Your Bunker Plan in Case Google My Business Pushes the Pay-to-Play Button

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It may not happen soon – or suddenly or permanently – but the chances are good that sooner or later Google will monetize more of the Map.  Maybe all of it will become ad space, or maybe certain features of your Google My Business page will require you to load quarters into them.  Probably a little of both, plus something we can’t foresee.

If and when that happens, you’d better have your pants on.  One leg is to determine how willing you are to pay for any aspect of your Google Maps visibility.  The other leg is to be in a good enough position that pay-to-play is optional for you.

I first pecked out some of the advice in this post in 2015, when Google took the advertising shoehorn to the map.  If nothing else, that should tell you that even Google’s most-obvious plans can take years to unfold, and that the local map probably won’t change overnight (as some SEOs and others might have you believe.

Some of my advice here may be obvious to you.  Some of it you should do anyway, regardless of Google’s moneymaking schemes.  But I’ll always be a Boy Scout, so my advice always is “Be Prepared.”  I hope this post serves as a checklist of things you’ll do before the shotgun wedding.

1. At least try every Google My Business bell and whistle and get a sense of which features (1) you might use longer-term, and which features (2) seem to help your business in some way. That’s good to do in case Google monetizes only some features in Google My Business, and not the whole thing. I’m not saying you should carve out a lot of time for Google’s knickknack du jour.  I’m saying that if you haven’t used a given Google My Business feature when it was free, you probably won’t try it if and when it’s paid. Don’t cut it too close.

 

2. Decide now whether you’ll become more specialized any time soon. The time to start trying to own a more-specific niche is not after you’ve been squeezed on some of your more-competitive local search terms.

3. Copy, paste, and save your Google reviews, and note down the names of the customers who wrote them. That’s always been a good idea, but your reviews are not safe if they all live in one of Google’s data centers. If a major change is on the way, Google’s even more likely to leave your reviews in the cargo hold and let them freeze to death on the flight.

By the way, if you have so many Google reviews that saving them all sound tedious, don’t you suppose it will be even more tedious to ask everyone to review you again?  You’ll be lucky if 40% of them follow through.  Pack ’em away.

 

4. Take a screenshot of what shows up in the knowledge panel you see on the right-hand side when you search for your business by name. If you’ve got multiple locations, take a screenshot of what you see in each location’s sidebar.

5. Grab a few Google Analytics reports, or at least take screenshots. Get a sense of your organic-only traffic , referral sources, and maybe pull a “Geo” report. If you can sock away data for the last few years, great, but get recent intel at least.  If Google monetizes more of the map, your traffic will probably be affected in one way or another, and you’ll want to understand how (if possible).  You’ll also want to know if Google’s potential pay-to-play move doesn’t affect your visibility much.  You’ll be in a better position to know those things if you know what your baseline is.

6. Cultivate other sources of traffic: not only non-Google Maps visibility (especially organic rankings), but also non-Google visibility. That’s just common sense, bordering on “Duh” advice. So rather than explain what may be obvious, I’ll point you to these two posts: “Local SEO without the Local Map: What Is It?” and “Relationship between Local and Organic SEO: a Simple Diagram.”

7. Consider tracking every Google My Business URL field with UTM codes. I say “consider” only because I don’t bother doing that for clients, because it doesn’t change our action items or other decision-making. Still, you might find it useful to know more about who clicks where, so you can see what effects a more-monetized map might have.

8. Get familiar with AdWords (sorry, “Google Ads”), if you’re not already into it. At the very least, just run a quick-and-dirty campaign with a small budget, maybe with a focus on your more-niche keywords. Unless you’ve got good PPC chops, you probably shouldn’t expect to get many or any customers from it, but you will get useful data.  You can find out the exact search terms people use, exactly where they search from, what calls-to-action they respond to, and other insights that can affect your local SEO strategy.

9. Get cracking on Google Maps “spam patrol” before your spammy free-visibility competitors become spammy advertisers, and possibly even more entrenched.

 

 

What’s part of your “bunker plan” for possible paid or freemium Google Maps results?

Has the pay-to-play possibility changed your local SEO/visibility strategy in any way (and if so, how)?

Leave a comment!

Does Google Look the Other Way When a Local Pack Advertiser Spams the Google Maps Results?

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For better or for worse, you can “buy” your way to the top of Google’s local 3-pack if you have a Google My Business page that already ranks OK, and if you use AdWords, enable location extensions, and meet a few other criteria.

It appears that’s also how you can buy wiggle room to spam the Google Maps results.

I say that for one simple reason: I’ve had one hell of a time getting Google to approve edits to Google My Business pages that spam blatantly and that show in the “paid” 3-pack.  So far, Google has approved my edits much less consistently than when I’ve made the same kind of edits to non-advertisers’ listings.

The two kinds of anti-spam edits that Google – in my experience – is most likely to approve are (1) changes to spammy business name, and (2) the removal of listings that use fake addresses or are for fake businesses.  Recently I submitted edits to the keyword-spammy names of 15-20 Google My Business pages that showed up in the paid section right above the local 3-pack.

Google only approved 2 of my changes, and it approved those instantly.  The other 15-or-so changes were rejected after only a few hours or by the following night, when I checked.  Google usually approves more of my edits to business names  – I’d estimate about 30-40% – and leaves “pending” for days or weeks the changes it may or may not accept in the end.  (For other types of edits I’ve got a good track record, but Google doesn’t approve them as often.)  Google made the wrong decision more decisively than usual.

By the way, most of my edits were to moving companies, and to a lesser extent to keyword-spamming dental practices.  I found it strange that the only edits Google approved were to the dental practices, and not to the moving companies.  The latter is much more notorious for spam, because there’s much more spam in it.

My “test” (if you can call it than) was anything but scientific.  It’s also a work-in-progress, because I’ll continue to nibble at spammy advertisers and non-advertisers alike.  If I learn anything new, I’ll update this post, or do a follow-up, or both.  There’s a lot I don’t know yet.

So far, about the only thing I can say with confidence is that Google doesn’t scrutinize local-pack advertisers more than it scrutinizes businesses that don’t run ads.

Maybe the easiest way to wrap up my quick, in-progress observations is with a quick Q&A:

Q: Is there Google Maps spam in the paid 3-pack results?
A: Yes.

Q: Is there more spam or less spam in the advertiser’s slot above the 3-pack?
A: About the same.

Q: Can you get edits approved on AdWords advertisers’ spammy listings?
A: Yes, occasionally.

Q: Is Google as likely to approve an edit to an advertiser’s listing?
A: No, apparently.

Q: If the business stops advertising, is Google more likely to approve the edit?
A: I don’t know.

Q: Does Google hold advertisers to higher standard?
A: Sure doesn’t look that way.

Q: Is Google likely to fix the spam situation in general?
A: Good one.

 

I’ve never thought the “paid” slot above the 3-pack is inherently bad – as long as it’s clear to searchers that it’s an ad, and as long as it doesn’t gobble up the whole page.  AdWords often is a good way in for businesses that aren’t ranking well, and the free results often are a good way in for businesses that aren’t dominant advertisers.  There can be a balance, and I think there should be a balance.

My concern is businesses can spam their way into the 3-pack, flick on AdWords, and possibly be more likely to get away with that spamming.  AdWords shouldn’t create even more of a temptation to spam the map.

What’s been your experience in dealing with Google My Business spam by businesses in the “ad” section of the 3-pack?

Leave a comment!

Google Expands “Suggested Review” Google My Business Posts

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I always like when Google drops a subtle hint about what it wants you to do. If you haven’t done a Google My Business post recently, and if you have a good-sized pile of Google reviews, there’s a good chance Google will auto-generate a “Suggested Post” that quotes one of your Google reviews.  (As of […]

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One Good Reason to Offer Google My Business Post Offers

Two problems with Google My Business posts are (1) they’re not too visible anymore unless someone searches for your business by name, and (2) people without itchy mouse-fingers only see a tiny preview of the post in the sidebar. Those are valid concerns.  Though you can use my hack to keep Google My Business posts […]

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The Easiest Way to Get a Google Maps One-Box Result – without Spamming

I’m talking about a local search result like this (click to enlarge): Local “one-box” results (as they’re called) show only one Google My Business page, alongside some organic results.  It’s good for your business to have a one-box result any time you can nab one, because of how visible you are on the page: You’re […]

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Google My Business vs. Bing Places in a Nutshell

This example is from one of my clients, who’s got a seasonal business and had a great winter. Two screenshots up the difference between Google visibility and Bing visibility.  The screenshots are of those two search engines’ “dashboard” stats.  I doubt either source of intel is Swiss-watch accurate, but each can give you a rough […]

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Google Maps Spam Patrol: Why You Need to Do It, and 10 Tips to Make It Doable

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Why not make your local competitors work to outrank you?  They won’t have to work too hard if you assume Google keeps the Google Maps results clean, because that doesn’t happen much. “Spam patrol” is my name for the process of identifying Google My Business pages that violate any of Google’s guidelines and that, as […]

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How Many Ways Can Someone Troll Your Google My Business Page?

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What’s the difference between the Google Maps business results and middle school?  Well, at one you get lunch and the possibility that the heckling and hounding ends for the day once the bell rings. It’s easy to get worn down in local SEO.  The work it takes for you to get visible and stay visible […]

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When Should You Do Your Own Local SEO?

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You know the good reasons and bad reasons to hire a local SEO person or company.  The pros and cons of doing it yourself are clear, too.  What you’re less sure of is: when has the do-it-yourself option piled up enough pros that it’s clearly the better choice for you? It’s a sliding scale.  You […]

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10 Types of Ninja Pages You Can Sneak up the Local Search Results

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People who do local SEO are pretty resourceful at rubbing keywords all over pages they want to rank. They’re less creative with the types of pages they try to get to rank. Often those pages are limited to the homepage, a few “service” pages, and maybe some doughy “city” pages.  Those types of pages matter […]

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