Details of Google’s Robo Calling Lawsuit Against Local Lighthouse

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From the front page of the Lighthouse website

Earlier today Google announced an educational and legal attack on deceptive robo calling that has and continues to run rampant in the local space.

Google mentioned in their blog today that they had filed a lawsuit. I have just read through the filing and it reads like one of my rants against this sort of thing. Maybe Google is serious this time around.

The suit was filed in the US District Court for Northern District of California against Local Lighthouse, a Tustin, CA based local SEO. The filing is a 3 part complaint for Federal Trademark Infringement, Unfair Competition and False Designation and False Advertising.

Here are some of the juiciest highlights from the filing detailing the tactics that we are all too familiar with:

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  1. Google is informed and believes, and based thereon alleges, that Defendant makes extensive, unauthorized, and misleading use of the GOOGLE mark and other marks that include  or incorporate the GOOGLE mark
  2. That Defendant’s sales  agents have made and continue to make various false and misleading claims during Defendant’s  telemarketing calls to confuse consumers regarding the true source or nature of Defendant’s services and the relationship between Google and Defendant. These include: (i) claims that Defendant’s sales agents represent Google or are calling on behalf of Google; (ii) claims that  Defendant is affiliated with Google or has been contracted by Google to provide SEO services;  and (iii) other claims designed to obfuscate Defendant’s identity and foster the mistaken belief  that Defendant and its services are approved, sponsored, or endorsed by Google.
  3. That Defendant  exploits such confusion to induce consumers to enter into contracts costing hundreds of dollars in recurring monthly bills.
  4. Evidence of such confusion is reflected in online consumer complaints and  pending lawsuits by consumers against Defendant. In addition, some consumers have directed their complaints regarding Defendant’s sales practices at Google.
  5. On July 29, 2014, Google sent Defendant a letter after receiving several complaints regarding Defendant’s telemarketing calls. Google told Defendant that consumers had complained about incessant, unsolicited automated telephone calls, misrepresentations of Defendant’s relationship with Google, and false guarantees of first-page placement in GOOGLE search results.
  6. Google demanded that Defendant immediately cease all such actions and bring its  practices into compliance with Google’s Third Party Policy. Google also demanded a copy of Defendant’s sales script.
  7.  On August 12, 2014, Defendant responded to Google’s letter by denying that it  used “robocalls” to market its services or that it harassed consumers with unwanted phone calls. Defendant claimed that it would “take quite a thorough look through the Sales Force Compliance to further our employee training to make sure all policies are being adhered to.”
  8. Defendant also denied that it guaranteed certain placement in search engines. Despite these representations however, Google received additional complaints.
  9. On January 9, 2015, Google sent Defendant another letter informing Defendant that it had received further complaints regarding Defendant’s telemarketing calls, including reports that Defendant’s sales representatives were introducing themselves as “Google Local Listing representatives.”
  10. The letter demanded that Defendant stop such misrepresentations and  bring its practices into compliance with Google’s Third Party Policy.
  11. Google continued to receive complaints from consumers indicating that Defendant’s sales representatives harassed them with multiple, unwanted telemarketing calls, misrepresented Defendant’s relationship with Google, and made false and misleading statements
  12.  For example, Google is informed and believes, and based thereon alleges, that Defendant’s sales agents have made statements such as: “We’re a Google subcontractor,” “we’re working for Google,” “the $100 fee [to initiate Defendant’s services] goes to Google,” and Defendant’s customers’ webpages “will show up multiple times on the front page and get what’s called ‘Front Page Domination.’”

Here is the filing if you would like to read it yourself: Google Complaint Against Lighthouse.

Not to pile on but their Yelp reviews make for good reading as well.

Robo Callers – Google is not going to take it any more – Files Lawsuit

Update: Details of Google’s Robo Calling Lawsuit Against Local Lighthouse are now available.

Apparently Google is not going to take the abuse from robo callers any more. Today Google is publicly starting to educate the public about rob caller’s abuses in Google’s name AND has apparently initiated its first law suit against a search marketing firm that has apparently been at the forefront of SMB abuse.

Robo callers have long been more than a thorn in the side of small businesses, often calling the same business 6,8,10 times in a week with a common refrain. Masquerading as Google, they inveigle, threaten, cajole or otherwise bullshit the small business into parting with their money.

The reputations of the search industry and Google have been the collateral damage in the robot caller’s battle to profit from ignorance. All too often you would find reports of these characters in the Google My Business Forums, asking how to get Google to stop harassing them. Despite the efforts of many noting that it wasn’t in fact Google, the posters continued to believe that it was Google harassing them or worse, stealing from them.

In today’s post in their “Safety Center”, titled Report Robocall Scams (cross posted to Google and Your Business) Google, provides tips to protect oneself  and is also providing a form to report robo callers directly to Google.

More significantly they have reportedly have taken one company to court.  Although I have yet to confirm the specifics of this.

Continue reading Robo Callers – Google is not going to take it any more – Files Lawsuit

Google Rolling Out Consolidated Interface for My Business & AdWords Access?

Scott Hendison of Search Commander in Portland, reported some strange goings on with Google My Business today for clients that were using location extensions in Adwords – a consolidated interface using the current bulk upload interface that presented both the local listing and the AdWords account.

From Scott’s post: TWO of three clients that I’ve spoken with today got redirected here after logging into – Apparently it’s called “Google Business Accounts for location extensions.”

When he was asked if the user had inadvertently gone to the Bulk interface he noted: “That’s what I thought too for the first one, but an hour later, another guy was automatically redirected while we were on the phone together. Also, each of them have that “business account” that uses their Google Adwords ID as the name – you can see that in the photo – really weird…“.

I have no idea exactly what is happening but it makes perfect sense for Google to start consolidating their local interfaces between Google My Business, Bulk and Adwords for local businesses (ie those that use location extensions) into a single unified interface.

Given Google’s propensity for testing this seems more likely a test than a brain fart on their part. Have you seen this?

In reading the help file that Scott referenced it appears that this is in fact rolling out. In the help article called Business Accounts for location extensions they noted that Google My Business Locations is now the source for business information used in AdWords location extensions.

They go on to note:

Locations in business accounts and in accounts that haven’t been verified are not currently visible in the Google My Business dashboard on Google+. Therefore, Google My Business Locations is the recommended tool for managing locations used in AdWords. 

For fewer than 10 locations of the same business or a service area business, we appreciate your patience; we’ll have a solution ready for you soon. For now, please contact us.


Negative Review – How Would You Respond?

Negative reviews are the one of the hardest issues that SMBs have to confront. Learning how to respond to them effectively is best learned by sharing amongst ourselves and with these same SMBs.

So I wanted to try some participatory blogging to tap the collective consciousness about what makes for a good response to a negative review.

On LocalU blog I am sharing an example of a an actual negative review and I then ask you to write a response to that review as if you were the owner. I will then share the actual response with you and ask you to critique it. Maybe together we can find just the right combination of words that will best serve the business.

Here is a real negative review from the post.

I’ve been seeing Barbara for years … long before she opened her own business. She had always been warm and friendly, happily meeting my every need and with awesome jewelry. I have sent many friends to her. Of late, Ms. Oliver is not the same person I once gladly recommended. Unless I’m willing to spend large sums of money per visit, it seems she can’t be bothered. My last encounter with her resulted in a promised follow-up that never came. It’s important that a merchant always show respect and courtesy to all, especially those who helped make your business. Maybe it’s just my impression, but Barbara seems to forget where she came from and those who knew her “back when”!

Here is some backstory:

Barbara initially had no idea who the poster was. She was not a recent customer and did not show up in any recent transaction. After some back and forth and a number of revisions to a response, Barbara remembered the person and estimated that it had been almost three years between the visit and the response.

Please take a moment to head over to the Local U blog post let us (and everyone else) know how you would have responded and what you thought of the real world response that was given.

Survey: Why do Customers Leave Reviews for Local Businesses?

I have always wondered about triggers and motives that lay beneath consumer’s desire to leave reviews for local merchants. Fortunately large scale consumer research is now relatively cheap and easy with Google Surveys.

I just published the first summary of my search into the question, When and Why do Consumers Leave Reviews for Local Businesses at the GetFiveStars blog.

Using Google Survey filtering question, we first surveyed 2685 consumers to ascertain their review frequency. We then asked the 30% that indicated that they have leave at least one review in the past 12 months for a local business to answer in their own words as to why.

The results are interesting and are the first in a coming series of consumer and business research as to attitudes towards reviews that we will be running at GetFiveStars.*

*Disclaimer: I am a founder, owner and employee of GetFiveStars so any pride or other bias is to be understood.


Google My Business App Receives Major Facelift

New Interface has familiar search look
New Interface has familiar search look

Google is releasing a new app today on Android and shortly on iOS that upgrades the mobile Google My Business experience.

The goal of the upgrade was to make the interface and visuals more similar to Google search and provide better feedback as to error states.

New features:

  1. Improved Editor
  2. Easier to find your listing on Maps and search
  3. More Detailed pending and error states
  4. Listings that are Permanently Closed are now visible via the App
  5. Improved Hour entry and better support for 24 hour business days
  6. Creating a service area display is more intuitive and the Service area display now matches Maps
  7. Help is more visible

The upgrade is elegant and from the demo I saw, it seems to work well. It makes the app fully functional and on par or better than the desktop interface.

That all being said, it hardly seems enough to recharge Google’s local efforts and attract more SMBs to its platform

Given Google’s recent reduced visibility of local results, the ever present complexity of doing well in search, the rise of Facebook as a small business resource and the demise of Plus as an SMB communication platform, this upgrade, while welcome, seems to be bit of chair shuffling on the deck of the Titanic.

While this tool is likely to be easy to use by the SMB it does nothing to highlight the benefits of Google local search and make it clear to the business owner how a business will really benefit from participating in the project and what they need to do to succeed. And it fails, as the Google GMB has done right along, to provide a reason for ongoing engagement with the product. Outside of answering and monitoring reviews Google has yet to come up with a compelling reason to visit the GMB app or dashboard on a regular basis.

See the screen shots from the new product: Continue reading Google My Business App Receives Major Facelift

Google StreetView App Upgraded to Allow Photo Spheres – Not Yet Ready for SMB Prime Time

Google just released several iOS app updates including the Google Plus app which now supports Collections, Google Maps with an improved review flow and most significantly Google StreetView which now allows both the creation and uploading of PhotoSpheres.

PhotoSpheres are the poor man’s version of Business View (as of today called Street View | Trusted), Google’s professionally driven interior, virtual tour product. The feature in the new Google StreetView app is easy enough to use to create interior and exterior views of a business and get them uploaded to Google Maps in a very short time.

But compared to Business View, there are some limitations both in terms of quality and exposure such that if it is really important for you to increase a potential visitor’s understanding of your interior then Business View, despite its cost, is a better choice.  These limits include quality issues, the current apparent lack of the  ability to embed the resultant image elsewhere and most importantly the lack of search and Maps visibility.

IMG_1946The interface to the mobile app is very slick allowing you to quickly shoot the complete sphere surrounding you, indicating where to point the camera  that it then auto stitches into a PhotoSphere. The interface to assemble and upload it is not as well designed and leads you astray but once you are familiar with it you can shoot, create and upload a sphere to any given location in under 10 minutes. And most of that time is the rendering and uploading it.

If you are shooting inside of very small spaces, the program has difficulties stitching accurately and getting good alignment. Whether that could be solved with more precise camera positioning via a tripod I am not sure. The quality of the stitches improves dramatically when you give the program “more room to breath” and shoot in a larger space.

Here are two of my first business related photospheres: the interior of my office and the interior of the bank that houses my office. As you can see there are a number of gaps and missing pieces of the one shot inside my 15′ x 15′ office that make it less than ideal. I would have embedded them here but alas no embed code was yet available as far as I could see. Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 3.44.44 PM

Like all wide angle immersive photography you have to practice getting the angles and view point correct. Unfortunately I could find no easy way to delete an image once uploaded even if it was not of optimal quality.

However the biggest problem that I see is that once uploaded to Google Maps, the image becomes buried amongst the other photos inside of Google Maps attached to a location. The image is immediately available in the photos section of Maps for the location but it did not show within the hour in the photo sub section of the Knowledge Panel.  Although it might show there with time. Even then it would be somewhat buried. Update 9/6: the image is not visible in either a mobile browser search result OR in the mobile iPhone Google Maps app making current visibility even less than I originally imagined. 

If the purpose of this exercise is to highlight what a beautiful facility you have for potential customers then Business View wins hands down by being highly visible in the search result Knowledge Panel and from within the Local Finder via the new 3 Pak.  To say nothing of the better quality control and quality of imagery, which is better in Business View.

Is it worth the time for an SMB or an agency to do this for a business? On the plus side, it doesn’t take long once you learn how to create a good image and it does no harm (the Hypocratic oath of local seo). I suppose if you were calling on a business location and wanted to “wow” them, it could be a freebie that you offered.

But its severe lack of visibility and the inability to easily remove seem to make it a non starter in most situations.


Google Testing Place Actions Forms via Demand Force to Initiate Scheduling

Google is testing Knowledge Panel feature, Place Actions Forms, to allow scheduling via Intuit’s Demand Force with appointment based businesses. You can test it yourself via this search: cahaba valley animal clinic. (h/t Mary Bowling of Ignitor Digital).

According to Demand Force “By completing the business forms earlier in the search process, your clients will have a better, smoother experience from discovery to booking.”

book-appointmentThis test is consistent with previous rollouts for adding things like restaurant reservations via Open Table and taxi booking via Uber to the Knowledge Panel and Maps that started late last year.

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Booking requires selecting from a list of pre-determined services to initiate the service and then takes users over to the Intuit Booking Page for that business.

FAQ from Demand Force:

What is happening?

Continue reading Google Testing Place Actions Forms via Demand Force to Initiate Scheduling

Google Adds (Or is Testing) Organic Results in Local Finder Knowledge Panel

Update: some interesting observations about differences between the organic results and the 5 pages in the new Lical Finder panel. I am heading out for a few more days vacation so please keep the conversation going. 

It appears that Google has upgraded the Knowledge Panel that is visible in the new (early August) Local Finder, with the addition of 5 web search results for the business selected. I am seeing this across browsers so I assume but am not sure that it is a rollout. Given the many changes it could be a test. I first saw this early this AM but it has been spotted by Dave Minchala on Twitter.

The web results are particularly obvious is a given listing has not review snippets or reviews. It becomes less visible and appears below the fold if there are reviews. The results do not show review rich snippets and show the same five web results that appear on a brand search for the listing. Obviously, you should take a look at those top 5, which, are most likely to be seen, and be sure that they reflect well. One can only assume that these are intended to increase engagement with the new Local Finder.

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6 Good Things About Negative Reviews

Did you know that the star ratings are of less importance than the content of reviews and that readers are more inclined to convert if there are some negative reviews?

Those are not the only good things about negative reviews. Read my recent post at 6 Good Things About Negative Reviews for a whole list of reasons that negative reviews should not only not be feared but should be embraced.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search