Facebook Graph Search and Local From Across the Web- Let the Fight Begin

MUHAMMAD ALI ROCKS GEORGE FOREMAN ON THE JAWFacebook with the rollout of Graph Search (terrible name) is staking its ground in local search. Here are selected comments from Matt McGee, Danny Sullivan & Greg Sterling that I thought summarized the situation well:

Greg Sterling

What Does FB (Graph) Search Mean for Local?

If Facebook’s execution is successful and the UX is good then the local search market may consolidate around Google, Facebook, Yelp and to some degree Apple in mobile. Vertical and niche sites/apps will remain viable and perhaps continue to thrive. But “thin” horizontal local sites could effectively be done.

The early weakness of the product will be data and the fact that its database is limited or incomplete vs other competitors. This was especially true in my test of Nearby vs. Yelp.

While it’s still a bit too early to say I’m not going that far out on a limb to argue that it’s possible Facebook Graph Search (and Nearby) could become just as important in local as Google.

Matt McGee

Facebook Graph Search Arrives To Challenge Google, Yelp, Foursquare & Others

Facebook Graph Search will be more valuable to active Facebook users — those who’ve actively Liked businesses and pages, artists and movies, and so forth.

The big question for the long haul is whether or not Facebook Graph Search is good enough that users will change their search activity enough to put a dent in “the Google habit.” Although Facebook is saying that its new search product offers a different use-case than traditional web search, anything that keeps users on Facebook longer and away from Google would be a win in Facebook’s view.

Local search may be one of the most compelling use cases. As the second screenshot above shows, Facebook can build a very Yelp-like and Foursquare-like local recommendations engine based on the combination of friends, their Facebook check-ins, their “likes” of local businesses and similar data.

SEO For Facebook Graph Search? Facebook Has Some Tips

The business Page is what a small/local business can control the most, and Facebook’s three specific tips for business owners, then, are focused on optimizing a Page for the new search (and this is straight from their post):

  • The name, category, vanity URL, and information you share in the “About” section all help people find your business and should be shared on Facebook.
  • If you have a location or a local place Page, update your address to make sure you can appear as a result when someone is searching for a specific location.
  • Focus on attracting the right fans to your Page and on giving your fans a reason to interact with your content on an ongoing basis.

Danny Sullivan

How The New Facebook Search Is Different & Unique From Google Search

With Facebook Graph Search, the objects we search for aren’t web pages but instead virtual representations of real world objects: people, places and things. The connections are primarily Facebook Likes. Did such-and-such a person like a particular photo? A particular doctor? A particular restaurant? Those likes are the ties that bind the information in Facebook together.

A Facebook search can show you restaurants in San Francisco liked by your friends. Or further, those liked by your friends who actually live in San Francisco, as opposed to those who live elsewhere. Or those liked by your single friends, your straight friends, your gay friends, your friends who work for a particular company….

Need a good plumber? An electrician? Someone to do your taxes? A doctor? A dentist? These are all typically questions that are great to ask friends. You trust friends. With Facebook Graph Search, there’s the promise of asking all your friends this at once without actually having to ask them. You can just search and discover professionals like this that they like.

That all depends, however, on whether those professionals themselves have created a presence for themselves on Facebook. In turn, it also depends on whether those who use them have also liked them. Without those connections, there’s nothing to mine.

If the utility to use Facebook as a type of super-Yelp or super-LinkedIn doesn’t prove itself at first, at the very least, Facebook Graph Search will allow people to search within Facebook itself in a better way than they can now. For example, people will be able to find all the photos they’ve liked on Facebook.

It remains very early days, but I already find it fascinating the types of searches this is allowing me to do, searches I hadn’t contemplated before. It reminds me of how in the past, we wouldn’t have thought of doing things like YouTube searches or Twitter searches, since we didn’t have those resources. Now, we search at these places for unique needs. Facebook is a great repository of data, and it finally has a search catching up to all it knows.

John Batelle

FACEBOOK IS NO LONGER FLAT: ON GRAPH SEARCH

Prior to seeing the new search, I was not certain Facebook would ever live up to the hype it has accrued over its short life. It’s a good service, but it’s flat – over time, it struck me, people would tire of tending to it. They set up their social graph, toss a few sheep, poke some pals (or not), “like” this or that (often off-domain), waste hours on Farmville, and then…engagement drops slowly over time. I’m also not a fan of Facebook’s domain-specific approach to the world, as many of you know. Facebook’s new search doesn’t address Facebook’s walled garden mentality (yet), but it nails the first issue. Once this search product is rolled out to all of its members, Facebook will no longer be flat.

Put another way, Facebook needed a service that layered a fresh blanket of value over its core topography. Graph Search is it.

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I think the above sums up the situation pretty well. Facebook has a chicken and egg issue and local is devilishly difficult to do at grand worldwide scales. And that raises this question: How will Google respond?

The view from where I sit? Facebook has scale and they have an audience. And they have bright people, lots of money and desire. In that regard they are unlike any competitor Google has had in local in recent times. Can Facebook change people’s behaviors? Can they get enough data to solve enough queries that it becomes a useful discovery engine? Yes but it will take time.

And Google never sits still. They are hyper competitive and are unlikely to give any quarter to Facebook in local. Google has a long history of directly confronting competitors in local and winning. With the YellowPages, Google did a better IYP. With Mapquest they did a better map. With Yahoo they did better search and better mobile. With Groupon they did offers and waited. With Yelp they are doing reviews and if not better quite yet, at a bigger scale. They have confronted every competitor head on and aggressively.

Google clearly has been working hard on building out a social graph and their knowledge graph around local entities. They are in the process of building out a more robust, stable and comprehensive local infrastructure. But that process has left their local product in a state of disarray that every SMB hopes will be fixed quickly. Its product is too complicated and opaque for most businesses to get their heads around.

Now that Facebook has shown their hand though, Google can now focus their energies. And focused it will be. Will Google win this one as well? We won’t know the answer to that but the games have started and it should great game to watch.

Loci 2012 – Nyagoslav Zhekov

Nyagoslav Zhekov is a 20 something Bulgarian that owns and operates NGS Marketing. He has spoken at SMX West, is a guest author for SearchEnginePeople.com and elsewhere. When he isn’t answering questions on the Google and Your Business Forum, where he is a Top Contributor, and Quora you might find him playing (European) football with his teammates from Absolut AFC (Varna) or traveling with his wife Jenny.

Wherever or whatever he has a passion and integrity about local and has become a student of the craft. Read along with him on his journey of self discovery about the realities of business.

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I am relatively new to the online world, having used the Internet for the first time just about 7 years ago. That was long after Google has established itself as the dominant search engine and I was hearing everywhere how cool it was and how the team behind it was strictly obeying to their “Don’t be evil” creed. Probably that is why when I started doing what I do for a living I was observing Google’s actions from a somewhat romantic and idealistic point of view. To my greatest disappointment, this grandiose image was gradually demolished by no other but Google themselves.

One point I feel I should make before sharing my thoughts is that I am not really a fan of conspiracy theories. However, there are so many details involved that it would be hard even for the greatest conspiracy skeptic to deny them.

Awakening

My “awakening” began in the summer of 2011 with Google removing the images that were previously “attached” to each Google Places result in the organic SERPs. It didn’t make much sense and they didn’t give any proper explanation why they made this move. A little later, in October of the same year, the Googlers decided to change the red balloon markers that were previously found next to each Places result, with grey ones. Again – no logical explanation. In January 2012, they “reduced” the number of local listings that were showing in the local SERPs, a phenomenon that was observed across a wide array of verticals and locales. And that is when I started questioning myself – why?

The following events gave a relatively clear answer to my wondering. In the end of January (early February), the Venice algorithm update was rolled out, which could have been one of the potential reasons for “blended” Places SERPs to replace the “packs” almost everywhere. In February, the web descriptions disappeared in the blended SERPs. In June, the golden stars that could have previously been achieved if you have 5 or more reviews on your Places listing, were replaced by numbers, but only in the organic results, not in the paid ones. All of these changes made it clear that Google understood that the local listings had too great of an influence on the user’s click-through decision making and they were trying to reduce the “eye magnetism” in every way possible. At the same time they were pitching paid advertising and potentially developing a “marketing portal” targeted predominantly at small businesses. There is nothing bad, you would say, in a corporation trying to increase its profit. And I agree, but just partly. There are two main problems:

1. It would be a conflict of interest if Google starts prioritizing its own paid products. Oh, wait, they are doing this right now, openly and not so much.

2. It means that Google is ready to sacrifice part of the usefulness (removing images and descriptions) and relevance of the organic search results (reducing the number of listing results) in order to prioritize the paid results.

The Bright Light at the End of the Tunnel

Hope for improvement, as frequently happens in economics, comes from the competition. And there is not as much hope to see the competitors coming up with something better, but rather hope for competitors to come at least a little closer to Google in order for them to feel threatened. And fortunately, there was a lot of action in the world of “local” apart from Google. The biggest news came from Apple, but in my opinion it was Yelp who was the most active. Facebook launched Nearby, and Nokia – Here. There are also hopes that the new CEO of Yahoo – Marissa Mayer, will move the things around local inside the lethargic behemoth.

Let’s hope 2013 will show us some signs of Google returning to its roots of non-evil-doing.

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!

Developing Knowledge about Local Search