February 11, 2013
We just finished up a great LocalU in Austin and we are moving on to Baltimore. In addition to presenting a basic LocalU (use discount code MB2013) on the morning of March 8th we will also be offering our LocalU Advanced session.
Starting the night of March 8th with a mixer and following up with a full day agenda on March 9th that is chock full of new content. This is a deep dive into all aspects online Local marketing.
Our regular lineup of David Mihm, Mike Ramsey, Mary Bowling, Will Scott, Ed Reese, Aaron Weiche and myself will be there. Joel Headley of Google will be there to answer all questions about Google+ Local and the keynote will be provided by Bill Slawski of SEO by the Sea. Bill, one of the first online marketers that I befriended in 2006 when I started my blog just happens to be one that I have never had the opportunity to meet. I am incredibly excited to both meet Bill in person and hear his keynote talk at the Advanced session.
He will be discussing Google’s geographically-based patents, which provide a great deal of insight into how Google Maps/Places/Local+ functions. Topics include location prominence, rankings in both Maps and in Web results, recent patents on identifying spam in local directories and databases, and how Google might determine whether such a local source might be trusted or not.
He’ll also explain recent patents and papers that provide hints and insights into the workings of Google Maps categories for queries and businesses, and the associations that Google might make with specific sites when indexing them.
Join us for the evening of March 8th and the day of March 9th as we delve deeply into all aspects of Local search and Local marketing. The pricing is $899 for the event but if you sign up before February 14th you will gat the $100 Earlybird discount and a free pass for the basic LocalU on Friday (ping me if you want that pass).
Hope to see you there!
February 6, 2013
Categories have been a mess in Google Map Maker for years, as well. GMM Issue Tracker allows you to add categories for potential inclusion into GMM (which hopefully bleeds over into Local): http://goo.gl/OT3VO and star for the ones you like the most. Unfortunately, GMM, like so many other ‘community’ initiatives they’ve sponsored, largely ignores the input of mappers in favor of big bug fixes, UI upgrades, pet projects, and of course, figuring out ways to lessen the people part of the GMM community, whether it’s through limiting communication with mappers (that seems to be a big initiative, right now, especially in the forums and on individual edits) or increasing the bots ability to manage the system independently. AKA havoc!
Anyway, mappers have been requesting that Google re-organize the categories into a better system, clean up the categories, add more categories, restore missing categories, correct buggy categories, and create a category hierarchy, which you can see reflected in this forum post: http://goo.gl/GddFb; this spreadsheet: http://goo.gl/M4XMX by a power mapper (not Google); and this Facebook discussion: https://www.facebook.com/groups/mapmaker/ which Rich Hintz manages, and who discusses GMM category problems a lot.
This is complicated by the fact that Local has its own set of categories, some of which are ‘invisible’ in GMM and vice versa, and some of which can only be edited in one interface or the other. Local adds its own categories automatically, for example, turning Park into Park, Parks. There’s a longstanding bug or ‘feature’ that appends gcid:[name of category] to categories that you add through Report a problem, which don’t appear that way in Maps, but are visible as such in MM. I assume that this is because the Maps categories, even the ones you select from the dropdown, are not recognized as such standard categories in MM, so it appends gcid: to indicate it’s a custom category. As happens all too frequently, the POIs in one database can become out of sync with another, resulting in islands of categories, and trying to get them to sync can be a real chore.
There has been an effort toward changing the UI for Maps community edits to be more like GMM, but it will also end up orphaning categories that are only visible in the current UI scheme for community edits, making them inaccessible to everyone but Support.
Additionally, GMM has a Primary category, and Local doesn’t (just like GMM has a field for suites, and Maps basically doesn’t), so arranging the categories can be a delicate affair, especially if you want one of two categories visible on the Local page. (Good luck with that, as whatever you change in GMM appears first).
Last, some categories are locked in GMM and Maps (like Locksmith and Military Area), locking the entire POI from any kind of editing on any interface except for the Dashboard. So basically, you have to use Report this in GMM and try to explain what you’re trying to do in order to ‘fix the categories’, or Other in Maps Report a problem. Sometimes this works, sometimes this doesn’t.
So, usually what I do is go through and try to rationalize the categories myself. If it’s claimed (and this is not always clear from GMM, since there’s no indicator that a page is claimed), I try to mess with the categories as little as possible unless there’s category spam, in which case, I’ll delete and/or replace with more appropriate categories, including custom categories. I try to use standard categories whenever possible, set a primary category that explains what the business primarily is, and then build out custom categories that exceed the five category limit if the listing mandates it. Since all those categories are searchable in Maps, even if they’re not visible, it can enhance a business listing’s ability to turn up. And even when I make all these changes, business owners of claimed listings may not approve of the changes, so that can end up screwing up the categories even more as the changes may not sync back to GMM.
Between the bots adding junk categories (that has been a big problem with hotels in Vegas, as bots aggregate tons of bad categories from unrelated features to the larger hotel POIs, resulting in a big mess of categories), clueless business owners listing product types rather than what they do (i.e. Swatch instead of Watch Store), and Google’s inability to rationalize categories and harmonize all the different databases with different category types, you have a lot of problems.
February 3, 2013
There were a number of questions after I reported that a new Google+ Local claim of a business in Plus (not the Dasbboard) generated instructions to add the rel=publisher rich snippet to your website. Many asked whether rel=publisher should replace the rel=author snippet. The answer is that you should do both.
Daniel Berman explained it best in the comments:
Its not a matter of either or, its a matter of both and. You want to setup the rel=”publisher” to provide a context of identifying your business website to Google and especially giving you the chance to give them the categories that your business best fits, and then tying all of that back to your NAP information that Google has on file.
You want to setup your rel=”author” markup to recognize your contribution to the content as published by the business, but recognizing that your role as a human being is larger than just your position at that business. Maybe you also have a blog, and a hobby website. If you setup the rel=”authorship” formatting on all of those sites then your online identify or persona becomes clearer to Google as whole.
That said both are needed, just like getting a yellow page listing for your business and business cards for yourself are helpful so that people can find the business but also personally connect with you as a person.
Here is a good slide show by Ann Smarty detailing the differences.
February 2, 2013
Mia Culpa: Due to carelessness and haste I originally published this article indicating that Google was promoting authorship.. My thanks to A. J. Kohn for highlighting my error.
With the developing Google+ Local management interface Google is now actively supporting and encouraging Publisher Rich Snippet Tags for Local listings. Last week we saw that Google was using the new interface to promote Adwords Express Plus, now they have added a feature to encourage businesses claiming their listing to implement the publisher feature. It leaves open the question of whether Google thinks it is spammy to include authorship on a local website but makes clear that Google thinks every local site should implement the publisher tag.
The interface provided is slick, simple and avoids all discussion of technicalities that could be involved in establishing a publisher relationship. It gently instructs the business as to how proceed and if they are flummoxed by the task of inserting the single line of html onto their site, they are given the option of emailing their webmaster with instructions. A single button test of the install completes the circle of simplicity.
Clearly Google is not just highlighting rel=publisher for local but is making it incredibly easy. It is apparently an effort to get as many business to use it as possible. The interface is refreshingly clean and functional. A nice change from the interface kluge that is the current dashboard and a refreshing alternative to the historically complex ways of implementing this feature
It has been a long and tedious struggle living with Google local over the past several years. It reminds me of the maturing of a petulant teenager as he/she seeks their own path in life. Google’s rapidly developing G+ Local Interface may just grow up to be a fully functional adult in the local space. There seems to be more than a glimmer of hope.
Here are screen shots & feedback from the process:
January 31, 2013
All too many Places dashboard users are seeing this message of late: Account suspended. Make sure your listings meet the quality guidelines. Cathy Rhulloda of Avante Garden, a long time user and promoter of the Google Places and extremely knowledge about local marketing and the google Places Dashboard, was one of them. Her account was unceremoniously suspended despite a listing that was clean. This has happened to a number of listings of late in both the Dashboard and G+ Page for local environment. The problem however is that in the Dashboard the reinclusion process doesn’t work.
She reached out to Joel Headley via a G+ post and the forums where she noted: I logged into the Places dashboard last night and received a red message across the top saying ‘Account Suspended’. This listing has been verified for many years. Google photographers have even visited my flower shop (twice!) and shot our location. The images and tour are visible on our G+ page (under Photos -> View All).
Joel’s response on both G+ and in the Forums was illustrative and helpful:
Hey Cathy – account suspensions are best dealt over email. I sent you one. Hang in there, and we’ll get this sorted out.
Of note – the phone call had nothing to do with the suspension. As far as I can tell, you didn’t do anything wrong. Instead, for your case, it looks like it was an automated process gone awry. We’re looking into that general problem to see what fix can be made.
If anyone wants their account fixed after seeing the message below, please email our support team though the Google Places for Business Help Center and we’ll look into it.
I have run into several of these account suspensions over the past few weeks that appeared to be erroneously applied. In several the account was reinstated. In the other the client received the dreaded support email that the account could not be reinstated and to start a new account. It is not yet clear why support would say one thing and Joel the other…. we are still working on that.
Google has announced in the forums that some of the reviews lost to their review filter will be returned. Apparently it will also be slightly easier for new reviews to be left as well.
Last year with the rollout of G+ Local, Google implemented a much more aggressive review filter. Many businesses, particularly in certain industries like legal and dental, saw massive review take downs. Many SMBS had difficulty even getting any new reviews to show. Complaints amassed in the forums as businesses small and large were stung with massive review take downs and consumers could not understand what had happened to their reviews. The consolidated post that I created last July in the forums now has 743 posts alone and there were many, many additional posts as well. Clearly Google’s aggressive filtering had hit a nerve. As result consumers AND businesses felt that they were now between a rock and a hard place.
While we don’t know exactly the degree to which the filter has been loosened yet, along with a recovery of some old reviews, new ones that comply with the rules and don’t trigger the algo should be somewhat easier to place. Any old reviews that are no longer filtered should be showing up over the next 24 hours. Obviously for old reviews to come back they need to meet the standards defined by the new algo mentioned below. If a businesses reviews still do not show there is no review reconsideration process.
During the many months of discontent Google refined their review policies but did not loosen the filter:
What led them to ultimately relax the filter is unclear. But the recent effort at education in the policy changes noted in this posting are commendable.
Here is the announcement in full:
We’ve made some recent improvements to our spam detection algorithms that have increased the number of reviews that appear on some local Google+ pages. We hope this improves your local experience!
Online reviews have been in the news a lot recently, and we at Google are committed to helping people to get ratings, reviews, and recommendations that are relevant, helpful, and trustworthy. To protect both business owners and customers from spam reviews, we have systems in place that may remove individual reviews.
No one likes spam, and we’d like to talk about what you can do to make sure all of the reviews on Google+ Local are useful, honest, and written by real people!
- Make sure you’ve taken a look at our review content guidelines.
- Sometimes you may want to review multiple locations of the same business, such as your favorite fast food chain. Just remember to tailor each review to the specific location. Others will want to know what sets that location apart – be it the super friendly drive thru person, or maybe the unexpectedly awesome lake views.
- Don’t write reviews for your current employer. We don’t allow reviews from current owners or employees.
- Spam bots use URLs to redirect to other sites or potentially spread malware. We won’t show reviews with links, so, don’t put URLs in the text of your reviews
For business owners:
- Be wary of an SEO or reputation management service that promises to generate reviews for your business. We’ve seen companies make up fake glowing testimonies — and we’ll take them down.
- We don’t take down negative reviews for simply being negative for anyone, regardless of any other relationships with Google. Instead, we encourage you to utilize the owner response functionality to respond to the review and address the user’s concerns.
- If a third party claims that they know how to remove reviews from Google, don’t believe them. Google does not work with any third party reputation management companies and we certainly don’t remove reviews unless they violate our guidelines.
- Don’t set up a computer or tablet device in your place of business for customers to leave reviews on site. Consider printing out a QR code or sending a reminder e-mail so customers can review on their own time.
- Remember, we don’t allow you to give customers free gifts or discounts for leaving reviews.
- If a business accepts paper comment cards it might be tempting to collect them and “digitize” them by posting the reviews on Google+ Local. We ask that all reviews come from first hand experience and do not allow posting reviews on behalf of others.
- If you see a review that violates our policy guidelines, you can report the review to us by clicking on the gray flag icon next to the review in question. You’ll be taken to a form where you can tell us why you’re flagging that review. Please note that we won’t follow up with you individually, but we do review every piece of content that is flagged.
January 30, 2013
Last night Google announced that they had formally upgraded their Local listing phone support rolled-out in January to include data issues in addition to the previous phone support that had been added for verification issues. Commenters have previously noted that Google support personal had responded to requests for data fixes on the call line but the process is now formalized via the Help System Fix a Problem Troubleshooter.
While it is possible to get support without filing a “report a problem” first (by telling a little lie), Google has suggested that the problem is likely to be resolved more quickly if you file the report and only call if the issue has not been resolved in a week or so. I think that the reason for that is that the phone support person uses the same back end support infrastructure as the “Report a Problem” process.
To initiate a support call back select the troubleshooter: My listing has incorrect information, highlight the radio button for “Listing data, including title, address, phone, URL, “at a glance” terms, categories, hours, description, or coupons”, indicate yes to question as to whether you have reported a problem and click on the link to call us.
- Click to Call is available weekdays from 6am – 5pm Pacific Standard Time.
- Google “restrict[s] phone numbers to the US, US business hours, and English, the team should be able to work with any location where Google Places for Business is”
I am glad to see that, despite my initial skepticism, the call support system is being expanded to cover more problems.
Here is a screen shot of the My Listing Has Incorrect Information: (more…)
January 29, 2013
In rolling out the update to the editing interface for business listings claimed into a G+ Page for local Google has fixed a longstanding problem with the G+ local product and answered (inadequately) a long standing question.
The problem they solved was adding the capability to add categories to listing that had been verified in the G+ Pages for local environment. One reason I have not recommended the switch away from the dashboard was that this functionality has been missing from the first several iterations of the G+ Pages for local. If you verified your business’s G+ Page there was no option to add category information and you had to add or manage categories via either MapMaker or the old Dashboard. Both kludgey and complicated solutions beyond the reach of most SMBs. While I still am recommending caution in claiming the business in Google’s social environment at least one of the barriers to making G+ Pages for local a functional environment has been removed.
The long simmering question that now also appears answered is whether Google will be supporting custom categories for local listings. The answer seems to be an emphatic NO (at least in looking at the interface). When you attempt to enter a custom category you are told that “We didn’t understand your category. Please select from the suggestions that appear when typing”.
Why is this a problem? Because Google’s category system is woefully inadequate at its job of indicating what a business actually does. Categories are a critical piece of how Google determines the relevance (not rank) of a listing in local search and there are so few categories that the consumer search results will likely not show businesses that should be shown. For example some jewelers specialize in engagement rings, some in glassware, some in antique jewelry restoration, stone setting or hand carved designs. Google’s categories capture none of these nuanced specialities. Making Google a less rich environment for both the searcher and the business owner.
Categories have never been a strong point of Google’s local products. In the early days there were only ~450 categories in total. In an upgrade in 2008 Google increased the number of categories to roughly 2200. Still woefully inadequate given the varied nature of business Google initially offered the option to have all of the categories as custom and then limited it to one standard and four custom categories.
Usually I don’t make technical recommendations to Google as they have more brain power per square foot than I could ever muster. I am making an exception in this case because I see the direction that they seem to be choosing as inadequate in serving the needs of small businesses.
I recognize that there are taxonomic problems with custom categories and that they can be messy. I recognize that their has been category abuse leading to spam. But the world is messy and full of variety that it should be Google’s charge to capture that variety. And they should be able to deal with the spam as they have done over the past several years.
How might Google handle this better?
1-They should increase the number of categories. Many IYPs have at least 8000 categories. Some have as many as 12,000. The ~2200 in Google’s category list come no where close to describing the many types of businesses that are out there.
2- I can understand the potential taxonomic issues dealing with custom categories. But who better than Google to solve this problem? If four custom categories are too many then Google should offer at least one or two. Then a small business with a really unique service might have some chance of being found in that specialized niche and equally important Google would have a dynamic resource for category data.
3- Google should allow for more than 5 categories for each listing. If you want to understand how a business sees itself then don’t force it to fit itself into 5 slots. If there is an issue with abuse then require that the business prioritize the most important ones. The Bing Business Portal does an excellent job of that. This solution obviously only works if there are significantly more category choices than there are now.
It feels like Google is taking a step backwards in their move towards offering a fully functional local search product. It’s a step that I think it unnecessary for them to take and one that will hurt both searchers and small businesses.
Google has announced an upgrade to the
Places Dashboard G+ Local Page editor that moves it closer in design to the G+ Pages editor. As Jade noted the quality checks remain the same (and the time to live is likely the same as well). This upgrade removes one of the bugaboos of the G+ Page for local in adding the ability to add categories. Here is the link to the Updated Help Center Content
Jade’s post in the forum:
We’ve made some updates to the verification and editing experience for users managing pages in Google+ (in the Local Business or Place category). Take a look by visiting the page for your business, navigating to the About tab, and clicking Edit Business Information.
- better status updates that tell business owners if their edits are pending or rejected
- progress bar to help business owners fill out the most essential information
- can now add categories via Google+
- updated look and feel (tell us what you think!)
Turnaround time for quality checks on edits will remain the same but we’re working hard to improve this experience as well. We hope you enjoy the new business information editing experience in Google+!
Here is a screen shot of the new interface:
Andrew Shotland is a well-known SEO practitioner and author of www.localseoguide.com and the trendy new applemapsmarketing.com. His proudest achievement on the Web can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipkSRwgVtpA
When reflecting on the year, I like to think about it less in terms of specific niches like “local seo”, “seo” or even “local search”. It’s not that 2012 wasn’t a watershed year for a lot of this stuff, but rather that the forces that are shaping the landscape of these niches are often the same that are affecting the Web as a whole. So here’s what caught my attention in 2012:
1. 2012 – The Year We Start Paying For It
In 2007, Radiohead released it’s new album, “In Rainbows”, online and offered it at whatever price you wanted to pay for it. Many opted to pay $0 while some paid more. It was a big success. In 2011, Radiohead release “The King of Limbs” via their website and this time charged $9.99. It too was a success. And there was no record label between Radiohead and its fans. In 2012, it seemed as if more “creators”, particularly media creators, were experimenting with getting their customers to pay for these creations, thus avoiding business models such as advertising and using distribution middle-men. My favorite examples of the past year include Marco Arment’s “The Magazine”, Louie CK’s “Live At The Beacon Theater”, show, The Oatmeal’s Operation BearLove Good, Cancer Bad and Andrew Sullivan’s soon-to-be-independent Daily Dish (technically announced in 2013, but the deal was cut in 2012 right?).
While each is an example of a strong voice with a loyal following tapping into their fan-base, I was particularly impressed with the launch of The Magazine, as it stood in direct contrast to the failure of News Corp’s “The Daily”. It’s a classic story of an independent Web developer who understood the medium and his audience to produce a low-budget, high-quality service while a media giant spent $30 million doing the exact opposite.
And let’s not forget about the millions raised for new projects by Kickstarter.
For me, this trend, along with the continuing shift of our time spent on the Web to mobile and tablets, is critical to my thinking about how I am approaching this year, and how I am approaching SEO for myself and my clients. After Google’s Farmer (AKA “Panda”) Update in 2011, I wrote a piece entitled “Are You Radiohead?”, where I wondered aloud that with today’s SEO, you need to be the Radiohead of your particular niche to succeed. If I were to write that piece today, I might change the title to “Are You The Oatmeal?” In other words, ask yourself is what you are doing so great that people want to support it?
And I think this is going to be a key philosophy driving Web strategy, and not just to rank #1 for “Viagra”.
2. Mobile Customer Loyalty Apps Are Da Bomb
Let’s get a bit more down-to-earth on this one. Sure Google Places + Local had a lot of drama in 2012. Yes, Apple launched maps, Facebook launched Nearby. There were a lot of big events. But to me, the fact that my local burrito joint started texting me with points everytime I bought the kids an Itty Bitty Beanie Burrito and the local butcher shop had a tablet near the register that I could use to check in, was a telling signal to me that this stuff was suddenly everywhere. For those of you who are not on the local SMB text messaging bandwagon, you are missing out on one of the most cost-effective, high-growth ways to keep in touch with your customers. That said, I think we are going to see a shake-out of the hundreds of start-ups that are operating in this area, while at the same time, I don’t think we’re going to see any one platform become dominant.
3. Local SEO ToolSets Become All The Rage
As I mentioned in my SEL piece “SEOMoz + GetListed: Let the SMB Toolset Death March Begin”, last year it seemed like everyone I knew was developing some kind of local SEO tool. That trend is only going to continue in 2013.
4. Google+Local Keeps On Iterating & Irritating
I’ve got to mention Google right? For SMBs and SEOs that serve them, Google+Local 2012 was an absolute train wreck. Still is in many ways. That said, it seems like Google is slowly starting to improve things. From actual phone support to the G+ page management you recently reported on, I think we are going to see a continual gradual evolution of the service. It will still have plenty of bugs. Data will continue to disappear. SMBs will continue to be frustrated. And SEOs will still have a lot of work to do.
5. Apple Maps Will Sneak Up On Us
While my recently launched Apple Maps blog may bias my thinking, Apple Maps’ launch last year was perhaps one of the most significant events in the local search world. Say all you want about how screwed up the service is, the fact is that even with the Google Maps iOS app out there, I bet millions of people are still using the Apple Maps app. And the fact that it is baked into all iOS apps that use maps means it’s not going away. In the long-run, Apple Maps is the biggest threat to Google when it comes to local search. I expect Apple to quietly improve the service significantly this year and towards the end of 2013 I wouldn’t be surprised if they announced a big update that stimulates a lot of people who switched to Google Maps to retry the app. It’s still going to be a rough go for businesses that want to optimize for Apple Maps, which of course means more fun for SEOs who figure it out.
6. 2012 – Great Year For Local SEO
I think Aaron Wall said that SEO is getting so tough that in 2013 we will see a lot of consultants exit the business. In some ways he is correct. I already see a number of my colleagues moving away from Google Places SEO services. But 2012 created so much opportunity to help and educate marketers that I see nothing but green field in 2013 for those that have the enthusiasm and think of themselves as the Radiohead of SEO. Stay thirsty, my friend