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!

Print Friendly

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?

Print Friendly

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!

Print Friendly

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!

Print Friendly

A Map of the Local Search Turf War: 5 Big Boys vs. Goliath Google

Lots of companies want to be the place customers turn to when searching for local businesses.  It’s a battle a between Google on one side, and every other search engine and major directory on the other side.

Greg Sterling recently said it’s between Google and Yelp – that they’re like Spain and Portugal back in the day: empires dividing up the world.  Professor Maps said it’s more like the US versus the Taliban.

I’d say the situation is that Yelp has made itself indispensable.  It’s at the center of a gang-up on Google that includes Apple Maps, Bing Places, Yahoo Local, and YellowPages.  They’re only small compared to Google.

These 5 Big Boys exchange reviews, business data, now ads, and presumably money.  They do it to get more local search “mindshare,” and ultimately more ad revenue.

Their relationships to each other and to Google are messy.  They’re easier to draw.  So I thought I’d map out the turf-war over the local map:

(click to enlarge)

It’s a rough sketch.  There are other big players in local search, like the CityGrid network.  But none that’s ganged up on Google – at least that I can think of.

Quick explanation of the arrows:

Yelp feeds reviews to Apple Maps, Bing Places, and Yahoo Local.  So if you have 5 reviews on Yelp, you have 5 reviews on those search engines.

Yelp also feeds business data to Apple Maps.  (I almost forgot this point when drawing the doodle; thanks to Darren Shaw for reminding me.)

YP has just entered into a deal with Yelp in which its ads show up on Yelp, and some of its data on local businesses is fed to Yelp.

Bing and Yahoo share organic results and ads, of course.  But I’m not aware of any union they have in “local.”

Here’s the kicker: Yelp, YP, and to some extent Yahoo depend on Google for survival.  Yelp in particular has organic rankings in Google out the wazoo.  Most people who go to those 3 sites come from Google.

Google can’t just squash these guys.  YP and Yahoo consistently show up highly in the organic results because of the size of their directories, and because they’re old, more or less trusted sites.  And Yelp is a destination.  Rarely can Google not show Yelp.

What does all this mean for your local-visibility strategy?

Practical Lesson 1:  Yelp may not be profitable (even after 10 years), but I can’t see them going away.  They’ve made themselves indispensable with the (relatively) high quality of their reviews.  You don’t have to like Yelp.  But you can’t ignore your presence / reputation there.  Well, you can, but that’s not smart.  They’re the glue holding the other 4 big players together – against Google.

Practical Lesson 2:  Start worrying about your Yelp rankings, if you’re not already

Practical Lesson 3:  Yelp’s advertising deals may become more compelling soon.

Practical Lesson 4:  Don’t totally ignore YP.  Not a good idea to begin with, because it’s an influential site.  I’m not saying you should pay them for ads.  For now, just give your listing(s) a good tune-up.

Practical Lesson 5:  Get serious about Google+ reviews.  As I’ve written, Google has been pushing reviews hard, partly to squeeze out Yelp (so that Yelp isn’t the de facto place to read reviews).  For a while it’s been in Google’s interest to make them more rewarding for you, and that will be even truer as time goes on.

How has this “gang-up” against Google affected your visibility strategy?

Has it influenced the way you’re trying to “Google-proof” your business – or has it made you focus even harder on Google Places?

What do you think might happen next??

Leave a comment!

P.S.  Thanks to design dude David Deering for another great graphic.

Print Friendly

Factual Improves “Submit a Business” Form

Now you don’t even have to wade through the guidelines and send an email to the right people to get your business listed on Factual.

You can just go to http://www.factual.com/contact and type your info to the right of the prompts in the “Your Message” box.

I don’t believe the “Factual ID” field is required unless you’re editing a listing that’s already in the system but incorrect.

As I wrote before, Factual makes it easy for you to list your business.  They seem to take maybe two-thirds of my clients’ submissions on the first try, so sometimes you need to keep working on your supporting citations and try again later.  Other than that, it’s a pain-free process.

They’re making it real easy for you now.  Go forth and list yourself on Factual.  It’s free, and important.

Print Friendly

Google Testing Review-Sentiment Snippets in the Local Knowledge Graph

For the first time, I’ve just seen “review sentiment” from Google Plus reviews in the local knowledge graph for brand-name searches.  In English:

As you can see, those “sentiment” blobs are the conclusions that Google draws about a business by looking at its Google Plus reviews.  They show up on the right-hand side of the search results when you search for that business by name.  Obviously, it requires that the business have a certain number of reviews.

This seems to be the love-child of a couple pieces of the local results that Google has been doodling around with for some time: the knowledge graph off to the right of the local results, and the “At a glance” snippets that show up on the Google+ Local page.

There might also be some DNA from the third-party review snippets that disappeared almost 3 years ago.  Let’s go on The Maury Show.

I saw this a few minutes ago for a couple businesses.  I haven’t been able to replicate it.  I’m probably in one of Google’s test buckets.

Something tells me this isn’t the last time those review snippets will show up there.  Google pushed reviews very hard in 2013.  I’m guessing this is just the first leg of the continued march in 2014.

Print Friendly

Yelp: "Filter" Is Now a Dirty Word

Yelp has stopped referring to reviews as “filtered.”

Go to the Yelp listing of any business that had some of its reviews gobbled up, and scroll down until you find the little gray link right below the “Write a Review” button and below any reviews that actually made it onto the page.

That link, which used to say – for example – “4 filtered reviews,” now says “4 other reviews that are not currently recommended.”

Apparently, “filtered” is now a dirty word at Yelp HQ.

You might even say Yelp is filtering its speech on filters.

3 other changes:

1.  There’s no CAPTCHA once you click on the link.  You can see the reviews right away.

2.  You no longer see just the filtered…err, not recommended reviews on the “not recommended” page.  There’s a video.

3.  Yelp shot an entirely new video (below).  It was posted to YouTube yesterday (11/13/13).  There’s not even one mention of the word “filter.”  They had an old video, but it was only available from the FAQ page (which, by the way, also doesn’t use the word “filter” anymore).  That video has since been taken down (“made private” on YouTube).

 

It’s interesting that the word “currently” is in there.  That’s intentional.  As I and others have noted, Yelp reviews can be filtered, unfiltered, and re-filtered, and so on.  It depends mostly on how active the reviewer is on Yelp.  Even if you write a review and it’s filtered the first time around, if you review other businesses over a period of a few months and become “friends” with other Yelpers, that review will most likely rise from the ashes.  It appears Yelp is trying to make that fact a little more apparent to business owners and would-be reviewers.

I think the folks Yelp are trying to accomplish mainly two things by opening the kimono slightly:

(1)  They’re trying to encourage more people to become active reviewers/users (which ultimately can help Yelp boost ad revenues, among other things),  and

(2)  They may want to mollify some of the business owners who are furious about the review filter.

Your thoughts?  Why do you think Yelp has thrown a wet towel on its own term for its own approach to screening reviews?  Leave a comment!

Print Friendly

Should You Accept a Custom URL for Your Google+ Local Page?

When I got a custom URL for my personal Google+ page recently, my reaction was “Oh, cool.”  If you’re a business owner who’s been offered a custom Google+ URL for your local listing, your reaction is or was probably similar: it’s not an earth-shaker, but it’s a nice little surprise.

Google might soon ask you if you want a custom URL – if you haven’t been offered one already.  Should you accept it?

Probably not if…

a.  The URL includes the name of a city you think you might not always be located in;

b.  It’s based on a fictitious DBA (tsk, tsk) you’re using for your Google+ Local page;

c.  It’s based on a website name that you know you won’t be using long-term;

d.  You wouldn’t consider paying Google for it in the future, or

e.  You just don’t like it – to the point that that the old long string of numbers looks good to you.

If any of the above applies to you, I would click the “Not now” button, to decline (at least for the moment) the custom URL

(Update: Max Minzer answered this question in his comment (below): I have not tried clicking the “Not now” button, so I’m not sure exactly what happens when you click that: Do they offer you the URL again the next time you log in, or do they ask again in a week, or are you stuck with the messy old URL until Google maybe decides to force custom URLs on everyone?)

Once again, Google puts business owners in a pickle.  Nobody knows what the grand plan is for these URLs.

I can see them becoming part of a freemium model for Google+ Local pages, where you have to pay for your custom URL, in the same way you pay for your domain name.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if Google eventually shows them on the main search results page.

By the way, as Mike Blumenthal pointed out recently, it really should be called a “custom” URL.  It’s not like you can actually customize it.  A custom suit isn’t one that the tailor says fits you, but it’s the only one in the shop, and if you don’t like it you can just take a hike.

What are your experiences with and thoughts on “custom” Google+ URLs so far?  Leave a comment!

Print Friendly

Google+ Local Listings Get Two Columns

It appears that businesses’ Google+ Local listings have gotten yet another facelift.  Now they’re laid out in two columns.  Here’s what you see above the fold:

google-plus-local-double-column1

Lower down on the page, you’ll see double-barreled review action:

google-plus-local-double-column2

An early version of this new layout was spotted “in the wild” last week on Linda Buquet’s forum.  It looks like the two-column layout now has rolled out more broadly.

I like the new look.  Of course, the sleek new design would matter more if the “review pop-up” went away and more people actually ended up on businesses’ Google listings.

The main upshot of the new layout is that it highlights a business’s Google Plus reviews.  The “Reviews Summary” box is now up near the top-left corner of the page, where – as most eye-tracking studies will tell you – people tend to look the most.  Even more prominent is what’s right above the “Reviews Summary” box: a big “pencil” button that people can click on to write reviews.

Google is pushing reviews.  Hard.  This is just the latest in a series of moves by Google.  Some highlights:

Google seems to be sculpting much of its Places/Plus/Maps results around reviews.  I think they’re trying to tell us something.

Print Friendly