Google’s Newest Social Sharing Environment for Business? Google Posts

Screenshot 2016-03-04 11.39.22Update: Google has confirmed that this is a test with a very limited number of local businesses. Searchengineland referred to product as “Local Business Cards”. However the Verge indicated that Google has yet to name the product. 

Google appears to have a new post/stream oriented publishing platform waiting in the wings to replace Plus. Unlike Plus it is currently being given broad front page exposure on keyword searches.

It is immediately available for candidates in the Presidential election AND appears to be available to a select group of beta testers. The new platform allows for a post stream to show up in the SERPS associated with your web page.

The product is being positioned as a real time communication publishing & platform. Their landing page proclaims:
An experimental new podium on Google
Hear directly from the US presidential candidates in real time on Google.

The placement of the stream in search is very obvious and visually very compelling. Currently you can not get immediate access but need to join a waiting list.

I discovered the product while searching for Engagement Rings Buffalo. I have no idea how widespread its distribution is but I searched on this phrase earlier in the week and this was not there.

crop-engagement-rings-buffalo---Google-Search

If the final product provides similar placement, this posting product will immediately get both a brand AND a local business following. In the above screen shot, the stream is follows the #2 website and is from a prominent local jeweler. This is the sort of the exposure missing from Plus that prevented it from being a meaningful business communication platform.

Clearly this sort of display plays to Google’s incredible strengths and could very well become paid placement that is easy to use and understand by the small business. It could be directly competitive with Facebook Boosted posts.

Posts from the product are available to share on the major social sites and via email.
Screenshot 2016-03-04 11.38.24

As you can see, the name is displayed prominently above the stream and to its left there is a link that takes you to the complete list of published content which exists on a slimmed down Plus like page.

However the posts do not support direct commenting.
Screenshot 2016-03-04 11.51.37

Is Google Finally Nuking Unverified Plus Pages?

When Google ripped  Local out of Google Plus last summer and stopped linking to Plus, they noted that the unverified Plus pages (what Google called “shell” pages) would be removed. That never seemed to happen but it might just be starting now.

Removing the Plus Pages must have been a difficult process with a few too many dependencies and those local Plus pages seemed to hang around. It would appear that at least some of those pages are starting to be removed and the Plus pages redirected to the equivalent location in Google Maps.

Jay, a Streetview Trusted photographer, has  provide a number of examples of Plus pages that now redirect to Maps. According to Jay some of them went to the Plus page as recently as mid February. All of them note that Google is redirecting the page to Maps.

Google search for Raven Theater

Google Bulk Allows Photo Uploads …. Finally

AllLocal is reporting that Google GMBL (bulk) has finally added support for businesses to add specific photos to their listings. The feature allows photos to be uploaded to for the following fields Profile photo, Logo photo, Cover photo, Other photos.

More importantly Google now allows the business to identify which of the specifically uploaded photos is their “Preferred photo”.  Now we can only hope that Google respects that preference. Although I am skeptical.

The photos can be uploaded via the bulk sheet and then individually edited within list view.

Screenshot 2016-03-02 10.53.43
New fields in the Spreadsheet
Screenshot 2016-03-02 10.59.35
via the dashboard list view
Screenshot 2016-03-02 10.59.43
edit individual listings

Google Updates Mobile Travel Experience with Additional Planning Features

Early in February Barry Schwartz reported that Google had rolled out a new mobile travel search experience that made provided a very deep “click in” experience on Google.

On a search like “Where to go in France” Google offered tiles in the main search for significant cities that when clicked took you to a list of destinations for that country and when a city was selected offer single page of travel related answers for that city.

It appears that since this feature was first reported on SearchEngineland,  Google has expanded the features of that page by separating the functionality into exploring and planning. In the new plan a trip tab they offering a new, animated cost planning interface that details the average costs for hotel plus airfare at different times of the year.

Google_Travel_Planning

This is truly a rabbit hole experience and lays out a clear path of Google not just providing the answer but of capturing all of the attention and attempting to book the trip as well.

Continue reading Google Updates Mobile Travel Experience with Additional Planning Features

Google Incentivizes Local Guides with Gamification and Kudos

Google expanded the Local Guides program from its initial review focused emphasis and has been encouraging other types of engagements with Google Maps.

in November they started giving Local Guide points for photos uploaded, and  listings edited. They even have offered Regional Lead status in MapMaker to them.

The program was introduced in January of last year and while it is similar to Yelp’s Elite program, I have argued that it comes with a distinctive Google flavor. Google has managed to engage a very large number of trusted users to actively improve Google Maps and they have done so at very, very low costs and huge scale.

And not only has it been at low cost but it has saved Google time and money finding trusted beta testers and MapMaker editors. They make those seem like benefits to the users.  I also get 1 terabyte of free storage. I am not sure the incremental cost of that to Google but it has to be very little.

In addition to writing the occasional review and editing locations, I frequently upload photos to Maps…. I just received this acknowledgement that my photos have been seen 500,000 times.

Screenshot 2016-03-01 15.27.21
Click to view larger

PS added 3/2 Google’s definition of gasification:
Screenshot 2016-03-02 14.14.01

4 Ads At Top And Local Search

There has been much written about Google now showing 4 ads at the top of search.  Mostly about its impact on bidding and ad costs.

Given that Google tests these things and likely has a good handle on the income implications, we can rest assured that they have not made any changes that would reduce their income. I can’t speak to whether this change will make it harder for small businesses to compete although that has been an on-going trend.

In all that has been written about the change I have yet to see notice of its non-ad impact on Local search. IE the amount that it further pushes local results down the page and below the fold.

Here are two screen shots of the same search done on my Mac 13″ display, which has an effective web resolution of 1280×800. The impact is present even when Google shows only 3 ads because the ads all now can have extensions with sitelinks, reviews etc which also take up more space.

Local Search with 3 ads BEFORE
Local Search with 4 ads AFTER
Local Search with 4 ads AFTER

The affect of this is particularly noticeable when Google includes product search to the right.

4 ads with Product search
4 ads with Product search

Here is a screen shot from my home computer with a 1440 x 900 pixel display and only 3 ads. Note that the 3 ads and the many Adword extensions push the pack out of sight even on a larger display:

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 10.19.05 PM

 

Click to Call Phone Numbers in Mobile Organic Results

Ryan Schilling of Lead Hub, noted (h/t Barry Schwartz) on Twitter having spotted click to call phone numbers in mobile organic results.

The snippets are appearing in both organic and YouTube universal results on the iPhone. To see these results you need to click through to page 2 of the search results on mobile only (let me know if you see them on Android).

Given that they are buried on page 2 it is very likely that they are a test. That being said, it is a test that if successful could lead to further reduction in pack results.

24 hr ac repair Corpus Christ (mobile only)

IMG_0584

Jewelry buffalo (mobile only)

IMG_0586

Local U Deep Dive in Local – The Role of Links in Local SEO

Our Local U Advanced is rapidly approaching. We still have seats left if you are a last minute type. To sign up visit our Eventbrite page. With David Mihm, Mary Bowling, myself as well as Andrew Shotland, Google, Joy Hawkins and the rest of the Local U gang it promises to be a great event.

As a lame alternative you can watch Mike Ramsey and myself discuss the role of links and link building in  local search optimization  our Deep Dive video series:

Screenshot 2016-02-29 10.52.13

 

Review Stars, Zen and the Art of Local Search

A very brief history: Rich Snippet review stars have had a tough week. Starting last Wednesday I noticed they were missing on a few searches I was using in a demo. By Friday, the reports of their disappearance were widespread.

Interestingly not all instances of the review stars disappeared, even during the “darkest” hour.

Many in the industry were asking about them being missing and wanted to know what could be done. There was, as is often the case, a certain intensity and near panic about the situations.

I assumed that it was one of Google’s many re-calibrations and that Google was once again “clearing the clutter” that was accumulating in the search results.

Yesterday they started returning and today John Mueller has noted that there was a bug and their massive decline was a mistake.

Zen: I often tell people that the best thing to do in Local Search when the s%$t hits the fan is to take two beers and call me on Monday.  I need to take my own advice more often. This was one of those cases where Google was having a “rankbrain fart” and the rest of us were along for the ride.

We live in a Google world, where they ship products early, iterate often and leave bugs for years. They test changes in real time on the real products and these “rankbrain farts” are not uncommon. We have to all remember to take a few days/weeks and assess the next step before conclusions are drawn.

Local Search: Local search is hard, always has been and always will be. Not only is it an amalgam of multiple algos its an area of heavy experimentation by Google.

That being said if you keep in mind some general principals you can minimize the impact of these changes on your business.

1- Communicate early and often with your clients when they come on board about the fact that Google changes frequently. Prepare them for the inevitable.

2- When issues like this crop up, be out front of the issue and alert your bigger customers and communicate to staff what they need to know to answer the inevitable questions.

3- Be prepared for change. Be sure that you are leveraging multiple local marketing tactics so that one change is not the end of the world.

4-Always keep an eye out for the next marketing opportunity that might help that customer and be ready to implement if things change.

5- Stay on the right side of ethics and best practices behaviors so if things go south, you are not the one responsible.

Review Stars Best Practices: Clearly review stars are a valuable asset and as much as possible you should craft your client strategy around them for longevity and visibility. This is an opportunity to review your practices and make sure that they have staying power. Here are some thoughts along those lines:

1- Use review rich snippets on original content. While this is no longer explicit in the guidelines as it once was, it makes sense that Google wants fresh and original content. Simply slapping Schema on Yelp reviews is a likely scenario for failure in the future.

2- Use the aggregate review snippets to inform customers NOT to try to game the search engine. Don’t just slap it on your home page in an effort to get Google to show them in the results.

3- Stay on top of and follow Google’s rich snippet guidelines.

4- Put your reviews and testimonials on a page that is of value to your readers. Burying your testimonial page deep in your site and expecting that page to show review stars is unrealistic.

5- In the case of multi location businesses consider putting them directly on the local landing page. For single location businesses consider putting them on the home page.

barbara oliver Google Search6- Testimonial pages that had significant internal and external SEO continued to show in the search results. This indicates that some form of page prominence is likely the variable as to whether they show and that you want to consider both internal and external linking to the page.

Don’t assume just because you have rich snippets that Google will show them. Or that just because Google has shown them in the past they will continue to do so. At a minimum, as adoption of reivew rich snippets moves across the web it is likely that we will see periodic recalibration on the part of Google. Put in place a sustainable plan now.

Full disclosure: I am a founder and principal in GetFiveStars.com and  as such you need to view anything I say about reviews and rich snippet with that in mind. 🙂

 

 

Developing Knowledge about Local Search