”. Currently the API can be used to edit individually verified locations but not bulk. The API will be able to manage  Bulk verified listings in a future release.

Currently the API is limited to “AdWords API users who currently manage more than 50 business locations using AdWords manual feeds.” If you meet that criteria you can request access here. This limited availability is temporary and and will be available more broadly in future releases.

Google, in noting its increasing availability is essentially confirming something that I had confirmed several weeks ago and that was that it was in use by some users and that Google was traveling the globe talking to IYPs to better understand that future features needed.

While it is clear that locations can be created and edited via the API no mention is made of whether location specific Insights (analytics) will be available, whether the API will allow posting and what specific API calls are available. I have asked Google for clarification.

Update 10/15:

In the Google has added a post to the Ad Developers Blog that includes some additional information. The initial release is limited and the only “supported attributes are name, address, contact numbers, URL, categories, and business hours”.

Google also noted: “For developers managing AdWords accounts with a large number of locations for small and medium businesses, we recommend creating one Google My Business account as a central repository for all locations. Each physical location should be created only once. If different owners and managers are involved per location or for sets of locations, we suggest using Business Accounts“.

This is a strange recommendation given the many years of them recommending one account per business.

I was asked on G+ the purpose/value of an API. Many of you know but it bears repeating here.

Essentially Google is opening up ( some of?) the functionality of the dashboard to outside programmers.

Here are quick thoughts off the top as to possible uses. You could:

A) build a WordPress plugin that would allow your client to change their hours on their site and at Google at the same time with one step.

b) create a custom client dashboard that gives your clients access to Adwords, Analytics and GMB reports (but just the important stuff ) all on one screen.

c) a multi location plumber/SAB could deploy photos and description updates from an internal dashboard.

d) Companies like Moz Local, Yext or page builders could create additional functionality within their platforms by integrating their data with GMB.

We have to wait and see what API calls are available but it could lead to some interesting programs.


Google My Business Survey

Google My Business sent out a survey this AM where they noted:

….asking for your feedback on how we can best meet your business needs. You can count on us to follow through and continue making improvements to our products and services to help you succeed.

For example, in our most recent survey, customers told us they wanted more information about how their business listing appears on Google Search and Maps. So we are working on ways to provide more insights to help you track your business profile online.

When I answered as a small business owner that didn’t do marketing I got to the end point very, very quickly:

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Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 9.45.44 AM
Rejected!!! Click to view larger

When answering as an agency and that I did do the marketing I was taken into a boringly long survey where I was asked some interesting questions:

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 9.49.53 AM
They are really going to give us keyword searches back? Click to view larger
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For each service I checked, they asked follow up questions. Except Facebook. Click to view larger
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Clearly they are only interested if I have spent some money… go figure.

Google Updates Maps for iPhone and Adds Watch Compatibility – How Well Does it Work?

Many (myself included) who use both Apple Maps and Google Maps contend that Apple Maps has gotten good enough that it is simply a matter of preference not functionality as to which one to use.

The one area though where Apple had a distinct advantage was in the Watch integration of Apple Maps. It is a brilliant implementation and takes navigation to another level. Its almost like wearing the internet. So when I saw that the new Google Maps upgrade included Apple Watch integration I wanted to test it to see if it had measured up to Apple’s implementation. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.

The new Google Maps for iPhone has some well thought out additions like the ability to compare the times for transportation methods and better integration of Streetview.

The image lower left takes you directly to StreetView. Very fast and easy

The well designed to and from fields are followed by the time to destination of various travel modes

But I was really curious about the Watch integration. While it mostly worked there were enough design and implementation issues in this first revision that most Watch users will find it crude.

Can’t Get Enough of that Personal Info

When you first launch the Watch app, in classic Google style, it works very hard to give you no option but to add additional information to Google.

Only two choices are presented for the user when first opening the app.

Google, insistent on extracting more personal information, then forces the Watch user back to the IPhone App,

Still in Beta?

Google, insistent on extracting more personal information, then forces the Watch user back to the IPhone App. There you are immediately presented with this idiotic warning that the product is in Beta. Given that the product has existed in one form or another since 2011 on the iPhone and longer than that on Android and the desktop, one has to wonder, just when will it be fit for service? Saying the Google Maps App is still in Beta is like saying I am still in Beta but that I will grow up someday. Hah! In your dreams.

Yikes! Still in Beta after 4 years? Hello?

Just can’t get enough can they?

Cluttered Watch View

A Watch has very limited real estate and when you are driving that limited real estate can become a liability if you try to jam too much information in to. Google does just that. Apple presents one simplified high level view in a large bold presentation.

Apple’s Watch display offers only high level, critical info in a very large type

Google presents too much information on the small screen to quickly absorb at driving speeds.

Non Persistent Display

On the Apple Watch, a raise of the wrist to the steering wheel both turns on the watch face and by default, presents the next navigation instruction. One of the more annoying attributes of the Google Maps for Watch is the fact that the Maps driving direction panel is not persistent and disappears from the screen afer the watch goes to sleep. A wrist raise to activate the watch display brings up the clock and the user is required to double click the crown to get back to the Map direction. This could be some limitation of the Apple API, I have no idea but it makes the product almost useless in a real world setting.

No Haptic Feedback

When wearing the Apple Watch and approaching an upcoming turn, it gently taps you on the wrist 200′ away from an upcoming turn. It’s like the hand of God the Internet reaching out and touching you. It is a very personal and very useful implementation of haptic feedback. I have been told that the feedback varies slightly for left and right hand turns, although you can’t prove that by me. Its a great feature and makes driving in a strange town much less stressful. Google, to its loss, has not implemented that feature yet.

Bottom Line

The Google Maps Watch implementation needs improvement before it would incentivize anyone to switch. And in its current form, makes navigation less safe rather than more safe.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search