May 2, 2012
Dave Oremland of Professional Bartending School in DC, alerted me to the fact that Google Places is now apparently going so far as to request a business license from some businesses to verify their authenticity. In this Google Places forum post the Commonwealth Sunoco of Boston asked:
I received an email from email@example.com. They are requesting a scanned copy of my business lisence. They sent the request to my business email and not to the email I used to create my listing.
I just want to know if this is a legitimate request and not some scam.
Google Community Manager Vanessa confirmed that it was really Google that was in fact asking for a business license:
Just to confirm: Yes, that request is from the Google Places support team.
This is the first report of Google going so far as to ask for a business license. The reasons for the action are unclear. Was there a question of a guideline violation or was it to settle a dispute as to who actually controls the listing? I have no idea.
I am of two minds about the procedure. I am a big proponent of Google cleaning up the index and this is certainly a way to do that. In the case of wildly abused industries like the Locksmith business it makes complete sense. But it is perhaps too intrusive and makes certain assumption about what is a business and might throw too much wheat out with the chafe.
Dave Oremland of felt strongly that this was incredibly intrusive and inappropriate:
I found this stunning, again as a business operator and as one with current issues with g places…and essentially its black hole non responsiveness.
A police or govt. official might ask for a business license. One incredibly unhappy customer out of thousands might do it. If you were in court it might be requested. Nobody else ever asks to see it. We have over 100 years of business ownership for our several businesses.
Nobody asks for it. Google, from its engineering cocoon, disconnected from the real world, and unwilling to establish direct contact through people, is using its power to force businesses to do something nobody else would do. Not all businesses can scan information, not all businesses will have a license.
What do you think? Is this an inappropriate intrusion or is it a great way for Google to start cleaning up their index?
May 1, 2012
Google is no longer accepting Places reinclusion requests via the link in the Places Dashboard. I just received this email from a client that had recently requested reinclusion for a suspended account. I have bolded the significant points in the email:
From: Google Places
Date: Sun, Apr 29, 2012 at 7:34 PM
Subject: Re: [#10101010101] Your Google Places Reconsideration Request
Thank you for requesting a review of your rejected listing(s).
Unfortunately, this process is no longer supported.
You may create a new listing that adheres to our guidelines in order to
show up on Maps.
If your listing shows as pending, please check on Maps to see if it is
live. In that case please be patient as we are currently overhauling the
reconsideration process. Please also have a look in the Help Center at
The Google Places Team
On a tactical level this means that if your listings have been suspended you have to create a new account, add your listings and re-verify.
It is also interesting to speculate about this on more strategic level. Is Google just coming up with a better, more streamlined way to allow listings to be reincluded or is there more to it than that?
When viewed in light of the recent move to pull AdWords Express from the Places Dashboard and the fact that Places is one of the only Pages not to be brought under the Google Plus umbrella, one has to wonder whether Places and the Places Dashboard are long for this world in their current form.
April 30, 2012
Google has removed Adwords Express from the Places Dashboard and installed the product into its own area of Adwords. In accounts that did not have an AdWords Express ad, the AdWords Express Tab has just disappeared.
In accounts that had an AdWords Express Ad, Google has reconfigured the ad at adwords.google.com/express/.
AdWords Express has moved to adwords.google.com/express/.
Things to know about the change:
1) No changes were made to your ads — we just moved everything to a new place!
We left your ads and your other account information just as they were in Google Places. Of course, you can always make changes in your AdWords Express account.
2) You can get to AdWords Express directly by going to adwords.google.com/express/.
We suggest you update your bookmarks to the new address (adwords.google.com/express/) to get to your AdWords Express account fastest. But, we’ll keep the AdWords Express dashboard and this link in your Google Places account for a little while in case you forget.
The change is of interest on several levels. The primary marketing interface to AdWords Express (outside of their inside sales staff) has been its prominence inside of the Places Dashboard. There are currently no links within the Dashboard to the simplified AdWords product if you had not previously used the product. The only link referencing AdWords links to the main AdWords site and makes no mention of the Express product. Given that the product is now essentially hidden one presumes that Google is planning some new interface for marketing the product.
While ad creation remains the same, in making the move Google has provided AdWords Express with a new interface which allows a user to add additional businesses and allows for a change of categories for an existing ad WITHOUT returning to the Places Dashboard.
April 11, 2012
The Venice update that started in late January had significant impact on Google local search results. We saw an increase in the display of the PlusBox, an increased search display of Blended results, reduced display of Local Pack and an increasing number of city level results being inserted in the organic SERPS (See Mike Ramsey’s piece at SEOMoz).
This “citification” of organic results where truly local webpages are given a ranking boost is quite significant. It offers clear opportunities via traditional SEO for local SMBs and those with a significant local presence to compete on a broader range of head phrases that don’t show pinned results and that have in the past been the exclusive domain of national sites.
Equally significant was the dramatic increase in the display of Blended Local results and the equally dramatic reduction in the display of Pack results. The 5 and 7 Packs seem to be completely gone and the vast majority of pinned results are now Blended. We all have anecdotal evidence of this shift but it is useful to have a large scale, quantitative view as well.
Just how big was the shift from Local Pack to Blended results?
Hanns Kronenburg of Sistrix, who spoke at SMX Munich, agreed to share Sistrix’s large scale research from his presentation with me. Every week they analyze the search results 100 deep for one million of the most common queries at Google Germany (google.de). For SMX they did some additional analysis of these numbers and extracted before and after Venice tabulations of the absolute and relative frequency of the Local Pack vs the Blended results that occur in the main search results.
Their methodology, which I explored in detail with Hanns, seems to accurately reflect the relative quantities of Blended vs Pack results although it might slightly undercount the absolute number of pinned results. Because the analysis is of Google Germany only there may be some differences with US or other country local results. However my anecdotal experience in the US is consistent with their results and I think the results are typical of pinned local results worldwide.
When viewed on a pie chart the change in the frequency of Blended results is more obvious:
April 9, 2012
Joseph & The Inn
“Joseph & The Inn”by Margaret Shulock is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at blumenthals.com
Grab this code to add the comic to your site:
April 6, 2012
Long a staple of Adwords, a simplified call reporting is being tested in Adwords Express. It is not clear how wide the test is as I found in the Austin market but not in the Buffalo market.
The option is dead on easy to implement and costs $1 for each call made to the number and the amount is deducted from the monthly budget thus reducing the total ads displayed. Reporting, like the rest of Adwords Express and the Places Dashboard in general is very limited although the user can login into their Adwords account for more details. The feature is documented in the Places for Business Help files here, here and here.
The system is easy to use and implement and will be beneficial IF an Adwords Express campaign is beneficial. While the product has improved significantly since introduction and does work well particularly for some low budget situations, there are still severe restrictions that can limit the value of the product.
I do find more than some irony that call tracking is a huge problem for your Google Places listing if used elsewhere on the internet but that Google has implemented it inside of their ecosystem.
Here is the screen shot from the Places Dashboard for creating the ad :
Like in Adwords Call Reporting the ad will include a temporary 877 number
March 28, 2012
In a followup to SMX West questions, Susan Moskwa noted on Google Plus the effective demise of GeoSitemaps:
Q: Why are my Geo Sitemaps throwing errors in Webmaster Tools?
A: Google has retired support for the Geo Sitemaps format. You can continue to submit your Geo content to us using the standard Sitemaps format (just listing the URL of the file(s), without-specific tags).
Kurt Maine - Susan, can you tell me exactly what you mean by “Google has retired support for the Geo Sitemaps format”?
Does this mean that KML files as a whole are no longer supported in any fashion, or are speaking to a completely different subject?
Yesterday 8:52 PM
Susan Moskwa - We still support KML files.
We previously supported an extension to the Sitemaps protocol where you could include tags in your XML Sitemaps that contained geo-specific information in addition to the URL of your KML file. We no longer support those geo-specific XML tags in Sitemaps, but you can still submit the URLs of your KML files in a standard Sitemap format.
Yesterday 9:05 PM (edited)
March 27, 2012
March 24, 2012
There have been many questions about the recently publicized change in Google’s Places policy that home based businesses that do not receive customers at their home should hide their address. Many have been critical of Google’s change and many have criticized the apparent illogic of the rule.
I see the issue somewhat differently. Certainly Google has a right to create guidelines that affect quality as they see fit. And this policy is mostly rational. Or rather its intent is. Its goal is to provide Google Map users with locations that they can drive to and have a reasonable expectation of finding “somebody at home” there.
But Google has not done everything right with this change.
1) Penalties should never precede the public policy which was the case here by a number of weeks. We were seeing this in the forums and with Andrew Shotland’s post long before it was publicly acknowledged. Change the policy, publicize the change and then enforce.
2) The initial phone calls that Google makes to inquire about whether a home business deals with customers at home should be cooperative not confrontational. If you are going to call SMBs then help them know that they have inadvertently stubbed a toe in regards to a new rule and ask them to fix it. Why anger or create fear in a potential customer when you don’t need to?
3) If after some period it has not been fixed and the SMB has been alerted THEN remove the listing. It would be ideal if you then properly communicated to the business as to why.
4) The policy is written in such a way as to be somewhat illogical… as Miriam Ellis pointed out in her post. If you take it literally then there would be many businesses that would be in violation of the policy. The reality is that world is more complicated and Google’s guidelines need to reflect that granularity.
I recognize that (as an old mentor used to say): Rules are for Fools. He meant that rules should not be taken too literally. They need to be contextualized. The intention with the guidelines is to not be dogmatic but to provide operating principles that offer a framework for quality and Google’s enforcement. Unfortunately there are many in the world that would prefer more explicit and accurate guidance.
The intent of the policy is to make sure that listings in Maps can be driven to. That is appropriate and as it should be. However the framing of the policy speaks in terms of customers only. Many businesses have a physical location but do not receive customers at that location. They do however conduct business meetings there, receive vendors there, do employee interviews there and need to be able to be found on Maps. And one would think that Google would want to be able to provide driving instructions for those locations and did not mean to exclude them with a rule.
If this guideline only applies to home based businesses (which appears to the case) then perhaps Google needs to make that explicit in the documentation. Not every rule need apply to every business. Alternatively they could rewrite the guidelines in a more general way. Instead of making the criteria whether customers visit a location, make the criteria whether business is conducted in a face to face way (to include vendors etc) at that location.
In the meantime, as SEO practitioners you need to handle this guideline with reason. Some thoughts:
Does hiding an address affect rank?