Loci 2012 – Anita Campbell

Small business expert & ex-patriate of corporate America, Anita Campbell serves as CEO of Anita Campbell Associates Ltd, a woman-owned consulting firm helping companies and organizations reach the small business market. As Publisher of several online media properties and syndicated content, Anita reaches over 1,000,000 small business owners and entrepreneurs annually.  She is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Small Business Trends. She also hosts Small Business Trends Radio, where she interviews other small business experts, publishes Selling to Small Businesses and is a key mover and shaker in the annual  SMBinfluencer Awards.

She has a very clear bead on the SMB POV.

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Here are 2 interesting gems from over at BizSugar that struck a chord with me for mainstream small businesses that need to get customers locally:

The Impact of Local Celebrity in Local Marketing:  (This one is about getting a local celebrity to review your product, since the value of user reviews has become somewhat less credible these days with astroturfing and paid review services. As media reports surfaced in the 2nd half of this year about Amazon deleting reviews because of paid review services, the value of user reviews started to decline fast in the public’s mind. User-review credibility is  not completely gone but user reviews are less likely to be believed after this year, I think.)

The Local Marketing Triangulation Strategy that Gets Results: (I like this one for the idea of “localized content” to make your marketing as relevant as possible to the local community.  This is an underutilized strategy, but one that most small businesses could adapt.)

And then there’s this one which merely reinforces the utterly confusing nature of Google’s entire local strategy these days: Google: Delete Your Google+ Local Page If…
If you read that article quickly you might assume it means every business without a local presence should delete its Google+ Page — which would be a disaster.  I think Google needs to make things easier for small businesses, and the search community needs to come out with clear and unambiguous step by step instructions — there’s been so much change in Google’s local strategy and too little clarity.

 

Google: Review Contests Violate Guidelines

RotoRooterREVIEWS1

There had long been some ambiguity & contradictions around whether the Google Review guidelines prevented a business from having a contest or raffle to encourage customers to leave reviews. No more. Google has finally stated that drawings that involve incentives are not allowed.

In response to a report in the forums of a contest that had a drawing for the chance of a refund for the value of work done in return for a review (either positive or negative), Googler Jade said: Just clarifying that it is against our reviews guidelines to trade money for reviews, so, yes, this sort of solicitation would be against the reviews guidelines. You can see the rules for the contest in question here & here.

Given that Google themselves have had these sorts of contests in the past it was often thought that as long as a given review was not incented AND there was no pressure for a positive review that a business could have a monthly drawing. Even after Google rewrote the guidelines in February of 2011 to include the phrasing: For instance, do not offer or accept money or product to write positive reviews about a business, or to write negative reviews about a competitor, it was unclear whether a drawing that did not have a quid pro quo for a positive review might pass muster. Matt McGee felt that there was additional clarification needed. And Nyagoslav, after reviewing newly minted Places guidelines on promotions in May of 2012, noted that while there was ambiguity, it was probably ok to have a drawing as long as you didn’t ask for positive reviews. I agreed with his interpretation.

Somewhere along the line the word positive was removed and they now say: Don’t offer money or product to others to write reviews for your business or write negative reviews about a competitor. A subtle change yes but it appears that Google finally has made clear that these sorts of contests and drawings are verboten. Whether the new written guideline is still clear enough is another matter. I would suggest that while the rules are getting clearer, like in February 2011 and May 2012, there is still room for clarification vis a vis these sorts of activities so that there is no mistake. This is particularly true given the long back story.

Here is a history or the guideline as it changed over time (relevant sentence in bold italics).  Continue reading

Google Dashboard: Most New Listings Go Pending – For How Long?

It appears that most newly created listings in the Local Business Center (LBC) Google Places for Business Dashboard the DASHBOARD are now immediately going to a pending state.

screenshot-google-places-verification-2 Like with all Google messaging this has a certain Kafaesque quality to it. The other day Barry Schwartz reported it out as a verification delay which while that may be occurring is not actually what is happening. Verification is still happening. But as soon as the pin is entered the “pending” message occurs.

Googler Jade) noted here on Jan 3: I think that the “Pending” message is due to an expected delay in the updating of dashboards we are experiencing right now.

She noted in a post on Jan 8: We were experiencing longer delays than usual at the end of 2012 and this page may have been affected.

Is it just a delay in the dashboard messaging or is it more significant than that? Is a listing that shows pending having any other issues than the message? Will it likely show up in the index? How long can we expect to see the pending message? Is it a delay in updating the Dashboard message or does it reflect the possibility of a new process or perhaps listing going into limbo for an inordinate amount of time?

It is probably all of that. While the pending message has been around for a while it has never really appeared instantaneously on all newly claimed listings immediately after entering your verification number. Minimally that is new. And appears to be a new level of review (not a bug).

I think Linda Boquet has it right (or very close) when she says: My assumption is if you can find it live, it’s just delayed messaging. If you CAN’T find it live and it’s more than a week since verification, then it may have been pulled for actual review.

I would add that if the Google review finds problems the pending state can last for an eternity with no feedback from Google. Continue reading

Loci 2012 Important Trends in Local – Ted Paff

Ted Paff is the owner of CustomerLobby.com, a solution to help local businesses to get, manage and publish customer reviews. He is more familiar than most with all of the realities of SMBs and reviews as he lives and breathes them every day of his business life and most of the rest of his day as well. I know for a fact that he loses sleep pondering the many issues that affect him and his clients in the local space.

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Here are a few articles that influenced my thinking in 2012 with respect to Google, local search and some of the emerging trends in local:

Google
The main story line in 2012 for local was that Google+Local is a train wreck. In addition to countless bugs, the complexity of managing the page makes most time-starved local business owners stick their head in the sand. Mike, your review solicitation guide is an instant classic and joins David’s annual magnum opus as a must-read.

Nyagoslav got me thinking with this article about the impact of privacy on review solicitation in various different industries. However, not asking for reviews reduces both quantity of reviews and the average ratings.

You presented data that pointed to the importance of a local business’ total web presence (in question 2) and broad review distribution (in question 3). It is still a little surprising to me how poorly understood the buying cycle is for most local businesses.

I don’t think Google+ will replace Facebook as my social destination of choice and that leaves me unclear what role Google+ fills in the ecosystem.

Hope springs eternal for a local search alternative
Based on how embedded Google products are in my life, this article got me to think about the risk of relying too much on any one service provider. In addition, Google’s move to prioritize profit over completeness/quality of search results with merchants, makes me wonder about Google’s future monetization strategies in local.

As a result, I am hopeful for the creation and evolution of local search alternatives. Facebook is an obvious possibility with lots of cool ways to build a local search business. Go Facebook go!! Apple’s Passbook along with their new-found interest in maps has real possibility to jumpstart their local offerings. Go Apple go!!

Emerging trends in offering digital products/services to local SMBs
Building a business serving local small/medium businesses (SMBs) is hard. There is so much truth in here, it hurts. However, businesses are being built in local.  But stories like this and this lead me to wonder if local SMBs understand the ROI of their marketing spend.

Speaking of ROI on marketing spend, Groupon has issues. The stock market knows it and its employees know it. However, there are some very smart people working at Groupon and they have a lot of cash. They are busy reshaping Groupon by buying/building/integrating a POS systemscheduling systempayments system and yield management system.

Viewed as an arc, Groupon’s acquisitions point toward a different type of digital marketing business emerging to serve local businesses. Digital marketers that integrate marketing services into the operational workflow of local businesses solve a lot of problems for local businesses and clarify the ROI of marketing dollars. Intuit/DemandForceConstant Contact and Avvo are good examples of this trend. Even Google is at the edge of this trend.

Mike, thanks for lovingly tending to the best forum for all things Google and local. Many of us would be much worse off without you. To your many readers, thanks for leaving amazing comments to Mike’s posts.

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:

google-money

  • 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.

Screen Shot 2013-01-08 at 4.40.56 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2013-01-08 at 3.30.12 PM

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.

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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.

 

 

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