Google Announces Upgraded Schema Support

Today on the Google webmaster blog Google has announced upgraded Schema support for additional phone types and detailed specific recommendations for using Schema.org on location pages. It is unfortunate but Google did not include a new schema for call tracking. Obviously this granular detail is useful for achieving more accuracy in Knowledge Graph answer boxes. From the post:

Four types of phone numbers are currently supported:

  • Customer service
  • Technical support
  • Billing support
  • Bill payment

For each phone number, you can also indicate if it is toll-free, suitable for the hearing-impaired, and whether the number is global or serves a specific countries. Learn how to specify your national customer service numbers.

The recommendations for location pages do not seem new and reinforce what many have been saying but they do clearly articulate what multi-location store finder pages should look like:

Specifically:

  • Have each location’s or branch’s information accessible on separate webpages
  • Allow Googlebot to discover and crawl the location pages
  • The location information should be presented in an easy-to-understand format
  • Use schema.org structured data markup
  • A note about mobile-optimized websites: many users access location pages using their smartphones. In addition to the specific guidelines above, make sure that your site is optimized for smartphone devices, and that the information you share on the location pages is easily consumed on smartphones.

The note to be sure that information is presented in a way easy for the bot to understand bears repeating as many corporate sites create pages that are too complex:

information [should] be accessible on a unique URL, and you should avoid showing important location information using complex Javascript. Store location pages should ideally contain as much information as possible when the page loads. If additional data needs to be loaded after an action, such as a user click, it is preferable that the additional data is present on a separate store-specific URL and linked to using a simple HTML link rather than Javascript. As much as possible, try to avoid using Javascript for showing location information.

Google Upgrades Bulk Upload Again

Update: Google has confirmed that the new bulk upload uses the same “one claim rule” as the new Places Dashboard and Plus. This means that once an account has been upgraded that the listings will not be able to be claimed into either Google Plus/Places Dashboard or another bulk account (at least not one that has been upgraded). This is one more step in making bulk listings more secure than in the past..

Google recently added new features to the bulk upload (week before last) and they are announcing another set of new features today. Hat tip to Linda Buquet for spotting and Max Minzer for pointing out.

Google Jade posted the following in the forums:

We are rolling out new features for the bulk location management tool in the coming weeks to make your experience even better.  We’re upgrading accounts gradually, and once your account is upgraded, these features will be available. Please be patient if you don’t see these features right away.

Please see the attached screenshot for an example of what your will look like if you’ve got the new features.

The current set of new features include:

Status of your locations on Maps: Now, we’ll show you a column that describes the status of each location on Maps. You’ll be able to tell at a glance which locations are live, unverified, have errors or data conflicts, are duplicates, or are pending review.

Updated data conflicts interface: The updated interface will show you details on how a location page might differ on Maps/Search results versus what’s in your dashboard. We’ll show you what is live on Google, and which field is different from what’s in your dashboard. From there, you’ll be able to take action.

Improved edit timeframe: We’re working on improving the speed with which your data goes live on Google.

Learn more about changes to bulk management.

bulk_upgraded
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The rapid changes to the bulk feature are a good sign that Google is actively rolling out upgrades. The increased feedback about duplicates and data consistency will be very helpful to those managing a large number of listings. In the past, you never knew from the dashboard what the real status of a given listing was and you had to go into Maps and individually check them out. A real pain and it meant that listings that you thought were active were in reality, not.

But the faster edit timeframe is a critical upgrade. The bulk tool most likely now uses the same faster pipelines that are used by Plus, the new Places Dashboard and Mapmaker and it means that results should go live very quickly. One presumes that many of the changes will go live within hours if not minutes although some are likely to take longer. This is a necessary step before the bulk listings can be moved fully over to Plus. Who knows when but at least it is now possible as all of the primary input interfaces are accessing the same architecture.

It also raises the question of whether these listings are now falling under the claim once rule of the new Places dashboard or still are governed by the claim many times possible in the old dashboard. If the former, security of a listing will be improved. I have asked Google to clarify.

Reviews: Sometimes You Miss the Forrest for the Trees

dumbAmerican business is very focused on goals and measurements. This in particularly true is the sales world. Unfortunately when you treat reviews as the goal it can lead to bad outcomes. A review ask is one step in developing a long term relationship with a customer; it is not an end point. Making it a goal in and of itself can lead to bad outcomes.

Here is a question I received on Google Plus about review processes for a car dealer and my response (Full disclosure I am a principal in GetFiveStars.com an online review process management product which I think is pretty good but may bias my answers. )

Hi I represent a large auto dealership. This quarter we made it a priority to setup Google+ Local pages and start generating reviews. But unfortunately, Even though I have received over 100+ reviews I am seeing only 6 – 8 reviews on any page. This is causing the management to revert to other sites. Can you guys recommend if this issue is resolvable? As we have the quarter ending, we do not have enough reviews to show for all our work. Any recommendations from you will also be useful… 

My answer:
Well my first suggestion is to change
1)your expectations
2)your goals
3)and your methodology

My second suggestion… Continue reading

Matt Cutts: Google Plus to Receive Manual Penalty

Google has in the past penalized it’s own properties five times for breaking its own SEO rules. Matt Cutts has apparently now also sanctioned Google Plus with a manual penalty. Here are the comments from the internal email that was forwarded to me:

“Forks or no forks, we believe that the Plus team has overdone their link building. Starting at 9 am tomorrow we have manually applied a penalty to the subdomain. This problem first came to light when an engineer working the PR Toolbar noticed that the Plus sub domain had achieved a page rank of 11. We decided we either had to act or change the algorithm. Neither choice was appealing but the manual penalty seemed the more appropriate path”.

He went on to say that:

“[there] are a number of violations of our linking policies that we have repeatedly pointed out to the team but its seems that we have been ignored. They include but are not limited to:

Rel Publisher – we have long ago deprecated header links in our algo but the Plus team was insistent on pushing them into the market place at such scale that they were impacting ranking.

Rel Author – We absolutely can not allow the quid pro quo of a photo that increases click throughs in return for a link. It’s not a paid link but it effectively is pay to play even if it has generated significant traffic for Plus.

In-Post Do follow Links – while we recently no followed links from profiles, all of the links inside of Plus posts are still do-follow links. Given our current policy on guest blogging, we need to hold the same standard for Google Plus.”

Should a Local Business Use Just a Local Page or a A Brand Page And a Local

I have written before about the fact that it is not possible to merge a G+ Page for local with other page types like brand or company. But the question of the relative value of one page versus another is an om-going question for me. Is there a benefit to having both page types if so when and what type of business would do best to do so?

I raised the question on Google Plus and am posting the conversation here as it has been very valuable:

Google Updates Bulk Feed

Posted from 20,000 ft on my iPhone so forgive any typos.

Googler Jade, who seems to be everywhere these days doing everything, just posted these notes about an upgrade to the bulk tool:

Importing a spreadsheet to the bulk upload tool is now improved. Now, when you import a file, you’ll see a preview of changes that will be made and be able to cancel out any unintentional changes. We hope this allows you to better manage information on your business locations.

A few more details–

The import preview will have:
A summary of the total number of locations included in your account prior to upload and the total number of locations in the file being imported.

A series of tabs with the type of change your current import will have on your account and the number of locations that will be changed in each. The types of changes that are listed are: new, changed, missing, ignored, and unchanged. Please see our Help Center for a more detailed explanation of each type of change.

The tabs make it much easier to see exactly what changes will be applied to your account. If you see an unexpected number of locations in a tab (more “new” locations than you mean to add, for example), you can investigate further before applying any changes. You can read some tips on troubleshooting an import file here.

Please note that store codes are now mandatory to enable this feature. Learn more about the new improved import process.

Reviews: If it is Good Enough to Do, It’s Good Enough to Do in Excess

footFile this under: Bosses come up with the worst ideas category or perhaps in the “it felt so good shooting myself in the left foot, let me do it in my right one as well” category.

This comment was recently posted on my GOOGLE: REVIEW CONTESTS VIOLATE GUIDELINES article from a Mrs G.

Mrs G. (1 comments)

So when is asking no longer asking. I work for a large company who is pushing the reviews so that they can get listed higher on the Google search engine. I mean wow, we are asking them when they come into the store, we are calling them and reminding them that we have not seen the review yet, we are going through our client lists and calling the ones we thing will give good reviews, now we are trying to get them to do the review on their phone before they leave the office. We even offer to use our phone if they did nor bring their and to help them sign up for a Gmail account if they do not have one. Are we going too far?

Dear Mrs G:

Remind me never to shop there.

Mike

 

Google Maps Report a Problem: Does It Work For Local Spam?

Google’s crowd sourced map building and listing has succeeded on a number of fronts at allowing maps and listings to be updated at a pace that no one else in the industry can keep up. While the mapping side has little economic incentive for cheating, the listing side is prime for self serving activities. For some period of time there has been an asymmetry in that it seems that it has been easier for the crowd to create spam than for the crowd to get rid of it.

Dan Austin has been active in the MapMaker community for a long time. He has, over the past few years focused on reporting and trying to remove spam from the system particularly in the Locksmith arena.  Here is a case study on his recent experiences with the “Report a Problem” feature; Google’s primary spam reporting mechanism.

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After Bryan Seely released the exploits he used to add false and misleading (spammy) listings to Google Maps on Mike’s blog as well as on Valleywag, Google went into full PR damage control and made some changes in how they handle local spam, including ending phone call PIN code verification for new businesses on Places. After reading this statement from Google, I decided to test whether or not the new Maps Report a problem is effective for removing spam:  

We work hard to remove listings that are reported to violate our policies as quickly as possible, and to check bad actors that try to game the system by altering business descriptions once they are live on Google Maps. We encourage users to let us know when they see something that might violate our guidelines by using our “Report a problem” tool, found at the bottom right corner of the map. Everyday there are thousands of great edits that get made to Google Maps through Map Maker.

The problem with Report a problem is that historically it hasn’t worked very well for spam, in my three years using it to report hundreds of spam listings. Either the response was too slow (often months), and/or unsatisfactory (i.e the spam remained on Maps). My success rate with Report a problem (reporting a wide variety of spam points of interest (POI), including locksmiths), has hovered around 5%, which is why I switched to more effective takedown mechanisms like Google Map Maker (MM) in order to remove spam. Unfortunately, MM itself has become more problematic, with the introduction of GLEs (Google Listing Editors from Places), who are now reviewing edits to claimed listings. They have systematically degraded the effectiveness of MM to the point that it’s now impossible to remove many spam POIs, no matter how obvious, as they have been denying almost all edits (including spam removals) to claimed POIs, or closing the spammy POIs instead of removing them (a business that doesn’t exist can’t, by its very nature, be closed).  

Moreover, after Places segregated Service Area Businesses (SAB) that hid their address from MM, many spammy POIs disappeared from MM altogether, making those impossible to report as well. It also broke the reporting mechanisms on Google+Local Edit detailsfor SABs, which uses MM to report edits (and the Classic Maps Report a problem, which also used MM). Here’s an example of a spam SAB with the address hidden that can’t be reported in either Google+Local or MM:  

Aron Locksmith: https://plus.google.com/103220027599977382429

Place page:  1 Aron Locksmith Google Plus 03022014

Fake reviews from spam profiles:  2 Aron Locksmith Fake Reviews Google Plus 03022014

Clicking on Edit details leads to this error page (which is the same for all SABs on Google+Local that hide their address):   Continue reading

Last Week in Google Local

Mb-hairtl;dr: Lots of small updates last week. And soon, very soon I won’t be pulling my hair out. :)

The transition to the new dashboard status: Judging by the fact that there were lots of complaints over the past two weeks in the forums about THE EMAIL and that my crufty, 2007 dashboard was finally converted I am assuming that Google has been making significant progress in the conversion to the new Places Dashboard.  And along comes some new issues and features and changing rules.

Bulk Uploads and Security: When the hotels were hijacked earlier this year, I noted that the bulk upload was a not very secure feed as opposed to true claiming of the new dashboard that locked down the listing. As Google moves to the new dashboard though, those feeds are becoming more secure as people can not add a listing uploaded in bulk to their new dashboard. “New dashboard users are blocked from verifying pages that are already verified by another user (either old dashboard, new dashboard, or G+). Being verified in a bulk account counts as being verified in the old dashboard. So, new dashboard users can’t claim pages that have already been verified in a bulk account”. OK that doesn’t mean that they are yet secure because a bulk listing can still be claimed in another approved bulk upload or an old Places Dashboard but it is step in the right direction. One day the transition will be over and we won’t be able to kick that dog any more. And then the real fun will begin as Franchise and Franchisors will actually have to talk to one another and possibly cooperate on their listings.

Orphan Plus Pages: In early February, Googler Jade noted If you’re creating a listing in the new Places for Business dashboard, now, you won’t have to wait to complete PIN verification before you can see the +page, for most businesses. Just follow the link from your dashboard to see the new page. You will be able to use Google+ social features on this unverified page, but please note — you still need to complete PIN verification before the page will start showing up in Google Maps and across other Google properties. Makes sense that a new claimant wouldn’t want to click on the G+ Link on the right and be confronted with another command to create an additional G+ Page.  Jade just updated that post and noted:

Accounts that have been migrated from the old Places dashboard to the new Places dashboard will have these changes retroactively applied. This means that when the account is migrated, unverified entries in the old dashboard will become unverified Google+ pages. If you don’t want to use this page, please remove it from your account, which should delete the page.

It also means that listings that were suspended, or were otherwise removed from the index but stayed in the old dashboard will also sort of show up once again. These pages are somewhat difficult to find, never showing in Maps but they will show up in G+. If you clients surface them, just go into the new dashboard and delete them

Google Maps for Android now showing owner responses: The mobile apps and mobile browsers have long had fewer features than the desktop vis a vis reviews. The new Google Maps for Android v 7.7 has recently been upgraded to show owner responses. OK that is a step in the right direction but the feature is still missing on Google Maps for iPhone and MORE IMPORTANTLY there is still no way to leave a review on mobile with the iPhone or Android from within the browser. This feature has been missing for nearly 2 years. At the time Google had indicated that they were aware of the bug and were working on a fix. Hows that for release early reiterate often? Baby steps are good but shouldn’t a user be able to leave a mobile review easily in 2014?

One More Reason for an SMB to Engage with Google Plus

Engaging with G+ can seem like a chore to most SMBs who have trouble attracting their local clients to their Plus page. Its main advantage is that Google has integrated it with search, where folks are in fact looking. Google seems to have recently upped the ante in local providing one more reason for the SMb to post on Plus.

Radina Dasheva pointed out on Linda’s forum that local brand searches will show recent G+ posts in the right side Knowledge Panel (I am not sure if this is new but I hadn’t noticed it before).

Several interesting things about this. On a 1440 x 900 pixel  screen the recent post content pushes competitor listings below the fold, making them less visible to searchers. It additionally provides the SMB with more real estate in the panel.

And as noted in Radina’s example, if the post contains a link it will show on the panel as well, giving the SMB one more chance to get a searcher over to their site and away from the rabbit hole that Google has become.

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Developing Knowledge about Local Search