Facebook Reviews Now Get You Rich-Snippet “Review Stars” in the Local Search Results

Facebook has been a sleeping giant in the local-reviews game for a couple of years now – just as it’s been a sleeping giant in local search in general for longer.  It’s an excellent place to get reviews, because it’s got the user-base, because it’s quick and easy to post a review, and because Facebook reviews don’t get filtered.

My only gripe has been that your Facebook page doesn’t show “review stars” when it shows up in the search results.

Until now:

I tell every client to get at least a few reviews on Facebook (usually with a review handout like this), among many other sites.  Unlike Yelp, it’s one site that every business can and should get a toehold in.  In that respect, it’s second only to Google in local-search ecosystem.

Now you have an additional motivation to scare up some reviews on Facebook and to work it into your long-term reviews strategy: your average ratings there may show up for brand-name searches near the very top of the page.

In some cases your Facebook stars will show up for broad search terms (as in the first screenshot I showed).

To me, this is good news.  The extra visibility means that probably more business owners and customers will pay attention to review sites other than Yelp and Google+.  I think quality-control will be an issue for Facebook, but that’s the case everywhere.

What do you think?

Where does Facebook fit into your review strategy – and will that change?

Leave a comment!

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Updated for 2015: How to Write a Google Review of a Local Business

Google has changed the steps for writing a Google Plus review…again.

Unlike 3 years ago, this time Google made the steps a little simpler for customers, clients, and patients.  The new “Collections” feature in Google+ seems to have been the impetus for change here.

The review steps haven’t changed much.  Google removed the “Local” tab in Google+, along with the two-field search bar that you’d use to find the business you want to review.  Now all you do is sign into Google+ and look up the business in the search bar.

Here are the simplest steps for posting a Google Plus review (and they work whether or not the customer already has a Google+ account):

New Google Plus review instructions

You may have to include the city + state in the search bar, in order to pull up the right listing.

By the way, I can custom-make instructions like those for you ($20 per PDF).

Thoughts on Google’s latest tweak?

Do you think it makes the review process easier?

Leave a comment!

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Lipstick on a Pig: Google Places “Report a Problem” Requests Now Rejected Even Faster

A couple days ago, Colan of Imprezzio Marketing reported that the next-to-useless “Report a problem” feature in Google Places had been revamped.  I was excited.

After all, Google made it easier to specify what problems a listing has, which in theory makes it easier for Google to clean up the local results.

My excitement was premature.  In the wee hours last night – when only muggers and cats are awake – I flagged down a Google Places page that belongs to a dentist who’s no longer practicing at that location.

80 minutes later my edit was rejected.  It used to take the stiffs at Google a whole day to make a bad decision.  I guess on one level I appreciate the speedy verdict.

So I tried another angle – which maybe I should have tried from the get-go.  I told them the name of the page isn’t compliant with Google’s new rules (which it isn’t):

Two-and-a-half hours later they rejected the edit.  Even though I cited Google’s own guidelines to explain why the name of the listing needed to change.

Sure, Google has made the “Report a Problem” interface nicer, but the real problem remains: Google’s crowdsourcing approach to quality-control has failed.  Legitimate edits and reports don’t get approved.

Between Google’s doubling-down on outsourcing “support” and its recent shortening of those call-center hours, there’s little reason to believe Google will get serious about data-quality any time soon.

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Google Helpouts Didn’t Have Time to Bleed

Google Helpouts and Jesse Ventura’s character in Predator have much in common: They both showed early promise, but got killed off way too soon.

Well, on second thought, I guess that’s all they have in common.  Unlike the just-retired Google Helpouts, Jesse actually put up a fight.

As you may know, Helpouts was a way to talk with an “expert” over video chat – specifically Google Hangouts.  It showed promise as a way for “local” business owners to win leads by talking with customers and helping them with questions or problems.  Give before you get.

Didn’t get far.

An early adopter of Helpouts, Michael Lindquist of Wilton Auto and Tire, emailed me today to tell me his experiences with it over the last year-and-a-half:

A while back, Google asked me to participate in this program, which I did sign up, set up etc. I never, ever, received a single  inquiry from anyone.

You had asked if you could monitor this with me as it progressed. It really went nowhere for me, and as this email states, for anyone else it appears.

He passed along the news straight from the horse’s mouth:

It’s a shame that Helpouts ended up exactly as I predicted it would back in September of 2013.  Maybe it’ll have a longer career as a governor of Minnesota.

What was your experience with Helpouts?

What offering do you think is next on Google’s chopping block?

Leave a comment!

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Have Google Places Descriptors Been Grandfathered in?

It’s been exactly one week since the latest revision of the Google Places My Business Quality Guidelines.

Of all the changes, arguably the biggest change was that Google put the kibosh on “descriptors” – words that you could add to the name of your Places page.

Some people abused the short-lived provision, but many used descriptors wisely.  Now Google’s saying nobody can use them.

To what extent has Google enforced its new rule against descriptors?  Only partially, it seems.

Of the six clients of mine who are using descriptors, only one might have taken a hit.  He only started using a descriptor within the past couple of weeks, right before Google threw the wet towel on them.

The other five clients – two of whom have multiple locations and multiple Places pages with descriptors – are ranking as well as ever, as of this writing.

Sure, Google is full of surprises, many of them bad.  But what I have not seen is a crackdown like the Great Service Area Inquisition of 2012.

Should you use a descriptor now if you weren’t using one before?  No.

Should you remove the descriptor from your Google Places name if it doesn’t seem to be helping you in any way?  Yeah, probably.

Should you remove the descriptor even if it’s seemed to help your rankings?  I wouldn’t – at least not now.

I have a two-part theory:

  1. Even Google is unlikely in this case to punish businesses that followed the old rules for descriptors. (I assume you were following the spirit of the rules.)
  1. Google is even less likely to punish those businesses if they seem to be quality results – if searchers tend to click on them. As Darren and I have preached recently, searchers’ behavior seems to be a huge influence on rankings.

That’s just my guess, but it explains what I’ve seen so far.  It’s all subject to change, of course.  Google might crack down on descriptors in one way or another, or only go after the abusers, or do nothing.  Who knows?

What’s been your experience with Google Places descriptors recently?  What do you think Google will do – and why do you think that?  Leave a comment!

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Latest Google Places Guideline Flip-Flop: Natural Extension of Pigeon Update?

 

As you may have read from Mike or Linda, Google just updated the “My Business” guidelines (again).

Among several rule-updates that will Google will probably enforce haphazardly or temporarily, here are the two updates that have stuck in my craw:

  1. The reversal of the “descriptors” rule. For years Google said you had to use your official business name as the name of your Google Places page.  Then in February they said you could add a keyword or city name or a similarly short “descriptor.”  Now they reversed that rule.
  1. You can only pick the most-specific category (or categories) for your page. For example, if you’re a divorce lawyer, you pick “Divorce Attorneys,” but not “Attorneys.”

I think this fits into the big-picture changes that Google’s “Pigeon” update represents.  Since July, Google has put even more emphasis on classic organic ranking factors – especially the quality of your links.

Google is now telling you to provide less information about your business on your Places page – in your name and in your categories.  Google would rather sift through your site’s pages and links and draw its own conclusions about what your business offers, and rank you accordingly.

At least in theory, if you’re not trying to use your Google Places name and categories to maximum advantage, you’re trying to rank based on your ability to earn good links (read this) and reviews.  That, plus searchers’ behavior, is what Google seems to care about above all.

Enforcement is where the rubber meets the road.  Who knows if Google will enforce the new rules uniformly, or how it will affect who ranks and who doesn’t?  I predict continued chaos.

What’s my advice?  I think Greg Gifford nailed it.

What are your thoughts on the update?  Leave a comment!

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Google Places Support Claims Descriptions Help Rankings?

 

Google has always kept their cards close to the vest regarding local ranking factors.  They never get into specifics.

Also, I’m not alone when I say that the “description” or “introduction” field of your Places page doesn’t seem to influence your rankings for the better (although extreme keyword-stuffing can get you penalized).

It’s for those two reasons I’m puzzled by a pair of emails that apparently came from the Google Places support staff.

Dan Hiestand of Chico Car Care kindly forwarded me these two emails yesterday.  I’m including them in their entirety, just so you have context.  (Italics added.)

From: <local-help@google.com>
Date: Tue, Jul 29, 2014 at 8:08 AM
Subject: RE: [7-7403000004210] Google Local Help
To: [email]

Hello,

This is Juan with Google at our Ann Arbor, Michigan location. I hope you are having a great day!

Thank you for letting us know about the issue with the category being incorrect.

I went ahead and made the changes to reflect: auto repair shop.

You may need to give it up to 24 hours to see the changes on your end. If for some reason the changes are not showing after 24 hours, then please respond back to this email and I will have our technical team look into this for you.

I took a look at your listing, and I wanted to suggest something that may potentially help your listings ranking, You can add more content to your introduction using valid content that is relevant to your business. Its very important to link parts of your website to the introduction, and if you have any kind of social media website such as Facebook or Twitter we recommend that you link those into your introduction as well.

I hope this information has been useful! Let me know if you have any other questions.

Have a great day!

Sincerely,

Juan V.

 

Just a fluke?  I don’t know.  Here’s email #2:

From: <local-help@google.com>
Date: Tue, Jul 29, 2014 at 9:16 AM
Subject: RE: [6-5472000004265] Google Local Help
To: [email]

Hello,

Thank you for contacting Google My Business! My name is Tiffanie, I am a part of the Ann Arbor, Michigan support team.

I received your email and I would be more than happy to assist you! Per your email I understand that you would like your categories updated.

I have removed air conditioning repair from your list of categories, and Auto Repair is already listed there. It is important to log into your account and make sure this category has been removed to ensure the information does not revert back.

Since you took out the time to contact us I would like to provide you with some tips for your Google Plus Page. By editing your introduction field to include more products or services that you offer can make your page more relevant to more types of searches and be a positive influence on your ranking.

For your page specifically I highly recommend you optimize your introduction section. I see that you have a few sentences about your description. This is a great start and it’s very informative to potential customers who visit your page.

The system actually uses this section when it’s looking for potential search terms to trigger your page. It’s always a good idea to add relevant phrases. Including search terms and even location terms gives you a much better chance to show for these specific phrases.

If you have any other questions or concerns regarding this issue please feel free to respond to this email.

Best Regards,

Tiffanie N.

Weird.  The emails seem to be from Google, all right.

What do you think?

Do you think those Google support-team members accidentally said to much?  Do you even believe them?

Have you gotten similar feedback from Google Places support?

Please leave a comment!

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Crackdown on Service-Area Businesses: the Untold Story of Google’s Local “Pigeon” Update?

 

Since the “Pigeon” algorithm update last week, we’ve seen a decline in Google Places 7-pack results, plus local rankings reshuffled at least a little bit in most markets.

Has all that commotion covered up a crackdown by Google on service-area businesses (businesses, like contractors, that travel to customers rather than the other way around)?

I’m beginning to think so.

One long-time client of mine suddenly got the red light on a residential (and properly “hidden”) address.

Then I post on Linda’s forum, and hear the same thing from other people.

Then Holly Pedit emails me to say Google has put the kibosh on all her service-area clients.

I know Google isn’t penalizing all – or necessarily even many – residential or service-area businesses.  The question is whether they’re whacking more of them than usual.

Does your business operate in a “service area,” and has your Google Places page been suspended in the last week?

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Real Names Not Needed for Google+ Reviews: Smart or Stupid Move?

Google no longer requires reviewers to use their real names when reviewing businesses on Google+.

This is a complete turnaround of the policy Google has had for the last few years.  It’s the latest step in Google’s long push to get more Plus users, mostly for data-mining purposes.

As you can tell from the comments on Google’s announcement, people are torn on whether this is good or bad.  There’s also a good discussion at Linda’s forum.

Is it good or bad to be able to leave an anonymous Google+ review?  Overall, I think it’s bad.  But I’d like to lay my thinking out piece by piece.

Here are what I see as the pros and cons:

Pros

1.  It makes it simpler to write reviews of people / businesses who offer sensitive services: divorce lawyers, bankruptcy lawyers, psychotherapists, exterminators, bakers of adult-themed cakes, etc.

Many other sites have allowed anonymous or semi-anonymous reviews; now Google’s one of them.  This is the main “pro” by far, in my opinion.

2.  Full-name reviews will gain value: They’ll be seen as more credible because, in general, they are.  Score one for the business owners who’ve already worked out a strategy for earning those reviews.

Cons

1.  Google is making life easier for spammers, scammers, and miscreants of all stripes.

2.  People will trust Google reviews less, for better or worse.

3.  Fake reviews will be harder to spot.

4.  It encourages one-time reviews.  Writing a review as “John Doe” makes sense when you’re reviewing (say) a divorce attorney.  Not so much if you’re reviewing a hotel.  With this change, Google is encouraging more reviews, but not more reviewers.

5.  Many people still don’t like Google+, and still won’t want to use it.  To the extent those people are your customers, Google’s new policy probably won’t change their minds.

6.  Business owners’ responses to anonymous reviews won’t be as helpful or specific, if they don’t know whom they’re even addressing.

7.  Does this mean reviewers’ profile pictures don’t have to be of them, either?

8.  The sentiment snippets showing in the knowledge graph will become even more of a problem.

Other considerations

Now Yelp looks like the only site that gives a hoot about quality-control.  Not that Yelp is particularly good about QC;  it’s just always been two steps ahead of Google.

I wouldn’t rule out another filter crackdown, once even Google determines there’s too much junk coming through.

Your thoughts?  Any pros or cons you’d add? Leave a comment!

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How to Use Google Places Descriptors: Some Early Best-Practices

In February, Google started allowing you to add a “single descriptor” to your Google Places page – that is, a word or short phrase that isn’t part of your business name.

It’s a huge departure from Google’s old policy, which was that you must use your legal or “offline” business name.  There couldn’t be any embellishment.

For example, under the old rules, if your business was called “Jones & Jones,” that’s what you had to put in the “business name” field of your Google Places page.  Now, it could be “Jones & Jones Roofing” or “Jones & Jones Bankruptcy Law.”

This rule-change is 30% opportunity and 70% problem.  To dig into the implications, read this post by Mike Blumenthal, this thread on Linda Buquet’s forum, and watch minutes 44-49 of this MaxImpact (then watch the whole thing).

I’d like to focus on how I’d suggest using a “descriptor,” if you’re considering it.

Do NOT take any of this for gospel.  My pointers are based entirely on what I’ve observed with a handful of clients who’ve used descriptors over the past couple of months.

I’m also not saying you should or should not use a descriptor for your business.  That’s for you to decide.

A few other things to keep in mind:

  • This is Google’s house.  Google’s rules.
  • The rules can (and probably will) change.
  • The rules are unclear.

Anyway, here are my personal descriptor dos and don’ts (in no particular order):

1.  Strongly consider adding a descriptor if there is a practical, non-SEO-related reason to do it.  For example, it’s probably worth trying if you have multiple locations you’d like to differentiate, or if the name of your Google Places is “Dr. John Doe,” or it simply gives no indication of what you do.  I guess don’t rule it out if rankings are your sole reason for adding a descriptor; just be more cautious (and paranoid).

2.  The fewer words, the better.  It’s true that Google is unclear about how many words constitute a “descriptor.”  But don’t assume it’s a free-for-all – or that you’d even benefit from stuffing in multiple words.

3.  Don’t change all your citations to match your tweaked Google Places name.  Google should be able to recognize that they all refer to the same business.  Also, if (when?) Google does another 180, you’ll want to avoid having to change all your citations again.

4.  Don’t keep messing with the descriptor.  No, it’s not set in stone.  But any change in rankings will probably take a couple of weeks to happen.  Also, for all we know, Google might penalize you for trying on 10 descriptors like they’re pairs of shoes.

5.  Put the descriptor at the end of your name.  Don’t perform surgery on your whole name by reshuffling the words.  That’s more likely to mess up your citation-consistency.

6.  Using your city name as the descriptor probably doesn’t make sense unless you’re multi-location.  Also, if you’ve done the proper work on your citations and you have your NAP on every page, Google almost certainly knows where you’re located.

7.  It should be a “keyword” or a city name, but not both.  That’s more likely to look spammy to Google.

8.  Do all the local SEO work you were going to do anyway – even if your rankings get a bump from the descriptor.  Otherwise your rankings are like Bill Murray’s character in Stripes before he joins the Army.

9.  First make sure your Google Places listing is live – findable when you search for it by name.  That gives you a baseline of where you are without the descriptor.  If your listing isn’t even publicly visible, you have no way of knowing what effect the descriptor might have.  And if you suspect a penalty, you also wouldn’t know what’s causing your listing to be penalized.

10.  If you have multiple locations, it’s probably not wise to use a “descriptor” for all of them at once.  See what happens when you try it for one or a couple of locations.  Dip your toes in the water.

11.  If you’re an SEO and you want to try the descriptor, ask your clients first!  Tell them the risks – even if they’re the ones who suggested it in the first place.

What’s been your experience with the “descriptor” so far?

What are your questions?  Concerns?

Leave a comment!

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