Should You Bother Using That New Google My Business Feature?

Google adds, changes, and kills off features at a puke-inducing pace.  With the possible exception of AdWords, nowhere is the pace of change faster than in Google My Business.

For local SEOs and others who (try to) keep up with this stuff, one school of thought says you should use every new Google My Business feature early and often, because those doo-dads provide clues as to what Google “likes.”  The other school of thought says (1) it’s never that easy, (2) everything is a trade-off, (3) you have to pick your battles, and (4) the local search results never really change.

I tend to fall into the latter group.

Whenever clients ask whether I suggest spending time on a new Google My Business bell or whistle – or whenever I give them unsolicited advice – I ask a few questions.

Given Google’s long history of changes to the local search results, here are some questions you might want to ask yourself next time a new Google My Business feature rolls out and you consider using it.

1. Do you assume Google probably will take it away?  Sooner or later, that new feature may meet the same fate as custom categories, “Best Ever” badges, tags, “descriptors,” vanity URLs, Helpouts, and Google+, to name a few dead homies.

2. Will you need to skip or dial down another activity to make time for Google’s gizmos?  If you already work on the tough, daunting, open-ended activities with more-definite payoff, then knock yourself out.  Otherwise, you’re pinning your hopes on an “easy win” that’s easy for your competitors to do, too.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/nilsrinaldi/5158417206/

3. Will you use it even if your competitors start using it?  Can you be an “early adopter” and maybe notice some benefits?  Yeah, maybe.  But then what?

4. Will you keep using it even if it doesn’t seem to help your rankings at all?  If you can think of a plausible scenario in which your use of the new Google My Business feature might impress a customer, then it’s probably a good use of time.

5. Do you have a way to keep your work, so you can repurpose it later if you want to?  I’m thinking of Google+, and how you could post on the Plus page that was “connected” to the page that showed up on Google Maps, and how then Google slowly switched over to posts on Google My Business before shuttering Google+ altogether.   The only thing that’s more of a hassle than filing away whatever content you might post on a Google-owned property is to have to recreate it.

6. Are you content to play by Google’s rules?  If not, you’ll probably get away with misusing or overusing that super-secret new feature in Google My Business – at least for a little while, if not for a good long while.  The big problem is you probably can’t or won’t out-slime your competitors, and you won’t be in a good position to do what (relatively) little you can to get someone with latitude to do anything about your less-ethical competitors.

7. Would a customer understand it, and would it not create questions?  If the new place you can stick a keyword, a slogan, a photo, or a link would not make customers wonder what your business does or if you’re struggling for business, then it probably falls into the bucket of “smart marketing.”

What’s a Google My Business feature you wish Google didn’t kill off – because you got mileage out of it?

What’s your approach to using (or skipping) new GMB features?

Did I overlook something?

Any current feature you think is a waste of time?

Leave a comment!

Google Makes Local Knowledge Graph King – for a Day?

When you search for a specific local business, you may no longer see the knowledge graph appear in the right-hand sidebar.  Google appears to be testing its position on the SERPs.

The knowledge panel has moved to the left and fully above the fold.  It’s gone from shy prince in the margins to turkey-leg-chomping king in the middle of the court.

Of course, after I went to all the trouble of writing those two paragraphs, the knowledge graph moved back to the right.

And now I’m seeing the new layout again.

It seems to be another of Google’s tests, but it may be the start of a permanent change.

It may be partly for user-experience and to show local “one-box”-type results in a way similar to how they appear on mobile (that is, front and center).  I’m sure it also fits into another of Google’s schemes to squeeze out more AdWords revenue, though at this point it’s not clear to me how.

What would a bigger, bolder knowledge graph mean for you, the business owner?  Probably nothing you weren’t aware of already.  But if this change sticks, your Google reviews will get even more noticeable, important, and worth working on.

Have you seen this larger, shifted knowledge graph when you search for a company by name?

What do you make of the test?  What do you think Google is trying to accomplish?

Leave a comment!

Asking Customers for Google Reviews in the New Google Plus: What Are Your Options?

Google’s really done it this time. The “write us a Google review” steps that worked so well for so long soon will work no more.

In the new layout of Google+, if you send customers to your local page they will see no way to write you a review, because there is none.  (Sure, there’s a little button that lets users switch to “classic view,” but that won’t last long.)

Once the “new” Google+ has rolled out universally and there’s no option to use the “classic” layout, you’ll only have two ways to get customers to the place where they can write a review: (1) tell them to search for your business by name on Google.com if they’re on a desktop or (2) tell them to use the Google Maps app if they’re on mobile.

There have always been at least a few serious downsides to those two methods:

  • Customers use different browsers and devices.
  • The Google Maps app hasn’t always given you the option of writing a review.
  • Google wouldn’t always pull up the right Google page – the one you want reviews on – even if you don’t have problems with duplicate listings.

Soon you won’t have a choice.  (Why Google did this is a whole separate discussion, for another day.)

You can no longer even add a parameter to the end of your Google-page URL to have the “write a review” window pop up when your customer clicks the link (e.g. https://plus.google.com/+localvisibilitysystem?review=1).

I’ll probably have to update my battle-tested instructions for the 4th or 5th time since 2011, at which point you can order a slick one-page PDF that makes a frustrating process simple as possible for customers.

Until I get around to that, here’s a rough outline of the easiest steps you’re asking reviewers to do:

  1. Sign into Google Plus OR create a Plus page if you don’t have one already.
  1. Type in such-and-such to pull up our page; do this at Google.com if you’re on a desktop or in the Google Maps app if you’re on mobile.
  1. Find the “Write a review” button and write your review.

Also, the type of link Mike Blumenthal suggests will work.  Of course, providing a link only works for email-based requests.  I usually suggest asking in-person and following up by email when necessary.

The kicker is that Google still requires reviewers to have a Google Plus page in order to write a review, which has been a PITA since May of 2012.  I heard murmurs some months ago that Google will go back to requiring just a Google account (not a Plus account) to write a review, but I need to go back and try to find where I heard that.  In any case, I’m guessing Google will stop requiring a Plus page sooner or later.

Anyway, Google reviews will continue to be huge for your local visibility, even if Google’s made it a little harder for you to get them.  Roll with the punches.

Any thoughts, tips, or workarounds?

Have you tried asking for any reviews since the layout change?

Leave a comment!

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!

How to Change Your CitySearch Business Categories without Breaking a Sweat

The categories you pick for your non-Google local listings also matter.  They influence your rankings within those sites, and seem to influence your Google Places rankings at least a little.

I’ve already nagged you to pay attention to your categories on Yelp, Apple Maps, and other sites.

But don’t forget about creaky old CitySearch.  It’s not a cool, up-and-coming site, but it still matters to your local visibility.  Start by making sure you’re listed under the right categories

The trouble is that the part of the site that business owners have to deal with has been half-broken for several years now.  Local SEOs have had to rely on the support staff for help with listings that need fixing.  Complicating matters is that if you email support you’ll get an auto-reply email that implies all you have to do on CitySearch is to square away your ExpressUpdate listing.

Maybe oddest of all is the fact that even if you’ve claimed your CitySearch listing you’ll have to call the support line (800-611-4827) if you want to change your categories.

The other day, fellow LocalSparker Gene Maryushenko and I were discussing a client’s case, and looking for every worthwhile tune-up we could make.  CitySearch had our client listed under the overly broad category of “Attorneys,” but we wanted to get it changed to the more-accurate “Criminal Defense Attorneys” category.

Turns out it was real easy, according to Gene:

Phil,

We discussed updating [client’s] category on CityGrid and you said you’d be interested in hearing how that phone call to support went.

As soon as I got off the Skype call with you, I gave them a call. Pressed option 2 for non-paying customer, pressed 2 to change listing info and got a rep on the line.

I told the rep I’m interested in changing the categories and he said sure, no problem. I asked to have the primary category set to Criminal Defense Attorneys and removed secondary. He said it should take 24-48 hours to process and that was it.

Call lasted less than a minute. I’m writing this the next day (10:22am my time) to let you know the change was processed.

Again, the CitySearch/CityGrid support-line number is (800) 611-4827.

I’m guessing this would work even on an unclaimed CitySearch listing, too.  Sometimes CitySearch can be buggy when you’re trying to claim or log into your listing.  Haven’t tried it on an unclaimed listing yet, though.

Any tips on dealing with CitySearch listings in general – especially the categories?

Any category-related tips on other sites?

Leave a comment!

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.

7 Ways to Kill Your Local Search Rankings without Touching a Computer

There are a million online misadventures that can snuff out your business’s rankings in local search – in the Google+Local (AKA Google Places) search results and everywhere else.

Attempts to spam or deceive Google usually backfire.  You can also destroy your rankings through sheer laziness – like if you never update any of your business information or never bother to understand Google’s quality guidelines.

You may be aware of what online actions can hurt your local rankings.  Maybe you’ve learned the hard way.

But there also are offline ways you can kill your local rankings.  Simply not doing anything stupid or naughty in your local SEO campaign isn’t enough.  You can lose local visibility and local customers without ever touching your computer (or smartphone or iPad).  To be more precise, I can think of 7 ways:

 

Offline Way to Die Online #1:  Relocate, rename, or use a new phone number without updating your Google+Local page or other business listings to reflect the change(s).

By “update” I mean you must do two things: (1) update all your business listings with the new info, and (2) scour the web for listings (AKA citations) that list your old info.  (By the way, doing a free GetListed.org scan can be a huge help when you get to this step.)

If you fail to do the above, you may be OK…for a little while.  After some months a major third-party data source (most likely InfoGroup) will catch wind of the change and create new listings for your business with the new info.

This will cause your business to have inconsistent info spread all over the web – which itself is a rankings-killer – and may cause Google to create unwanted and inaccurate Google+Local pages for your business (another rankings-killer).

 

Offline Way to Die Online #2:  Get a phony address, like a PO box, UPS box, or virtual office.  Eventually your fake-o address will enter the local-search “ecosystem” (in the way I described above) and you’ll end up with inconsistent business info all over the web, penalties from Google, or both.

(It’s likely that the only reason you’d want a phony address in the first place is so you can try to game Google – so it’s likely your rankings won’t die as a result of your offline actions alone.  More likely, you’ll try to update your business listing(s) with the fake address and end up getting flagged by a competitor or good citizen.)

 

Offline Way to Die Online #3:  Mistreat your customers and get slammed with bad reviews.  This probably won’t have a direct effect on your rankings unless you have dozens or hundreds of scathing reviews, BUT it may affect your rankings indirectly.

For instance, nobody knows for sure whether click-through rate (i.e. the percentage of people who see your business listed in Google and click on it) is a factor that Google takes into account when sorting out the local rankings.  But Google does “know” a bunch of user-engagement stats.  If people simply don’t click on your listing because they see a 10/30 average Google rating, or if nobody clicks your link from (say) your Yelp listing because you have a 1-star average, Google may very well take your rankings down a peg.

Bad service = bad reviews = fewer clicks = low rankings / fewer customers

Also, although “social signals” like Facebook shares, tweets, and Google +1s don’t seem to affect your local rankings much or at all as of this writing, they most likely will become a stronger ranking factor in the future.  If potential customers are scared off by bad reviews, you’ve got fewer opportunities to get social shares.

Most of all, at the end of the day, it’s about getting people to pick up the phone.  You can’t do that very well if nobody clicks on your Google+Local page or website because your reviews reek.

By the way, you get bonus idiot points if you get hammered with bad reviews but don’t write thoughtful “replies from the owner.”  Yes, you can do this: Google+Local and Yelp (and probably other sites that aren’t coming to mind now) let you respond to reviews.  It’s easy to write a reply and takes you maybe 90 seconds.  It’s even easier never to check up on the sites where you’re listed or  simply to live in ignorant bliss, oblivious to the public criticism.

 

Offline Way to Die Online #4:  Hire and fire an unethical SEO.  He or she has access to your Google+Local page or other listings (and maybe even your website), and may do something nefarious or simply not hand over your command codes when you need them.

 

Offline Way to Die Online #5:  Let your domain name or hosting expire (thanks to Chris Silver Smith for this one).  True, technically you don’t need a website to rank in the Google+Local or other search results.  But if you don’t have one, you’re shooting yourself in the foot, because many local-search ranking factors depend on your website.  If you’re in a competitive local market, forget it: Without a site you’ll fare about as well as Lance Armstrong in a polygraph test.

 

Offline Way to Die Online #6:  Never grow your site.  No, I’m not talking about updating the copyright at the bottom of your website so that it no longer reads “© 2002.”  I’m talking about keeping a “static” website to which you rarely or never add useful, non-promotional info that might cause a potential customer to think “Hey, that was handy!”  A static website is a lost opportunity.

Google knows when a website is an online paperweight, and may very well reflect that fact in your rankings.  Worse, if your site is devoid of fresh, helpful info, nobody will link to you, share your site, or give you a juicy unstructured citation or review – all of which are factors that otherwise could boost your rankings.

If you’re going to rank well, your site needs to show signs of life.

 

Offline Way to Die Online #7:  Never check your Google+Local page and other listings.  They say a watched pot never boils.  The corollary is that an unwatched pot can eventually boil over or boil until there’s no water left.

Things will happen to your online local presence, whether you know it or not – and probably not all of those things will be good.  Sometimes you’ll need to fix or remove inaccurate info on your listings, respond to reviews, or double-check your Google+Local page or website is compliant with the Google update du jour.

But you can’t fix problems if you never know about them.

By the way, there’s no offline way to fix most of the above problems.  The solutions involve getting with the times, getting on the computer (or tablet), getting a little bit of local SEO know-how (as you’re doing now!), and getting your hands a little dirty.  That will help you become or stay visible to local customers, and it will help keep the phone ringing.

Any other offline “ways to die” you can think of?  Any questions or general suggestions?  Leave a comment!