Google My Business Guidelines are Like Traffic Signals to New Yorkers – A (Very) Rough Suggestion

To paraphrase David Letterman, Google My Business Guidelines are like traffic signals to New Yorkers… just a rough suggestion.

Google clearly states in the guidelines that “your name should reflect your business’ real-world name, as used consistently on your storefront, website, stationery, and as known to customers. Accurately representing your business name helps customers find your business online….Including unnecessary information in your business name is not permitted, and could result in your listing being suspended.”

In this case the definition of “should” and “could” are sort of like Clinton and his verbal gymnastics around what the meaning of the word “is” is. Like “is” with Clinton, the words “should” and “could” do in fact have meaning in both objective reality and in the Google My Business Guidelines. The only problem is that they are different in both places. And it isn’t clear that Google ever plans to inform us of their intended meaning.

How do I know and many small businesses know this? Experience.

The telling example that comes to mind is a jeweler near Toronto. About once per quarter I blog about this and about once every month or two or three I edit their listing to the actual name, it gets approved and then shortly there after it returns to its adopted name. It’s quite an adoption too. It includes brothers, sisters and the kitchen sink as “Glitz Jewellery Boutique” becomes “Glitz Jewellery Boutique – Engagement rings, diamond jewellery and gifts in Vaughan” shortly after my many interventions.

For the record my edits have been approved by Google SIX times. The owners of the listing are probably swearing at Google for the ever changing suggestion in their GMB. Well at least they are visiting it often.

My only wish in this whole sisyphean tale is that my Local Guide edits counted as frequent flier miles instead of just the lame points I do accrue. I could at least be close to a vacation in some exotic place by now.


Another Interesting Google Local Result Test -> Interesting Finds

The search “restaurants in Mountain View” seems to be returning interesting test of late. Yesterday we saw a feature snippet, schema driven list replace the local pack.

In this test we Interesting Finds supplement the pack.

These were first spotted by Barry Schwartz at SearchEngineRountable in early April in the context of a Mother’s day search.

According to Barry these results “are AMP pages, with top carousel markup, so the images look good and the content loads fast on click.

It does look like not all of those results are powered by AMP, such as the bottom left one. But it does seem most are, which is why there are AMP icons on three of the four results.”

In the example below not all of the results are amp either. This is the first time that I have seen them in the context of a local search.

Google Local After Antitrust – Careful What You Wish For

In the EU and the US, Yelp has been actively seeking to get regulators to look at Google’s behaviors in local and to change the search results to stop favoring Google’s own local results.

Yelp’s Luther Lowe noted:

When a mother does a search for a pediatrician in Berlin, instead of being matched with rich review content from a service like German startup, Google siphons her to a degraded local experience with fewer reviews and less content. In addition to being anticompetitive, this type of conduct directly harms consumers who still assume Google is relying on its meritocratic algorithms to govern which information appears at the top of the page.

Yelp’s argument has long been that their results are better than Google’s and that those Yelp results should not be benched and effectively supplanted with Google’s own Knowledge Panel.

There are problems with that argument. Ben Thompson of Stratechery noted that if you follow that argument Yelp might actually, in getting their wish, end up reinforcing Google’s lead by effectively improving Google’s local product and thus cement their position as an aggregator.

This Google Local test surfaced on my phone yesterday and clearly demonstrates the point. This test, first noted on SearchEngineRoundtable where it surfaced in the context of a featured snippet for the search “top online marketers”, shows how there are a number of ways to skin the cat of local search results on Google.

Click to view larger

When you click through to the results for one of the restaurants you see a similar carousel with organic results and review totals for the selected restaurant. Only after a second click the “More about Chez TJ” call to action does a searcher finally get to the local Knowledge Panel.

Click to view larger

Yelp has always contended that their results were better than Google’s. And while that may be the case, it is arguable that they are no longer better than OpenTable or TripAdvisor. Where would that leave Yelp? Probably worse off than they are now, buried in the hinterlands of organic search, fewer reviews than OpenTable, with no reason for a consumer to click on their result. And nothing left to complain about.

Google Posts Testing More Visual Display

Petra Kraft, a long time Local SEO and careful observer in the hospitality space, noticed an interesting test in Google Posts.

She found a Knowledge Panel where Google was showing six posts using the primary image and a text over lay and the abilitly to see more via a right arrow.

This is one of may tests and upgrades to Post of late:

Currently the posts show in a mini carousel but with only two posts and the immediate call to action showing.

In a similar vein Ellen Edmands noted that she was now seeing (obviously also a test) a link to previous posts in the desktop Knowledge Panel (it has been like that in mobile for a while):

Of all of the products introduced to Local over the past year, Posts is both the most generally useful and the one with the most obvious on-going development. Google has introduced a range of new CTAs  with things like product posts (reported by Ben Fisher of SteadyDemand):

Posts is an interesting product in many ways. When introduced a year ago, it is really the first time that businesses could write directly to search. It is a super easy way to stream content that is both free and likely to be seen. As such it’s a great way for Google to get on-going SMB engagement with the GMB dashboard, obtain long tail location information AND to position Google in their battle with Facebook. While Facebook reduces organic reach of post ever further closer to zero in an asymptotic fashion, Google is providing increasing visibility.

It is also interesting in that it offers a way for agencies to provide regular and valuable posting and creative services to SMBs by implementing a regular Post regime. In that regard, Google, in providing agencies with a clear income opportunity & by making the product available via the API, seems to be having a change of heart and  thinking vis a vis agencies large and small.

As a note for those of you looking for ways to execute an agency strategy with Posts, SteadyDemand has recently released a full service white label approach to Posts and CitationManagerPro has created a Posts scheduling dashboard for those agencies desirous of doing it themselves.

Google Websites Passes 2 Million Websites Nearing its First Anniversary

On June 13, Google Websites will be one year old. It was created to satisfy the needs of the very small business to have an easy, fast mobile website.

In that time Google has managed to have had at least 2.2 million of the sites built. Given that Google also allows a business to purchase a domain name for these sites, and my measurements solely count the sites at, the number is likely higher.

2.2 million is double the number that was reported in December and reflects a very consistent, steady growth of over 6000 new sites per day. Day in and day out for over a year and it really does add up quickly.

For a period in the first quarter of this year it appeared that growth had slowed but that was apparently temporary and over the past 3 months growth has again resumed.

The product was clearly created to serve the developing world and it is there that Google is seeing the most uptake. Four of the five countries with the most sites are in the developing world. During that period India stayed in the lead with 173% growth to 536,000 sites. Mexico jumped into 5th place growing an astounding 572% growth to almost 74,000 sites during the period.

For whatever reason, most of South and Central America have not seen the growth rates of Asia. Brazil which is an obvious and large market (pop. 207 million) saw only a 60% growth rate. So one has to wonder what Google did in Mexico to precipitate such a jump. (If anyone has an idea, let me know.) I doubt that the growth occurred without some intense promotional efforts somewhere in the supply chain.

Country Dec ’17 Total Pages May ’18 total Pages Increase since Dec.
India 196000 536000 173%
Indonesia 196000 373000 90%
United States 86400 195000 126%
Türkiye (turkey) 46500 106000 128%
Mexico 11000 73900 572%
Brasil 43100 71700 66%
Italia 29300 63000 115%
日本 (Japan) 27700 60000 117%
France 25000 56500 126%
Deutschland 21600 43400 101%

While the product is largely targeted at the “next billion” users of the developing world, uptake in Europe and the US has been consistent if not as great as India or Indonesia. When viewing Europe as a monolithic block it saw 111% growth over the past 6 months to 288,330 sites, putting them as a whole in third place behind India and Indonesia

Country May ’18 total Pages
India 536,000
Indonesia 373,000
Europe 288,330
United States 195,000
Türkiye (turkey) 106,000
Mexico 73,900
Brasil 71,700

The product is ideal for the business that is just getting started and isn’t planning on building a full blown website and has perhaps just built a Facebook page. With the near zero organic reach of a Facebook page these days, it is arguable that a business in that category would actually do better with just a Google Website if they were to choose but one. In the US at least, Google has not aggressively targeted this population of very small businesses.

I recently explored two such new(ish) businesses in my community, The Spot to Be and Allegheny Adventures.  While both of them had taken the time to create Facebook pages neither had even bothered to add their listing to Google Maps which I did do for them this past week.

If my anecdotal experience is any indication most of the new small businesses in the US, at least, have not gotten the memo.  So while Google may offer these businesses better exposure to new customers, if these businesses don’t take the time or know about the need to create a listing, little will come of it.

It is tempting to compare Google’s Website’s effort to Facebook’s 80 million small business pages. On the one hand it is somewhat of an apples and oranges comparison as many SMBs use the GMB for their listing. That might make a better comparison although one that Google is still likely to lose if you are just counting heads.

On the other hand you might argue that given the significant and often free value that Google provides to the these very small businesses, that the deficit could be viewed as the possible upside for Google. And one that could be overcome with Google’s increasing communication efforts.

Google Stops Counting Anonymous Reviews?

Update: Over the weekend many of these “A Google User Reviews” were removed from the corpus as well as the count.

I just got this email from my favorite pet client, Barbara Oliver.

She watches her reviews like a hawk and is very protective of them:

I noticed today that I have 139 google reviews and up until now, I had 172. Do they just delete older ones? You know how I get as I work so hard to earn them ……

Thanks to a tip from Martin Briggs, of the on Twitter, I was able to confirm that Google didn’t throw them away, they are just no longer counting anonymous reviews from “A Google User” in the total shown in the Knowledge Panel.

Whether this fortells some other action vis a vis anonymous reviews is not clear. But for now, many businesses will see an immediate drop in their review count. It will be more obvious to those that started the review process before the G+ era and have a lot of reviews from non-identified users.

Google My Business Agency Dashboard & Upgrade to API Coming

At the LSA 18 Conference in Chicago (at friggin’ 8 am*) Anita Yuen, from the Google My Business team, announced new features focusing on the small(ish) and bigger agency market.

“GMB now delivers a tailored experience for agencies and platform partners”.

3 Key investments

Updated API – coming

  • Messaging API
  • Improved Search APIs across location
  • Department hierarchies

Note: Messaging API is currently in trusted tester state.

New Agency Dashboard – Created with agency in mind and will be available generally in 2 to 3 weeks.

  • Single organization account for all locations
  • Users groups for teams
  • Invitation Management

Note: it appears that the dashboard will only support certain high trust categories. It is not clear what an agency does with locksmiths or garage door companies.* All verified listings can be brought into the new agency account via the invitation management.

The invitation management allows the agency to easily send an alert to a new client and makes client opt-in much easier. Clients can request that they be included into an agency dashboard by entering the location group ID.

It will essentially be an organizational layer above the new GMB list view dashboard.

New Partner Program – .

  • Agencies advanced access
  • Dedicated forum and tailored support
  • Partner directory

Notes: There is some minimum size agency that wasn’t detailed but it sounded like Google looking for larger agencies and or agencies with growth trajectories.

Sign up for the New Partner Program:

*this erroneous note was an answer given that was related to the white listing program which is distinct from the agency dashboard

Google as the New Mobile Website

Yesterday at Streetlight Magazine during David Mihm’s and my conversation he noted:

You’ve been banging the drum for the last 12-18 months that for most businesses, Google Is the New Homepage. The reality is most customers are coming into your business digitally with Google as the front door.

But it feels like with all the new features Google has released during that time period, “Homepage” isn’t a sufficiently consequential descriptor. How about “Google Is the New Website?”

Google has been busy adding user and business owner content to the Knowledge Panel for the past year and, particularly on mobile, was beginning to obviously organize that information as a mobile website directly IN the Knowledge Panel. We noted the addition of videos, Google Q & A, Posts and the recently released Service Menu.

Well today they have further built out your mobile website by adding the traditional About tab to your “new website” (h/t to Sergey Alakov on Twitter). It is showing for all categories that I have checked although its presentation is dramatically different with hotels when accessed through the Local Finder rather than a brand search.

Typically it captures the many attributes that Google has been collecting over the past 18 months from Local Guides and if there are notable attributes they get highlighted visually. This is true of lawyers as well as restaurant.

As a note it appears (I am in a rush and couldn’t double check) that if you have the Service Menu you do not show the About Menu. And if you have no Posts that tab is missing as well:

Note that icons for quality and, in this case, LGBT friendly, are highlighted for a lawyer
This location has a Service menu which seems to be used instead of the About tab if available
Note the distinct presentation for hotels via the Local Finder

Google Adds Restaurants to the Book with Google Feature

This was mentioned on twitter several weeks ago and reported on in France about a month ago (h/t Sergey Alakov). I missed the memo.  Google is now supporting restaurant reservations with the Book with Google Feature in the GMB.

When initially introduced in October, it supported 12 booking programs across a range of verticals.

OpenTable was not mentioned at rollout. One wonders what other verticals and booking packages are in the works.

The  booking button is a very large call to action on both mobile AND desktop views of a restaurant.

The feature, consistent with the earlier booking services, provides Google OpenTable and restaurant specific insights into its utilization.

A restaurant, comparing Google to their OpenTable data should be able to get a solid sense of where the bulk of their transactions are occurring.

Google Q & A Ebook

I have been looking at and thinking about Google Q & A great deal since its introduction.

The feature reminds me of the movie, Dr. Strangelove and it’s subtitle: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Q & A is a lot like that. For those of you with many locations it’s as if you were just getting used to the idea of your Knowledge Panel as your new home page and engaging with reviews, and the landlord suddenly changed the lease without telling you. Who needs one more digital job?

The problem is that I don’t think we can avoid it. Users are starting conversations around your brand locations and its important that you start engaging with these customers that are leaving questions in a constructive way. You need to think about answering questions that need answering and reporting those that violate Google TOS.

I have put together an eBook with my findings from 3 months of reaserh and its now available (for the price of an email address) at GetFiveStars. It can guide you as you develop the processes and policies to deal with this new feature:

GOOGLE QUESTIONS & ANSWERS – What you don’t know can hurt you.

Download it and let me know what you think.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search