Is the Google+ Local Dashboard Moving Towards a Freemium Model?

That Google has finally added some semblance of human support to G+ Local raises a number  of questions that are still unanswered:

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  • Is it worldwide or US only?
  • Can agencies call in on behalf of their clients?
  • Will it be extended beyond the verification process to other aspects and problems that occur with Google+Local like merges?

But an even bigger question for me is:

  • Why now?

Google has always known of the unsatisfied demand for phone service that existed in their local product, why add phone support now? As far back as Maps Guide Jen, Google has always said that local was a free product (free my ass..free as in you only pay with data, suffering, time and eyeballs) and that free Google products did not receive phone support.

My speculation: A revived dashboard will include numerous paid products that will be able to be used as upsells during a “support” call. Google is likely moving toward a freemium model of local where the basic service is free but many of the add ons that will offer highly visibility will have a fee associated with them.

The G+ Dashboard for Business has been in a state of “under construction” disarray for many, many months. Yet as I noted in Google Local: Train Wreck at the Junction:

…the product sports a renewed Offers interface, an upgraded Adwords Express AND a recently rebuilt bulk upload interface. The dashboard is account based rather than individual based. Certainly that is a superior solution for a multi-location brand yet it is steadfastly single user. It is the ultimate contradiction and any attempt at reading the tea leaves as to its future gives one a serious case of heartburn. But given the fact that parts of the product HAVE been upgraded its hard to conclude that it is in fact going away.

You can’t very well sell Offers, Adwords Express and who knows what future products if the business can’t get their listing verified. And Google already has an SMB support team in place for AdWords Express. It is a trivial task to cross train them to a new Dashboard (that works).

Just the other day, Google increased the visibility of Offers by surfacing them in Google+ Local search results. The product has long carried the caveat that “it’s free, for you during a limited-time trial period”.

Last June, the Wall Street Journal noted about the “coming” replacement for the dashboard that

The project combines several products and services aimed at small businesses under a single banner. It is based on a mix of internally developed software and recently acquired technologies that the company hopes eventually will bring in billions of dollars a year in new revenue.

American business is not known for its altruism. Google is no exception and as a market leader is under huge pressures to increase revenues. With somewhere north of 8 million businesses registered in the dashboard they have a huge opportunity for monetization in local like no other.

While it is extraordinary that Google is implementing human support for local after many long years of having absolutely none, I think this move is part and parcel of a grander strategy to monetize their Local product as they upgrade and enhance the Dashboard.

Google Local Now Providing Phone Support for Verification Issues

Update 10:00 pm: Google has confirmed that this is a permanent feature.

Update 01/09/12 11:09 am: Google has confirmed that phone support is US- only and just English at this point if an agency is managing the listing, they should be able to get support.

Google+ Local had a rough 2012. But it appears that at the start of 2013 there has been at least one upgrade that is worth shouting about (here’s hoping its permanent).

Google is actually providing phone support when a business runs into verification issues.

Just to be sure that you read that correctly, I will repeat it:

Google is actually providing phone support when a business runs into verification issues. And not just phone support but support that is staffed (at least currently) by US based, English speaking personnel.

To initiate a call in go to the Google Places for Business I’m having a problem verifiying my listing(s) troubleshooter and select the option “I tried PIN verification for a single listing” and indicate that you asked for a postcard and have waited the requisite 15 days. At the bottom of the form you will a link to “Please either call us or complete the following form:”

When you select the call us option you are taken to a call back form. I tested it to see if it was actually working and within 10 seconds of filling it out Google rang me up, an automated attendant asked me to press one for support and Darrel answered. He said when I asked: “This line is primarily to provide support for verification issues”. I would suggest that this quote should be filed along with Neil Armstrong’s “One small step” quote if not for its eloquence at least for its significance.

After I picked my jaw up from the floor I thanked him and let him go on with his day. Needless to say I was shocked.

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Google Local Video Listing Spotted in the Wild

Plamen Barzev alerted me to the existence of a local listing display that includes a video. The display showed for the search term plumbing charleston sc on the listing for Tamsberg Plumbing. Their site is a single page site done by Localedge.

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plumbing charlston sc   Google Search

Whether this is a test or a new display type is unclear. When you look at the underlying code and compare the video listing (C) with the B listing you can see that Google is using a different display class. When you examine the underlying HTML most of the listings share a class of “g”, the video listing however shows a class of “g videobox”. Why it is missing the address and pin though is unclear.

Loci 2012 Important Trends in Local – David Mihm

loci with pronunciations

1. Particular postions, points or places
2. Centers of activity, attention, or concentration

Every year I ask people involved in the local space that I respect to provide a summary of the things that were important during the previous year. Every year their articles highlight the incredibly rich and dynamic space that is local. Their voices, some more prominent in the industry than others, are voices that should be listened to as they are intimate with the many different facets of local.

Here is the charge that I gave them: Would you be willing to share the 3,5 or 10 articles that influenced your thinking or actions the most over the past year? The articles could be yours, or from others and could cover any topic that you think relates to Local ie local mobile, phones, mapping, Local VC, Local companies, Google, trends, marketing, best practices etc….but articles that you found of importance in one way or another throughout the year.

David Mihm, now with SEOMoz, will kick off this year’s review. He needs no introduction:

What will 2012 be remembered for?  Local has been increasing in importance incrementally over the last couple of years, but I think this year it finally smacked the non-believers in the face–at least those who have read either of these two posts.

Yet again 2012 was a big year for Google, and the dust still has not fully settled from their release of Google+ Local in May.

For me, Joel Headley summed up the essence of this rollout at our May 1 Local University in Edmonton, saying “we want to show everything we know about a business,” something they had already started to do as early as February.

As of New Year’s Eve, though, from the perspective of small business owners, the incredible potential for this roll-out still has not been achieved by Mountain View. Instead, the second half of the year has largely been spent on bug fixes and has left pretty much everyone in our community frustrated. (Mike, that last rant of yours was EPIC.)  As is her wont, Miriam Ellis provided some straightforward, realistic advice for all of us with this peerless post.

Prior to the +Local rollout, all the falderal in the SEO industry around Panda and Penguin I think minimized the recognition of the Venice update among our generalist peers. Several years from now I think the impacts of this update will be remembered much more substantially than either Panda or Penguin.

Mike, as you said so well, despite all this upheaval in the SERPs, not much changed at a tactical level this year. The need for consistent data across the Local Ecosystem remains important not only for Google but has become even more so with the explosion in the number of third-party location-related apps this year.  And John Henry Scherck of SEER Interactive wrote this great piece on creating your own competitive citation alerts.

Come to think of it, there have been a lot of great tactical posts this year, especially from our Local U colleagues Matt McGee and Darren Shaw. I also think your post on reviewing businesses AS Plus Pages will continue to be cited over the next several years.

I enjoyed watching the ascendance of Nyagoslav Zhekov and Phil Rozek into thought leader status in 2012.  These guys have put in a ton of hard work the last couple of years and share a lot of great tactics with our community. Some of my favorites from this year were Nyagoslav’s “Google+ Local vs. Map Maker. Is Your Business Eligible?” and this total gem from Phil, which should give every small business (and small agency serving small businesses) exactly the action plan to implement for success.

Thanks to everyone in this entire community for making it such a fun space to be in last year & here’s to an even better 2013!

Service Area Business with a verified social local Google+ page? Delete It

NOTE: The article is outdated.

Update 10/3/2013: The relationship between the social page and the new dashboard is different and Google’s rules about how they handle businesses with hidden addresses are different.

If the social + page is associated with a new dashboard listing, deleting the social page will delete the listing.

If you have a listing that was at one time suspended for not hiding the address then you need to call Google support and have them deal with it.

*****

From the rollout of the G+ Local Social merge and bugs showing up when service area businesses attempted to hide their address, Google has said that service area businesses (SABs) should NOT merge their Places listing with their G+ social page. Well, some SABs did not get the message (big surprise eh?) and the question is what should they do now. The answer: Delete the Merged page and rely solely on the dashboard to manage the listing.

Google posted this sticky in the forums:

Are you a Service Area Business (SAB) that has created and verified/merged a social local Google+ page for your business? Read on!

If you do not accept customers at your location, then your address should be hidden. At this time, Google+ currently does not support hidden addresses. You should delete your social local Google+ page from within Google+ (Click on Pages on the ribbon on the left, go to the Settings of your page, and scroll to the bottom and click Delete page).

Don’t worry! You can still manage your business’ presence on Google. Here’s how:

  • If you’re a verified business owner in Google Places for Business…
    • Manage the listing via the Google Places for Business dashboard. Be sure to hide your address.
  • If not, but a listing for your business exists…
    • Find the listing for your business and become a verified business owner by clicking on Manage this page on the right-hand side.
    • Then, manage the page via the Google Places for Business dashboard
  • If no listing for your business exists…

We’ll share updates with you on this thread when we have them.

Keyword Not Provided Passes 70% as Chrome Makes ALL Searches HTTPS

My keywords not provided passed 70% just as Google Chrome has started switching all searches to secure search (https) for all users. Obviously the technical nature of my readership puts my site at the vanguard of this new reality.

But the Chrome switch to HTTPS, which started on December 10th, presages a big jump in not provided numbers for all websites. The secure search occurs in Chrome whether you are logged in or whether you are logged out and searching in in cognito mode. It was only on August 2nd, that my blog passed 60% for not provided traffic from Google. The trend was accelerating even before this most recent change to Chrome.

Of my 15,228 visitors over the past 30 days that came via Google search, 10,661 of them, or 70.009%, did not show the keyword data.

I should have written this post last week as my keywords not provided hit 69%. It would have made for a better title.

 

 

Google Map for iOS Ships

Late yesterday, as you probably already  know by now, Google Maps for iOS appeared in the app store. The product includes, turn by turn directions, transit directions, traffic information, street view and the ability to sync your searches and directions with your desktop.

The early (and frequent) reviews are predominantly and overwhelmingly positive. The legitimate criticisms offered include:

  • the inability to do offline navigation,a feature in iOS maps and critical with spotty cell service,
  • no iPad app yet
  • a lack of bicycle routes
  • slowness, choppiness and performance issues (definitely on the iPhone 4 but perhaps others as well)

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In my initial test, compared to iOS Maps, Google Maps is significantly faster at generating maps. Its ability to disambiguate and find locations is superior. And I assume that its database of places is better but I have yet to test that.

It does not however integrate with SIRI which from a car based “workflow” point of view is a huge drawback. Not necessarily Google’s fault but a typical use case for me is to ask SIRI about a location and from there get directions. It is mostly hands off and very easy. Speed of map generation is not as important as the convenience of getting directions in a mostly hands free way that is critical. All in all Google Maps appears to be a great mapping product.

Amazing what Apple had to do to get Google to provide turn by turn on the iPhone. One wonders though, even with the hoopla how many iPhone owners will take the time to download and use this product instead of Apple Maps or whether Apple Maps is “good enough”.

Google Updates Review Content Policy

Google has just updated the review content guidelines to explicitly prohibit review stations AND employee reviews.

The changes to the policy are noted in italics:

For instance, as a business owner or employee you should not review your own business or current place of work. Don’t offer money or product to others to write reviews for your business or write negative reviews about a competitor. We also discourage specialized review stations or kiosks set up at your place of business for the sole purpose of soliciting reviews.

The Disconnect Between What SMBs Use Facebook For and What Consumers Use it For

Last week at Kelsey it was reported that an “astounding 41.7% of SMBs surveyed by BIA/Kelsey say they see Facebook most importantly as an acquisition tool”. Astounding is right. That is a huge disconnect with reality.

My recent survey of how consumers find lawyers tallied that 2.1% of the US adult internet users would start their search at their favorite social network. 32.7% indicated that they would start their search at a search engine or elsewhere on the internet. In other words a consumer looking for a lawyer is almost 16 times as likely to start their internet search for a specialty lawyer anyplace BUT Facebook. They indicated that they were 5 times as likely to start their search in the printed Yellow Pages than on their favorite social network. Granted this is lawyers but it is likely that these percentages hold roughly true for other industry segments as well. We have seen a similar disconnect at our Local University presentations where SMB attendees have reported that 68% Have Facebook Pages but only 28% have claimed their Google Places Listing.

Facebook is an incredible platform for retention, community building, awareness but I see this huge disconnect amongst SMBs that think that it is prime territory for client acquisition. If any of you have clients that have missed this critical point, I am reprinting last week’s graph sideways so that it is more obvious. (The number on the far right is Facebook.)

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This disconnect could actually lead to annoyed customers rather than new customers. Facebook is social. Direct customer acquisition activities is just the opposite. My wife said to me the other day that she DID NOT want her lawyer, doctor or dentist interacting with her in that environment. Certainly there are some business types that she wouldn’t mind interacting with, for example the local cupcake bakery, but even there interacting needs to be more social than anything. I don’t think her atypical. I think Facebook runs a grave risk of losing their core users if client acquisition becomes the standard operating mode there.

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