Unheralded Change in Google Places: the Tiny Feedback Link

The Google Places layout has changed a lot recently: gray map pins, “preview” arrows for each Places page, and a re-orientated local map that follows you as you scroll down the page.

Much ink has been spilled over these changes.  Even people who don’t follow Google Places closely know about the new layout.

But there’s a change that nobody (to my knowledge) has discussed so far: the little “Feedback” link.

What “Feedback” link?  Type in a local search term, hover your mouse over any of the Google Places business results, and then hover over the little arrow that pops up on the right.

The new "Feedback" link in Google Places

Way below the big map and the newly prominent Places page info, you’ll see a small, grayed-out link that says “Feedback.”  If you click on it, the “Report a problem” window will come up, and you’ll be able to report mischief to Google.

There’s nothing new about the “Report a problem” window.  You could always get to it before, either by clicking on a Place page and scrolling down to find the link at the bottom of the page, or by clicking on the “Maps” tab and clicking on a tiny link in the bottom-right corner.  Nor is the “Report a problem” window any different from the old one; it just looks a little spiffier.  This feature isn’t new.

What’s new (and strange) is the link itself and the way it’s been incorporated into the new Google Places layout.  (Yes, it’s only for Google Places, because the “previews” for organic search results don’t include “Feedback” links.)

Specifically, what’s weird is how subtle this “Feedback” link is.  It’s tiny.  It’s gray.  You only see it when you hover on a local search result and then on a preview arrow.  For something that’s now accessible from page 1 of Google, it’s awfully inconspicuous.

The wording of the link itself is vague: all the other links to the “Report a problem” window simply read “Report a problem.”  It’s not like you can leave any old kind of feedback: it can ONLY be a problem you’re reporting, not “Hey, I think this business is great.”  Why is this the only case where Google refers to the “Report a problem” area differently (and vaguely)?

It’s a contradictory change: it’s more prominent—you can now see it without leaving Page One—but it’s not downright prominent.  Google isn’t known for its subtlety, or for being afraid to stick its new features in your face.

So why is it only a little easier now for people to “report a problem” with a business in Google Places?

One possibility is that Google is starting to make an effort to clean up phony / spammy / inaccurate Google Places listings and info—with the help of Good Samaritans and business owners who are getting screwed by inaccurate and/or fraudulent listings.  The folks at Mountain View know that Places is the Wild West; the only question is to what extent they’ll send a sheriff or two into the local saloons.

Given Google’s recent stabs at quality-control (in the form of “automatic updates”) and its growing emphasis on user-generated content, it’s possible Google is now paying a little more attention to reports of problems.

So…if there are any inaccuracies / spammy Google Places listings in your local market, give the “Feedback” link a try; there’s a chance Google will actually listen.

New XL Google Places Pins under “Maps” Tab

New: extra-large map pins for businesses in Google PlacesToday I noticed a neat new feature in Google Places: extra-large pins for each business when you hover over that business in the “Maps” tab.

You can see what I mean right now:

1.  Type in a local-search term.  Let’s say “pizza.”

2.  Click on the “Maps” tab.

3.  Hover your mouse over any one of the local businesses on the LEFT, and keep an eye on the big map to the right; you’ll notice that business’s map pin double in size.

You’ll see a big map pin if you hover over the business info on the left for any local business ranked #1-10 under the “Maps” tab.  But you won’t see the XL map pin if you hover over any Adwords or Adwords Express results, or if you’re looking at the Places results on the 1st page of Google.  Right now, the big map pins only show up if (1) you’re in the Maps tab and if (2) you’re hovering over the Google Places results on the left.

Hover over local search result on left, see XL map pin on right

XL map pin for any Google Places business result under Maps tab

There’s a chance Google is only testing this temporarily and the XL pins will be gone soon (though this is unlikely).  Given that Google Places has been changing a lot recently, maybe the next round of changes will explain why we now have extra-large Google Places map pins.

My guess is that Google has added the plus-sized pins in order to get more people to use the giant map that’s on the right-hand side in the Maps view.  When you hover over a Google Places business result on the left and the big pin jumps out at you on the right, your eyes are going to where the movement is.

If Google can make the big map on the right a more integral part of the “user experience,” that sets the stage for adding more bells & whistles to the big map area in the future.  I wouldn’t be surprised if pretty soon we start seeing more stuff in Google Places in the big map area under “Maps.”

Those are my two cents; how ’bout yours?  Leave a comment!

Google Places Descriptions Are Back, Baby

I know I sound like George Costanza when I say that, but I’m excited to announce the return of the Places “Descriptions” that went missing from everybody’s Places page a few weeks ago.

Here are a few of my clients whose Descriptions are back in all their glory.  After all this time, I assume you’d have to see it to believe it:

(Click on any picture to enlarge)

Sheridan Eye Care - Davie, FL

Palumbo Landscaping - Forest Lake, MN

The Ice Dam Removal Guys - Minneapolis, MN

Stone Masters, Inc. - Kennett Square, PA

Mountain Lumber Company - Boone, NC

Physical Addiction Fitness Centre - Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

My clients are awesome, so the reappearance of their Descriptions is particularly deserved :), but I’ve seen a few others reappear as well.

The only way in which the Descriptions are not totally “back” is that there seems to be a processing delay on Google’s end when you try to update one.  Some of my newest clients’ Descriptions aren’t showing up on their Places pages just yet.  Linda Buquet has reported that there’s a 6-10 week delay in updates (ouch) on Google’s end.  This appears to be right on the money.

What kind of shape is your Google Places “Description” in at this point?  Make my day and leave me a comment!

What To Do While Google Screws with Your Places Listing

The Google Places page layout has gone through big changes recently, as you may have seen.  These changes include not showing snippets of reviews written through third-party sites (like Yelp), and removing the “Details” area from the Places page.

Personally, I hope these changes are only temporary.  I and your customers prefer having more information about a local business rather than less information.  But Google didn’t ask my opinion or anyone else’s.  Whatever.  Not important.

What DOES matter is whether you’ll let the recent changes hurt your ability to attract local customers.  With all the buzz about the changes, I haven’t yet seen anybody clarify what you should actually do about the changes.

As it stands now, you’ll probably just have to make a few minor changes to your website if you want to avoid a drop-off in calls and/or customers.  Maybe all the missing info will return to Google Places page in a couple days or a couple weeks, making this post irrelevant.  But that’s a big “maybe.”  In the meantime, you don’t want to lose your mojo with local customers.

Time to get specific.  First, here’s what’s currently ABSENT from your Google Places page:

-Your business hours

-The short (200-character) “Description” of your business (according to Google, this may reappear soon…or it may not)

-The “Additional Details” section

Sure, there’s other missing info –like your “citation” sources and the list of sites your business has been reviewed on.  But the missing hours, “Description,” and “Details” provide info that’s especially important for anyone who’s considering becoming your newest customer.  They won’t pay you if they can’t learn basic facts about you–and they can’t just find what they need on your Google Places page.

Fortunately, this is where your website comes in.  You need to add the missing info prominently to the home page of your site (if it’s not there already).

I suggest you do the following:

Tweak 1.  Show your business hours visibly on your home page.  By “visibly” I mean they should be above the fold and should be formatted differently from the rest of the text–perhaps bold / slightly larger font / different color.

Tweak 2.  Make sure your homepage instantly tells people what you offer.  Know how the tiny 200-character Google Places “Description” was at the very top of your Place page and forced you to describe your services in a nutshell?  I you put a similar little blurb at or near the very top of your homepage.  Maybe throw in a really clear, descriptive picture, too.

In fact, if you log into your Google Places listing, you’ll find the “Description” that used to show up publicly on your listing.  If you don’t feel like writing, just copy that little blurb and paste it onto your homepage.  This at least gives potential customers the same info they’d like to have seen on your Google listing, and it tells them that they’re in the right place to find the services that they just searched for in Google.

Tweak 3.  Put any “Additional Details” you had on your Google Places page on your homepage.  If you log in to the “Edit” area of your listing, you should see any “Details” that used to show up on your Places page.  Stick any of these relevant, good-to-know details onto your homepage.  Make ‘em visible, too–perhaps bold.

You can still find your Details in the Dashboard of your Places listing

What if you didn’t have any “Details” on your Google Places page?  If that’s the case, I suggest you make sure all of the following is prominent on your homepage:

Accepted payment forms: a good photo for your site and your Places page

-Accepted forms of payment.  To the extent that you accept credit cards, it’s a good idea to include little pictures of each accepted card.  By the way, this is also a great photo to add to your Google Places page.

-All your services.  You want people who saw your Google Places listing and clicked on your site to know that they’ve come to the right place, and that you offer what they’re looking for.  Bullet-point lists are a great way to showcase all your services, by the way.

-Local areas you serve.  Don’t name like 50 towns.  But it’s good to specify that you serve (for example) “Greater Austin” and maybe a few nearby towns.  This helps you get visible in Google in those areas, and especially helps your customers know that you’re truly local.

It would be nice if Google reintroduced a way to put all this info on your Places page.  But it shouldn’t matter: most people look at your site at least briefly before becoming your customers.  To the extent you can make your site better and more informative, you’re more likely to get more local customers.

Can you think of any other “survival tips” for weathering unpredictable Google Places changes?  Leave a comment!

Google Places Disappearing Details

I thought I’d noticed all the changes to the Google Places layout yesterday, when Google rolled out the changes.  But I didn’t.

Susan Walsh of elsue.com has kindly pointed out to me that the “Additional Details” area is missing from all Google Places listings.  I thought something else seemed different…

This is a shame, because the “Details” section has always been a great way for businesses to tell customers facts about their business that maybe.  Maybe 2% of businesses abused this by “keyword-stuffing,” but I’d say about 98% of businesses didn’t fill it with junk (or didn’t use it at all).

But it will be interesting to see what—if anything—Google replaces the “Details” area with.  Businesses need a way to convey the odd-ball stuff to potential customers.

UPDATE:  The odd thing is that I’m still seeing the Details fields intact when signed into the “Edit” area of a Google Places listing.  Maybe these are on the way out, too…

Google Places Review Change: Test or Takeover?

If you’ve looked up any business in Google Places today, you’d have noticed two BIG changes to the layout.

One change screams at users to write a review through their Google account—and not through a third-party site like Yelp or InsiderPages.  The other change makes the reviews customers have written you through these other sites far less visible on your Google Places page.

Some more detail:

Change 1: Big Red Google Review Buttons

BIG buttons for customers to write reviews w/ their Google account s

Both of these buttons were there on the Places page before, but they were far less visible—appearing as small text links rather than as big, visible buttons.

It’s always been a little tricky for customers to write a review of a business through their Google accounts—especially if a business owner asks them to write a review but they don’t have a Google account set up yet and have to take the necessary detour to sign up for one.

For some time Google has been trying to get more of its users to write reviews.  It’s all part of an effort on Google’s part to make the Places Page “one-stop shopping” for customers to learn about local businesses—so that they don’t spend as much time reading reviews on other sites.  This is a step in the direction of making Google Places more self-contained, and not reliant on reviews written elsewhere.


Change 2: No More Review Excerpts from non-Google Sites

Gone are the review excerpts from other sites.  They don’t show up on your Places page any more.

Until today, you could have a total of 8 review excerpts showing up on your Google Places page: a maximum of 2 excerpts written by customers with Google accounts, and another 6 excerpts from reviews written on sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, etc.

Now your Google Places page can have a maximum of only TWO excerpts of reviews written by Google users:

New: no reviews excerpts from third-party review sites

Also, until today, all of your reviews would show up next to the little “average review stars.”  That is, if you had a bunch of reviews written by Google users and a bunch of reviews that customers wrote through other sites, all your reviews would show up as one grand-total number–one big happy family:

The other day, if you looked at the Circus Circus casino in the local search results, you’d see that it has over 47,000 (!) reviews, written by its patrons on all kinds of third-party sites.  Now all you see from the outside is “143 reviews”—the total number of reviews that Circus Circus patrons have written through their Google accounts:

New: total review numbers no longer include non-Google reviews

So Google is showcasing reviews written by Google users, and is paying far less attention to reviews written on sites like Yelp, CitySearch, and many others.

All this could be another one of Google’s tests.  But if these changes are at least semi-permanent, they represent the latest step in Google’s effort to make itself the “one-stop shop” for information about local businesses—including the customer reviews that used to be the domain of other, non-Google sites.

By the way, I just noticed that Mike Blumenthal and Chris Piepho noticed this change a couple of hours ago.  Credit to those guys for putting some great thoughts on paper regarding these changes.

I could blab on and on about the implications of this change–and I probably will in a subsequent post!—but I’d love to hear your thoughts on this change.

3-Pack Local Results in Google Places?

It’s probably a short-lived test by Google–but earlier this fine Wednesday evening if you typed in just about any local search term, you’d see only 3 results displayed on the 1st page of Google Places.

Not 10 local businesses, not 7 businesses.  3.

We’ve seen “3-pack” local business results before, but only for less-competitive or slightly uncommon searches–like if you searched locally for “cobbler” or “taxidermist.”  Or we’d see a 3-pack for local searches in less-populated towns, where there maybe are only 3 nearby car mechanics, not 7+.

But earlier today you’d only see 3 businesses when you’d type in a term as ultra-competitive as “New York pizza”—terms that would normally return 7 local search results on the first page (with a whole lot more behind them, trying to scratch their way onto the 1st page):

This picture shows what I mean:

Will Google use "3-pack" local search results?

It’s a test, and probably a very quick one.  It may be on-again, off-again for a few days, for all I know.

But many times when Google tests something like this on a large scale–even if only a few hours–it’s only a few weeks or maybe a couple of months before it becomes the new standard everywhere.  The standards for local businesses may just get tougher.