Relationship between Local and Organic SEO: a Simple Diagram

Too few people realize that local SEO is mostly organic SEO plus a few other moving parts.  I (and others) have found that without also doing what it takes to rank well in Google’s “10 blue links” results, you won’t grab as much visibility for your business on the local map.

Local visibility isn’t a lovechild of a Google My Business page + local citations + “optimized” site (+ spamming when convenient).  Rather, it’s the result of a smart, labor-intensive organic SEO campaign with a couple of twists.

I’ve had to explain that concept enough that I thought it best just to whip up a graphic to show what I mean.  Here it is:

 

Basic explanation (very basic)

As you can probably tell, the idea I’m trying to get across is that your local rankings are hollow and fragile without that solid core of organic SEO work.

Having a website and local directory listings for a business with a keyword in its name is not a strategy.  Even if that low-effort approach seems to work, the rankings likely won’t last, and if they do, you still probably won’t rank for as many search terms as you otherwise could.

Google knows where your business is located and (probably) what you offer.  But how does Google know you’re any good?  In a semi-competitive market, Google will usually cherry-pick.  It does that, above all, by seeing how good your links are and how much good in-depth info you’ve got on your offerings.

Explanation of each “circle” and of some ranking factors

Most of the ranking factors in each circle should be clear, but a few I should explain a little.  While I’m at it, I should also define each of the 3 circles.

“Organic results” circle

Work on the things in the dark-blue, innermost circle and you’ll rank well, whether or not you’re a “local” business.

Organic results are often non-local.

But sometimes they show local businesses, and show different local businesses based on your location.

Now, a couple notes on a couple of the factors in the “Organic” circle:

Note on “Business name” factor: What your business is called has some influence on what search terms you rank for in the organic results.  But, sad to say, it’s even more of a factor in how you rank on the local map.

Now, an argument could be made that I should have “Business name” in all 3 circles, because it affects your rankings everywhere.  I’ve chosen not to do that.  For one thing, it’s messy.  Also, in my opinion you shouldn’t name your business differently just because at the moment it’s an inflated ranking factor in the Google Maps 3-pack.  To me, how you name your business is part of the core strategy.

Note on “User-behavior” factor: How searchers interact with your site – both when they see it in the search results and when they’re on it – seems to matter to Google.  “User-behavior” might include things like how many people click on you vs. on a competitor, what terms they typed in before clicking on you, and whether they hit the “back” button or dig deeper into your site.  In my experience, that can help your organic rankings.

But there’s also local user-behavior that may matter, like what customers’ mobile location-tracking data tells Google, lookups of driving directions, and which businesses in the 3-pack attract the most clicks.  Again, tough call as to which circle(s) to put “User-behavior” in, because it’s really common to all 3.

“Local-organic” results circle

Since 2012, Google has shown local-business results in the organic search results.  They’re mixed in with the other “10 blue links,” usually right below the local map.  Often businesses that rank in the map also rank in the localized organic results, and vice versa.

You’ll probably show up prominently in the local-organic results if you’ve got at least some of the factors from the “Organic results” circle going for you, and you happen to be a local business – with or without a Google My Business page or other local listings.

Note on “Rough location” factor: Google’s organic results aren’t as location-sensitive as the Maps results are.  Even if your business isn’t located in or very near your target city, as long as it’s in the vicinity, it should be at least possible to rank in the localized organic results.

“Maps results” circle

Also known as the 3-pack, or Google Places results.  You’ll only appear there if you’ve got a Google My Business page and – in markets that are even a little competitive – if you’ve also got the factors from the other two circles working in your favor.

Note on “Exact location” factor: Sometimes your Maps rankings depend on whether your business is 1 mile or 1/4 mile from your customer.  Location (of customer relative to business) is usually less of a factor if you’re really dialed-in on your organic SEO (that is, if you’ve got enough good links to suggest to Google that you’re a prominent or authoritative business).

Does my diagram make sense to you?

Is it clear what each ranking factor refers to?

Any questions or suggestions?

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!

Interview with Bryan Seely: Google Maps Spam Fighter and Ethical Hacker for the Little Guy

Try to guess which one of these things isn’t true of Bryan Seely:

  • Created fake Google Places pages for the FBI and Secret Service, listed phone numbers he controlled, intercepted their phone calls, and then turned himself in to the FBI to show them the security hole that Google left. (And he didn’t get shipped off to Guantanamo Bay!)
  • Spoke at TEDx about how easy it is to spam Google Maps, and how that hurts honest business owners and consumers.
  • Found a weak spot in LinkedIn that allowed him to get Mark Cuban’s personal email address – and then let Mark know, and helped LinkedIn fix the problem. (Mark was happy, too: he asked if Bryan could help with his Cyberdust)
  • Grew up in Japan and speaks Japanese.
  • Is a United States Marine.
  • Wants to be buried in a KISS Kasket.

Bryan’s crusade for Maps sanity and better cybersecurity has brought him some press.  He’s been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, CNN, Bloomberg, and elsewhere.

 

He’s the kind of guy who might just bring about the kind of change that’s bad for spammers but good for honest business owners.

As a concerned local-search geek myself, I’ve been following Bryan for a little over a year now – since he first started really poking Google in the eye.  We had a good phone call recently, and decided to expand it into a full-blown interview.

Enjoy!

How did you go from being a decent guy mixed up with with spammers to being a champion of “the little guy”?

I had lost my job while in Southern California and with a young family, it was a bit difficult to be unemployed suddenly. The company I was working for decided to close their California branch and without warning, income was zero.

I ended up working for a company that engaged in the “map spamming” yet when I joined that was not immediately clear.  Over time, it became apparent that I could not work in that industry anymore, and found myself working as a network engineer and systems engineer for a variety of companies up in Seattle.  I moved my family to get away from all of that and start a new life up in Washington.

Fast forward a couple of years, I decided I wanted to see how the local search world was coming along and started to poke around to see if the same Google Maps vulnerabilities were as prevalent.  I was kind of surprised to see that it was much worse than it was before.

The path at that point as not exactly clear, but I knew that I had to do something about it. I ended up writing up a variety of methods for building fake businesses online and sent them to Google. Their response, if you could call it that, was basic dismissal.  I created some funny maps listings to poke at Google a little bit, some of which were pretty funny in my opinion.  I contacted a local news station, Komo, and they ran a story about the entire spam problem.

Google still resisted the entire premise of the problem, and even after the whole “Wiretapping the Secret Service” incident, Google didn’t fix the underlying problems.

I translated the frustration of them refusing to acknowledge and fix the problem into what I have been working on for a year now. The recent TEDx talk, a book that is getting ready to come out, and as much attention as I can bring to this issue.

 

What’s some “ethical hacking” you’re doing now (and are at liberty to discuss)?

Currently, I have a few private clients that range from celebrities to corporations that value their privacy.  There have been a few stories that I can talk about that happened over the last year or two.

The one I enjoy the most was also fairly simple. Brian Krebs wrote about it in an article, where I was able to use Linkedin.com to validate the email addresses of individuals who use the Linkedin.com system.  I was able to get confirmation of the email address that Mark Cuban uses to login, and then I was able to get in touch with him to inform him of the vulnerability.

Mark’s immediate reaction was “what else can you do?” and he asked if I would be willing to work on his Cyberdust app. Since then, there have been a variety of projects in which disclosure would violate agreements, but if you would like to learn more about what I can disclose, visit seelysecurity.com.

 

You’ve been on Google’s radar (not to mention the Feds’) for about a year now.  How much progress would you say they’ve made?

Until a couple of weeks ago, I would have said 0.  When they shut down MapMaker, it was a huge victory for small business owners and consumers, being that MapMaker was a huge source of maps spam.

Hopefully, with the momentum that we have generated, we can get to the bottom of the problem and have Google see how big the problem is and decided to fix it.

 

Why hasn’t Google done more?

I think that they have an overall approach to technology and product development that involves using code, process and reduced overhead governing its development. Another main factor is that Google likes to “crowd-source” their information requirements, which require the public to contribute.

Google makes money in a variety of ways. Providing an amazing search engine, free email and other services that many people use, allows them to sell the end-users eyeballs to advertisers which generates huge money. MapMaker is failed crowd-sourcing experiment that was plagued by bad data and ultimately bad security restrictions to prevent bad data.

Google doesn’t want to have manual oversight over things, they want to implement code, algorithms, processes and procedures to govern their systems which I completely understand. The problem is that they did not do enough, and they didn’t seem to take suggestions from anyone outside of the organization.

 

What has to happen for Google to get serious about mapspam?

Google would have to find a way to verify the data that they are getting and ensure that it is actually legitimate, instead of trusting 100% of the users that are contributing to their system.

I identified many more solutions in my book, Exposing Maps Fraud, which comes out in the fall of 2015.

 

Could an algorithmic solution help?  Or does Google just need to require the type of owner-verification you’ve suggested?

I don’t think that it will be the right solution for this problem.  If Google is not comparing the data to local or federal business data, how will there ever be accountability?  The whole point of registering a business and getting a business license is for accountability and to protect consumers. When people bypass this process and register with Google, there is no way of holding them accountable, as Google doesn’t police or perform enforcement of any kind. Criminals are registering businesses on Google with no risk of being prosecuted, and Google’s stance has been “head in the sand.”

 

When you and I spoke the other day, you said the spam problem on Yelp isn’t nearly as bad as on Google (and I agree).  Why is that, and do you think Google needs to be more like Yelp in some way?

Yelp seems to have more people involved in the verification process right from the start, plus they don’t seem to partner with other directory services like Google does.  Google gets business information from a ton of other sources that have the same “bad data” and maps spam problems.  When they all end up sharing this data, the problem compounds.

Yelp doesn’t seem to just accept data from these other websites blindly, and I think that is a big reason why their service by comparison is virtually spam free.

 

What is the absolute lowest thing you’ve seen a mapspammer do?

I have heard of a few guys that would make keys for unsuspecting homeowners and then rob them when the homeowners weren’t home weeks or months later.

There are so many different “lowest” things, but the harshest thing I can think of is that these criminals organizations are so good at manipulating Google’s ranking system that they put small business owners out of business to where they can’t even support their family.  The American dream of working hard, building up a client base and providing for your family is being taken from thousands of small business owners all over the country.  I think that is easily the lowest thing I can think of.

 

What’s an industry that’s way spammier than most people realize?  (We all know about the infamous trouble areas, like the locksmith space, plumbing, bail bonds, etc.)

Garage door repair is one that was surprising, but the one that didn’t make sense at first was Drug and Alcohol treatment centers. The ones that you end up seeing on Google Maps are not actually real call centers or clinics, but sell the calls to larger organizations who don’t care where they get the calls from.

 

How many of the hardcore spammers are behind businesses that basically do a good job for customers – and aren’t really offline thieves?

I would say that 95% of the spammers build these fake listings, and sell the calls to legitimate business owners or provide a decent service.  When violent crime starts happening, the lifespam of the spammers go way down.  It’s easier to not draw any attention to their fake network by performing a good service. If the consumer gets the service with no hiccups, then no one suspects anything is wrong. That’s how most of these organizations have stayed under the radar for so long.

 

How much of the really bad mapspam seems to be from for-hire SEO companies?

I think that these for-hire SEO companies make up 50% or so of the players at the lower levels. The largest organizations are not running a legitimate SEO operations at all.

Like I said before, map spammers try to stay covert and under the radar otherwise they risk losing their fake listings or getting prosecuted.

 

Besides Google, who has really dropped the ball?

WhitePages, SuperPages and Dex Media are practically all spam. Those directories are more spam than actual businesses.

As to what the government and other organizations can do, I detailed a lot of that in the book.

 

I’ve always found that businesses outside the US are a little less likely to spam, but if they do, Google doesn’t crack down on them as much.  How would you describe the mapspam problem outside of ‘Murica?

Its very similar, but not as prevalent. Other countries have different regulations and business processes so trying to evaluate and learn all the laws of 200+ countries becomes very time prohibitive.

 

What are a couple of specific businesses you admire that are kicking spammy competitors’ butts from the high road?

One of the people that has been in this fight for a long time is Dan Austin. The problem with fighting spam is that there isn’t any money in fighting the spam. There are plenty of locksmiths that have been fighting against the spammers, Mark Baldino being one, but overall, it’s hard to beat these guys with Google taking their own side and doing virtually nothing.

 

You’ve talked about how spammers would buy fake Google reviews by the thousands.  Has that situation improved at all, and what should Google do to clean up its reviews?

Most spammers are posting their own reviews using the same infrastructure they have for building the fake businesses. Some of them hire people overseas for a much cheaper hourly rate, or just pay local people to do the work. Most of the time, spammers realize they can get away with writing very lazy and sloppy reviews because the amount of time it takes to put effort into real looking reviews is quite high.  It’s not that hard to write a 4 word review that says “Service was great, thanks!” vs a paragraph with sincere words.

 

Are those “reviews” obvious fakes, or are they pretty believable to the untrained eye?

Most of the time, fake reviews are very easy to spot. The easiest way to spot fakes is by looking at all the reviews on a specific business. If you see 10 five star reviews that are very vague or similar, and then several 1 star reviews that are much more detailed, you have probably found a map spammer. Real consumers will feel lied to and will often times leave a 1 star review to show that they are dissatisfied with the service.  When the fake business performs well, there won’t be many bad reviews at all, so that makes them harder to spot.

(Phil note: read this great old post by Nyagoslav on how to sniff out fake reviews.)

 

What’s your reviews-strategy advice?

Make a point of asking politely for a positive review at a specific point once the service has been rendered. Provide a great service, and tell them that you value their reviews and it will help fight against the fake spammers.

Telling consumers that this problem exists and that you are fighting against it helps to get the appropriate willingness to help.

There are many rules when it comes to asking for reviews / offering discounts in exchange for them. I would encourage business owners to understand them and follow them.

 

What’s your advice to business owners who are up against spammers?  What steps should they take?

Get organized, and find time every single day to flag the spammers, but only after you have determined that they are not legitimate. Checking with local / state directories to make sure that you are flagging illegal businesses is critical.

You wouldn’t want to flag a real business just because you think they might be spam.

I will be launching a service that helps business owners with this process, and saves them the time of flagging and checking whether or not the business is legitimate.

 

How about your advice to local SEOs?’

Don’t fall for the temptation of resorting to black hat or grey hat techniques to get ahead.  The stress on me built and built and nearly cost me everything.

Do good work, beat the streets and deliver results. Read more about the products you are working with, learn the techniques you need and apply them without taking shortcuts.  Eventually “karma” catches up to everyone, and I would encourage everyone to abide by the rules.

I was a part of the problem in one industry and now I get to fight against it in all of them. I will not turn a blind eye when I see someone being taken advantage of.

 

What kind of simple due-diligence should consumers do every time they’re researching local businesses?

You should be able to look up the business name, DBA name, and key business information in a state business license search when trying to ascertain the legitimacy of a business.  This is the first place to look.

Check to see if the business actually exists at the location it proclaims to be at.

Remember, sometimes there are typos or a business has a trade name or other things that might look fraudulent, but it could just be a mistake. You don’t want to take down a real business owner’s livelihood because you are angry. The cycle has to end.

 

How can someone reading this join the fight against mapspam?

Join my mailing list at seelysecurity.com to receive information about how you can fight against map spam, and follow me on Twitter @bryanthemapsguy

 

What are some posts / books / other resources that anyone concerned about mapspam should read?

My TEDx talk “Wiretapping The Secret Service Can Be Easy & Fun”

The first Komo story I was part of (link).

Stay tuned for the only book on the subject, coming out soon.

 

I know you do do a lot of cybersecurity consulting that has nothing to do with mapspam.  What’s some cybersecurity advice you have for anyone reading this?

Passwords!  You don’t have to make them hard to remember, just make them as long as possible. For example:  P@ssw0rd!%123     that is a hard to type password, and hard to remember. This one is harder to break, but easier to remember:  Mydogcannotplaytheharmonicaworthadamn!123   You can use phrases instead of keywords, and computers are trained to substitute numbers and symbols for letters when cracking passwords. The longer the password is, the harder it is to crack.

Use 2-factor authentication on Gmail, Dropbox, or whatever services that you use online. Period.

Don’t shop online or do banking on public wi-fi, like at Starbucks. Just don’t.

Change passwords on your home devices like you would change your oil, regularly.

Update your antivirus software and don’t download stuff from people you don’t know. That’s the 2015 version of “don’t take candy from strangers.”

Most of the places you are getting malware and spyware come from websites that are the result of searching for pirated software, pornography, or “earning money working from home,” etc. These websites try to lure you into downloading their “coupon printer” or money saving toolbar which ends up being a virus or something.  Word to the wise: stick to the main road.

 

You’ve mentioned that you’re concerned about people’s online privacy (or lack thereof) in general.  What battles are you fighting on that front?

Right now, a couple of startups that are in the early stages of product development that will be hyper focused on consumer privacy and advocacy.

 

Tell me about the book you’ve got coming out.

The book details the entire ecosystem of fraud and scamming that is happening in the online maps world. Google Maps, Bing, Yelp, and the various other websites that you use to find local businesses are not the convenience and safe havens for innovation that most people see them as.

Spammers have found numerous ways to game the system and make a ton of money in the process. They are taking advantage of consumers, business owners and no one is really doing anything about it. I talked about it in the TEDx talk back in April, and the book will address all of the various pieces, how it works, and even detail HOW the scammers are doing it.

The hope is that Google and other websites will have to take action to fix this once and for all, and consumers and business owners will stop losing money, time, and their livelihoods.

 

As a Devil Dog, you support your fellow Marines and veterans.  What’s the best way for someone reading this to help out?

To help with Marines and other veterans, There are a number of places I would suggest donating your time and/or money:

The Wounded Warrior Project (woundedwarriorproject.org)

Donate your time to the VA (volunteer.va.gov)

(Phil note: there’s also my Visibility for Veterans program.)

 

Can someone reading this hire you to help in any way?

I am available to be contacted via email (bryan@seelysecurity.com) or you can fill out a contact form on seelysecurity.com.

My main business focus is cyber-security consulting, which involves “ethical hacking”, PCI and compliance auditing, as well as doing infrastructure and project based work as well.  I have been a high end voice over IP (VoIP) guy for a while, as well as a network engineer and consultant for a while, so whether its deploying something new, upgrades, or troubleshooting, I am pretty comfortable with just about anything you can throw at me.

Lately I have been getting a wide variety of work, especially “I have been hacked, can you help” type stories.  People see me on TMZ or other outlets and reach out with questions, and I am more than happy to answer.

By the way, on June 24th I will be teaching a cyber-security workshop at the Global Fund Forum in Bermuda. Feel free to connect with me there, if you’re planning some shore leave in Bermuda 🙂

Thanks to Bryan for a great interview.  I suggest checking out his site, getting on his email list, and following him on Twitter.

He can even make you a snazzy “Edward’s Snow Den” t-shirt.

Any questions?  Got a painful mapspam story?  Leave a comment!

User Behavior Affects Local Rankings. Now What?

First, go check out Darren’s slides.  After you pick up your jaw, come back here.  The two presentations were an unofficial duo that kicked off the Local track at State of Search 2014.

Want to know how to get higher click-through from the Places results, and how to encourage other actions that Google may care about (like getting customers to look up driving directions)?  Enjoy!

 

Huge thanks to Greg, Mike Stewart, and to everyone else who made State of Search great.  You should go in 2015.  You’ll love it – especially if you’re serious about local search.

Questions about my slides?  Leave a comment!

5-Star Review Ratings Return to Google+ Local Pages

Look at any business’s Google local listing.  Notice anything…different?

That’s right.  Google has returned to showing businesses’ average review ratings on a 5-star scale.

Didn’t happen a moment too soon.  When Google Places became “Google+ Local” in May of 2012, businesses and customers everywhere were confused by Google’s annoying 30-point “Zagat” system of rating businesses.

We’ve known for a little while that Google was about to take the “Zagat” system out to the pasture.

As Mike Blumenthal first noted back in May, when the “new” Google Maps rolled out and you used it to navigate to a Google+ Local page, you’d see its average ratings on a 5-star scale.

What’s different is that now you can see the 5-point ratings outside of the “new” Google Maps.  In other words, Google has finally rolled it out completely.

You don’t have to be logged into your Google account to see the average rating.  If you’re the business owner, you don’t need to have an “upgraded” Google listing in order to have your stars show up.

It seems to have rolled out to countries other than the US, too.

Your average rating shows up on your page only if you have 5 or more reviews – same as before.

5-reviews-average

The only trouble is that, at least temporarily, Google’s reviews system will look a little disjointed.  The 5 stars haven’t returned to every area where Google reviews are shown.

Even though the Zagat scale is no longer showing up when you search from the “Local” tab when logged in at plus.google.com…

…it’s still showing up in the “old” Google Maps and in the Google+ Local search results:

I’m sure Google will return the 5 stars to the search results soon enough.  The fact that they’ve returned to the business pages themselves is a good sign, IMHO.

What do you think?

Doesn’t it feel at least a little bit like an epic return – like when Odysseus came home after 20 years?

Andrew Shotland Talks Apple Maps Marketing

Andrew Shotland talks Apple MapsHow should Apple Maps fit into your plan to get visible to more customers in local search?

Read on and you’ll get some answers from Andrew Shotland – the guy behind Local SEO Guide and the Apple Maps marketing expert.

I had a great talk with Andrew about aMaps earlier this month at SMX West, where he did a great presentation on our “Local” panel.

I’d had some aMaps-related questions floating in my head for some time.

So naturally, I informed him that 10 unicorns would die unless he answered all of my questions in a full-blown interview.

He said, “Let the unicorns go.  It’s my knowledge of Apple Maps you want.”

Phil:  Apple Maps has kind of sucked so far.  Why should anyone use it now – as opposed to using it only once it’s improved and matured?

Andrew:  I have heard a lot of horror stories, but lately I haven’t found it to be too bad.  I find myself switching between it and the Google Maps app all of the time.  They both have their pluses and minuses.  The case for using Apple Maps now is that if you are on iOS 6.0 or above, you are going to use them whether you think they suck or not.  Apple Maps is the default mapping application for pretty much any location-based iOS app.  I think there are a few hundred thousand of those.  And there are a few hundred million people who have access to them.

 

Phil:  Eventually Apple will get good and more-complete local maps data.  Then what happens?

Andrew:  Any maps service will never be complete, but you’re right.  Maps are too important to the mobile/digital world for Apple to not get them at least 75% right.  I think it’s inevitable that at some point Apple launches its own version of a dashboard where businesses can claim and manage their listings.  That said, Apple’s top priority seems to be consumers – remember, Apple’s primary business model is to sell things to you, not to sell you to advertisers – so I think they are going to spend most of their effort making Apple Maps as useful as possible and will likely skimp on the b2b features.  Sounds familiar right?  So as for what happens – expect plenty of bitching and moaning by guys like me about how Apple doesn’t care about small businesses.  And expect a lot of glitches like we are seeing with Google+ Local.  So expect a lot of opportunity for guys like me and you to help those poor souls who rely on these mapping systems to get found by potential customers.

 

Phil:  What promise or potential do you think Apple Maps holds that Google+Local doesn’t?

Andrew:  The big difference I am anticipating is that Google+ Local will be a more closed system in that it will be designed to promote use of Google+ Local.  When I think about what Apple Maps could become, the first thing that comes to mind is that it’s in Apple’s interest to promote using of iOS not Ping (remember that turkey?).  This means that Apple Maps could become “app aware,” meaning that the map app would know what other apps you use and when using the map, could pull in info from Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  That would be kind of cool.  And Apple Maps is a much better name than Google+ Local, don’t you think?

[Umm, yeah.  The name “Google+Local” is up there with the jump to conclusions mat.]

 

Phil:  Do you think Apple will force Google to get its “local” act together over time – out of competitive pressure?

Andrew:  Per my general skepticism of businesses being a high priority for Apple Maps, I don’t see Apple forcing Google to get its act together any time soon.  Apple will force Google to continually iterate on the consumer side of things which will be great, but again businesses will probably be pushed to the back of the bus.

 

Phil:  How do you think Apple will try to monetize Maps (other than indirectly, by maybe giving people fewer reasons to get Android phones)?

Andrew:  If we take the “What would Steve Do?” approach, ads suck.  The last thing the Apple Maps guys want is an ad on their beautiful creation.  And I think for now there’s enough profit in the iOS ecosystem to treat Apple Maps as a cost-center that supports everything else.  Offers/coupons seems like it could be a user-benefit thing that could pop-up in the Maps, but if I were an Apple engineer, I probably would make it a very obvious opt-in feature.  Though it would be cool if Siri could tell you when you’re driving by a Jack in The Box that she has a deal on a Big Mess.

 

Phil:  The business listings in Apple Maps are really sparse; not much on the page.  Do you think it will stay that way?

Andrew:  At some point businesses will get to control what goes into these listings and they will contain more data like offers, videos, etc, but I expect the design to remain very Jony Ivesian, whatever that means.

A "Jony Ivesian" Apple Maps local business listing

Phil:  Yelp reviews are a huge factor in Apple’s local rankings, as you know.  What strategy (if any) should business owners follow for scaring up Yelp reviews?

Andrew:  You are the master of that one Phil.  Just add a link to your how to get reviews infographic 🙂  The important thing to keep in mind is that your Apple Maps profile shows the most recent three Yelp reviews, so make sure the last three customers left with a smile.

 

Phil:  To what extent does Apple Maps dovetail with the enterprise SEO work you do?

Andrew:  Since I launched AppleMapsMarketing.com, I have received a lot of requests for help from all over the world to fix bad/missing data issues for multi-location businesses as well as single-locations.  A lot of agencies have contacted me because they are starting to see demand from their clients and they don’t know what to do. I recently got contacted by a big Dunkin Donuts chain in South America.  Unfortunately I couldn’t help them, because Apple Maps doesn’t show business listings in the countries they are in.  I am keeping a list of those countries at Countries Where Apple Maps is Closed For Business – it’s pretty sparse now, but I add to it as I have time to research.

 

Phil:  How has your opinion of Apple Maps changed since it was released?

Andrew:  It hasn’t really.  Ultimately it’s irrelevant how good the service is in the short term.  In the long term, I expect Apple Maps to be either the #1 or #2 most important service in local search.  That’s why I am spending time figuring it out now.

 

Phil:  What should the “little guy” be doing now, in terms of paying attention to Apple Maps?  How about bigger businesses?

Andrew:  These posts contain most of what you need to know at the moment.  I update them as I figure out new stuff, but if readers figure out anything new, I invite them to share it in the comments and we’ll throw you a nice fat juicy link as a thank-you:

How to Add Your Business Listing To Apple Maps

Apple Maps Business Listings Data Suppliers by Country

The Unofficial Apple Maps FAQ for Businesses

 

Phil:  Do you think Apple Maps has – or should have – any bearing on what a business owner’s overall local SEO strategy should be? In other words, is it a game-changer, or simply a big piece in the local-visibility puzzle?

Andrew:  The puzzle thing.  I wouldn’t spend much time thinking about Apple Maps SEO at the moment. The fact that the primary interface is a mobile map that presents listings based on your precise location means that traditional rankings are not as relevant.  You need to think about categorization and make sure your data is correct, but at the moment there’s not a lot you can do to get to #1 for whatever search besides have a lot of 5-star Yelp reviews.

 

 

Phil:  Aside from the fact that it’s Apple, why do you like writing about Apple Maps?  For that matter, what do you like about Apple Maps itself so far?

Andrew:  As you can tell from my other blog, Local SEO Guide, I got pretty bored writing about Google.  There are plenty of other smart people getting into the minutiae of Google+ Local – Mike Blumenthal, Linda Buquet, Mike Ramsey, Nyagoslav Zhekov, to name but a few.  The reason I started Local SEO Guide was because at the time, nobody was talking about local SEO and I thought I had some things of interest to talk about.  I started Apple Maps Marketing for the same reason.

As far as what I like about Apple Maps so far – it has helped me illustrate to clients how investing a little bit of effort into writing quality content and promoting it can get you ranked on page one of Google for what is likely one of the most competitive keywords on the planet.  I doubt many people are actively optimizing to rank for “Apple Maps”, but given how many news stories there are from major and minor media, I am still amazed that about half the time my blog with my stinking avatar shows up on page one.

 

Phil:  What are some tests you’re currently running?

Andrew:  Right now I am trying to determine the fastest way to get an update into Apple Maps.

 

Phil:  If Steve Jobs could descend from the misty ether and answer any 3 questions you had about Maps, what would you ask him?

Andrew:

– Did you really die or did you actually upload your consciousness into iCloud?
– Do you now agree that Walter Isaacson was the wrong guy?
– What did you think of the tap dancing kid at the Samsung Galaxy 4 extravaganza?

Did you really think I was going to use my precious time with afterlife Steve talking about mapping?

 

Phil:  Apple Maps in 2018.  What it’s like?

Andrew:  Chip…in…Head…Full on LTE to the brain with turn-by-turn navigation voices in your head.  Updates may cause headaches, eye strain and leakage of clear fluid from the nostrils.  If SIRI keeps telling you to “turn in 500 feet” for more than four hours straight, consult your technician.

Thanks, Andrew!

Any questions or thoughts?  Go ahead…leave a comment.

 

Google MapMaker 101 for Local Business Owners

Google MapMaker is like the NSA: Many people know it exists or at least have heard of it in passing.  But few know much about it or what goes on there.

MapMaker is one head of a two-headed monster.  It’s oddly intertwined with the Google+Local (AKA Google Places) search results.  The accuracy of much of the “local” info about cities and businesses depends on thousands and millions of little changes that people make to Google’s maps.  Many of those changes are made in MapMaker.

These little changes can determine whether your business is listed accurately in Google.  Ultimately, they can determine how visible your business is in the Google+Local search results.  That’s why you should care about MapMaker – or at least know a little bit about it.

MapMaker won’t help you win the potato-sack race with your local competitors.  But knowing about how it works can help you avoid a faceplant that can cause you to lose that race.

The only trouble is that practical, real-world info on MapMaker is hard to come by.  It doesn’t get much attention even in local-SEO circles.

Because of that and simply out of my curiosity, I decided to interview two people who know a lot about MapMaker: Andrew Sawyer and Saikrishna Arcot.

These guys are “Regional Expert Reviewers.”  Also known as “RER’s” or “editors” or “reviewers,” they’re among the people who volunteer their time to make the endless number of changes to Google’s maps – and to the local-business info in them.

I did my best Mike Wallace, and they did a phenomenal job of answering my questions and providing a TON of insights.

To get the inside scoop on how MapMaker affects your business’s visibility in Google+Local and what you can and cannot do with it, read the interview.  You’ll want to pull up a chair for this one.

How would you describe MM to someone who’s never heard of it before?

Andrew:  MM is a way for people to provide their local knowledge to update physical features in Google Maps. This takes the form of parks, roads, shopping malls, rivers, etc. MM is the public editable version of Google Maps that is incorporated to provide accurate and up-to-date information from users.

Saikrishna: Map Maker is a tool for users to either correct incorrect features (roads, business listings, parks, schools, shopping centers, etc.) or to add new roads or features that they may not own.

 

Under what circumstances would a business owner EVER need to deal with MM personally?  To what extent should a business owner care about what goes on there?

Andrew:  Business owners should take care in using MM, especially if they are looking to use it to gain an edge on their competition. MM should be used by those who feel comfortable using it to make accurate edits that affect physical features. Some reasons a business owner would want to use MM:

Providing an accurate address – Places/Community Edits will abbreviate addresses which is not the format desired for Maps. MM feeds/edits the addresses, road names, cities, states, countries for Maps (some of these are locked from editing). While abbreviations may be rendered on the map, the full name is used and required for addresses.

If there is an issue with an address, a new geolocated point for the address can be manually entered via MM. By adding a point feature in MM with the category “Address” can be used with just the street address (no names of features) to help set where a particular address is. If an address is already present, but uses abbreviate names “Rd.” the full name of the street name/state/etc. should be selected from the drop down when editing to help locate the place.

Checking on the history/troubleshooting their businesses’ feature – Most edits, even those from Community Edits and Google editors, will typically show up allowing any user to view if a feature had anything which would cause issues with bots or other automated edits. Some things that can affect a feature are duplicates/merges, improper name change and/or hijacking another business feature, changing a professional listing (person) to a business feature,  issues finding when and/or who made a change to the feature. The Places/G+L cid# it can be used to find the MM feature associated with the one in their dashboard.

Adding/editing physical features nearby the business – By watching the MM YouTube videos, reading some MM Help Center articles and asking for help in the MM forum you can quickly gain the knowledge to make edits that will provide more detail about the area surrounding a business. Some features that can be added are parking lots, shopping centers, buildings, access roads, paths, etc. Many businesses are located in a shopping center/strip mall/etc. and if the shopping center is added to the map with a boundary drawn on the map features will be associated with the shopping center in Maps. When a business owner isn’t comfortable making an edit, they can always seek out experienced MM users to help/make the necessary changes.

Saikrishna: Business owners should generally stick to Places, since they have a lot of control over their place in Places. In most cases, the only reason a business owner would absolutely need to go to Map Maker is possibly to delete incorrect names that are showing up in Google+ Local.  However, in some cases, if their business disappears from either Places or Google+ Local, they may need to go to either the Places forums or the Map Maker forums or to their feature in Map Maker to find out why their business might have disappeared. If there are sudden changes between what they had and what is there now, or if what they see in their Places dashboard is significantly different from what they see in their Google+ Local page, then they might want to go to their Map Maker feature to see recent edits made.

That being said, there are a couple of features that are in Map Maker, but may or may not be in Places. One of these is the ability to associate their feature with a building. If the business is located inside a building, and the building is mapped in Map Maker, then they can edit their feature to indicate that their business is located in a building. If the building isn’t mapped, they can draw a new building, and after that is approved, link their feature to the building. Currently, this will have no effect in Places or Google+ Local, but I’m hoping that one day, we’ll be able to tell the businesses that are in a specific building.

Some business owners may see in Google+ Local that their addresses were changed to expand all abbreviations and have the suite number (if applicable) places at the start of the address instead of right after the street name. The reasoning for this is that Map Maker has defined data fields for the address line (where the suite number goes), street name, city, state, and zip code, and Places doesn’t follow this format. In addition, when editing, Places / Google+ Local abbreviates where possible, whereas the data (street name, state name, etc.) is not abbreviated. In order to follow this format, the addresses are changed in Map Maker to match existing data.

[Phil: If you’ve wondered why the address that you see when you visit your business’s Google+Local page doesn’t look like it has the same formatting as what you entered in the “Street Address” field(s) of your Google Places dashboard, the above answer explains why.]

 

For whom or what is MM most useful? 

Andrew: MM is most useful for addressing/routing in Maps; changes in MM will eventually affect Maps (this ranges from days to weeks depending on the type of edit and the different iterations of Google the change impacts)

MM is also most useful for making changes to one’s local area to convey the most accurate information; marking a business as closed, adding a new name for a street (or part of one), correcting the location of a business to its front door, etc.

Saikrishna: In my opinion, Map Maker is most useful for general Maps users who have some spare time on their hands, who are fairly familiar with a region, and who are willing to improve features in that region.

In addition to end-users, Google Trusted Photographers also use Map Maker either to add a business that is not already on Maps or to correct information about a business in preparation for a photography tour for the business.

 

Other than editors and people trying to spam Google, who uses MM?  Tell me a little bit about the typical end-user.

Andrew: MM is typically used by people who have a love for maps (Geo majors, Scouts, backpackers), people who rely on maps for their job (public safety personnel, truckers, taxi drivers) and technically inclined people who want to see their “home area” properly mapped in Google

Saikrishna: From what I see, the typical end-user are those who want to make a few changes to businesses here or there.

[Phil: Hey, maybe you could make it onto this list.]

 

Can people also use it to create “personal maps?

Andrew: MM should never be used to make personal maps, that should be limited to “My places” in Google Maps.

Saikrishna: Actually, if users want to create a map that only relates to them, but is not for anyone else, or the feature they are adding is personal or private, they will need to use My Places in Google Maps instead.

 

What type of person generally becomes a “trusted” (AKA “Regional”) MM editor?  What does it take to become one?

Andrew: Regional Expert Reviewers, those with enhanced publishing powers for Review (not edits), are typically selected from the most active editors using MM, in the forum and demonstrate a commitment to reviewing/mapping in accordance with MM guidelines.

Saikrishna: A trusted Map Maker editor should be familiar with Map Maker guidelines and know how to do things in Map Maker. He/she should also be familiar with his/her area enough to be able to review other people’s edits.

 

Has someone ever hired you specifically for your help in fixing a MM problem?

Andrew: No, as a MM user and RER I feel a personal obligation to help people map in a way that improves the map and is in accordance with Google’s policies. While I already have helped many people on the MM, Google for Business and other forums fix problems for free, I am available for consultation.

Saikrishna: No (unless you count those asking for help on how to do something in the forums).

 

How do MM problems usually come to your attention?

Andrew: I learn of “Problems,” which I define as bad data, from my own personal use of Google Maps and MM, friends who tell me they can’t find an address/business or that it’s mislocated, the MM forum, the Google for Business (“Places”) forum, the Local Search Forum, and news articles.

Saikrishna: Mainly through both forums and Map Maker itself. I typically edit businesses in my area and sometimes find problems with features.

 

What kinds of local search -related problems have their roots in MM?

Andrew: Merges and/or duplicates.  This is one of the big offenders I see with business owners claiming a feature thinking it is “Dentistry Unlimited” because that’s what the primary name on Maps said it was, or marking that feature as a duplicate of the existing “Dentistry Unlimited” feature associated with a claimed feature in Places. Google allows dentists to have ‘Professional Listings’ as a way for people to locate the doctor directly instead of the business; unfortunately people or bots will place the business name in the name of the feature instead of the person’s name which sometimes will be modified in a manner that conflates the professional listing with a business listing.

Because name changes to businesses, etc. require closing a feature and creating a new one, bots will mistakenly add information to what should be a professional listing but has been claimed by someone representing a dental practice. This is especially problematic when someone retires and another professional comes into the same practice and the same professional listing is used. Business owners and others should take the time to check a feature’s history in MM to go all the way to the beginning to see if it was improperly renamed or marked as a duplicate in a manner that would present problems with bots.

Saikrishna: If their business is not appearing in the search suggestions, it may be that the business has been marked as a duplicate of another feature or marked as closed. However, this could be attributed either to Map Maker or to Places, as a bot there may have marked a business as a duplicate of another.

If their business is not appearing in Maps at all, then it could be that their business was removed, either from Places or Map Maker.

 

What checks can a business owner perform in MM to tell whether there’s a problem that affects his/her business?

Andrew: See earlier comments [answer to question #2].

Saikrishna: A business owner could check to see if there have been major changes to their feature (if their feature is removed, marked as closed, or marked as a duplicate of another feature). These three changes could be an indication that their place may no longer be searchable in Google Maps. If their feature is removed, it may be because the feature was in violation of Places guidelines. If their feature is marked as a duplicate, or if your feature is not appearing at all in Maps, then I would recommend going to either the Map Maker forums or the Places forums.

 

If a business owner has concluded that his/her business has a problem in MM, what course of action would you suggest for that person?

Andrew: Business owners should only turn to MM when using the Places Dashboard is ineffective or MM is better at accomplishing the desired result (in accordance with Places and MM guidelines).

For business owners wishing to use MM, the best course of action is to start their own thread in the MM forum, including the city/state/country in the subject line. They should describe their issue in a factual manner (avoiding blame accusations, etc) and being straightforward about their business and the feature.

The MM forum is largely user-to-user, and more experienced users like myself only have a certain amount of time and energy to contribute. If someone is being belligerent and/or shady they are likely going to not receive as much assistance as if they were honest and forthcoming. I have helped give people advice on how to bring their non-compliant features into compliance because they were able to provide me the information I needed to give them proper advice. Others, I just moved onto the next person and/or just reported their feature to Google for internal review.

Saikrishna: If it’s a simple change (incorrect address number, incorrect marker location, etc.), and their Places Dashboard is correct, then editing in Map Maker would probably be fine. If it is more complex (missing in search results, marked as a duplicate, etc.), then I would recommend going to either the Map Maker forum or the Places forum.

 

The rest of Google’s maps / local search system is notoriously full of problems.  What are the big problems in MM?

Andrew: Bots making edits that combine information from a variety of places into one feature and/or merging features incorrectly. This is predominant on college campuses with the main college feature having the names and phone numbers of departments and organizations added to the main feature.

Saikrishna: Some of the problems in Map Maker (which is also shared in Places) is that a feature may be marked as a duplicate of another feature by either a Places bot or a Map Maker bot when it’s really not, possibly because of similar names or similar phone numbers. This causes the “duplicate” feature to eventually disappear from Maps, and a new feature may have to be created.

 

What are some common shenanigans that some people – particularly business owners or marketers/SEOs – try to pull in MM?

Andrew:

  • Hijacking features of competitors and changing the name or phone number to their own/someone else.
  • Having multiple features at different addresses for one business.
  • Using a UPS store, USPS post office, Private Mailbox location, or Virtual/Rented Office location like Regis as their physical address.  [Be sure to review the list of acceptable locations in MapMaker.]
  • Trying to game the system by making edits/reviews in MM to build trust within MM to gain an advantage. Power users and other experienced editors usually spot these pretty easily and report them to Google. Such schemes usually result in someone having their trust level manually reset by Google or their account suspended/deactivated.

Saikrishna: While this isn’t specific to Map Maker, one fairly common shenanigan is having too many categories. Some businesses type in categories that are not among Google’s list of categories. Some businesses also have the name of the city as part of a category, which isn’t allowed. There are very few cases in which a business should have a category that’s not already included in Google’s list of categories.

Another shenanigan I occasionally see is business owners not entering the proper name of their business in the name field. For example, instead of entering “Remax,” they enter “Best Real Estate Office.” This is not allowed, and may lead to problems down the line in regards to their visibility in Map Maker.

Another “attempted” shenanigan I see is people entering information about the business in the Description box in Map Maker. They may believe that the description they enter will be visible in the Google+ Local page; however, the description box is essentially notes that don’t go anywhere. The description that is in Google+ Local can only be edited in the Places Dashboard.

 

What do you think the average business owner should do with MM?

Andrew: Learn how to use MM before jumping in with both feet; reading the Help Center articles, watching the YouTube videos for MM and reading the forums is a great place to start. Use MM only to accurately fix issues that cannot be done via their own Dashbord or Community Edits (address, name types, or others).

Saikrishna: They can keep an eye on their Map Maker feature to make sure that there are no major changes that are incorrect. If there are any incorrect changes, some of them may be easy to fix, while the others may or may not be able to be fixed.

 

What do you like most about MM?

Andrew: I like the ability to make changes that update Google Maps allowing its users to get directions, locate a business or discover what is around them more efficiently and effectively. As an RER, I also enjoy the ability, to quickly push through edits in order to keep Maps up-to-date as possible.

Saikrishna: I like the idea of Map Maker itself, that the common man can help in making a better map for their neighborhood, either by adding new roads or adding a new store that’s recently opened.

 

How do you see MM evolving in the future?  (Pure speculation is OK!)

Andrew: In the future I see Trusted Reviewer being added for smaller areas (cities, college campuses) to people in those communities such as planning officials, police dispatchers, etc. who demonstrate proficiency in MM to have better control over correcting inaccurate or abusive edits. Currently most RERs have enhanced publishing powers for reviews on a country-wide basis.

 

Any other comments you’d like to add?

Andrew: Android users should go sign up for Ingress, which is currently in beta. It reportedly is a fun game and will help improve Google Maps!

About the MapMaker Experts:

Andrew Sawyer

Google+

MapMaker Regional Editor profile

Saikrishna Arcot

Google+

MapMaker Regional Editor profile

 

MapMaker resources referred to in the interview:

YouTube channel

Forum

Help Center

 

Great posts on MapMaker:

Interview with Dan Austin, a Google Maps Spam Fighter – Nyagoslav Zhekov

Google +Local NAP Info Pulling From Mapmaker (not Places?) – David Mihm

A Step By Step To Recover Your “We Currently Do Not Support This” Location in MapMaker – Mike Blumenthal

What Should Your Business Listing Categories Be in MapMaker – Mike Blumenthal

Google+ Local vs. Map Maker. Is Your Business Eligible? – Nyagoslav Zhekov

MapMaker Bots and What They Do – Mike Blumenthal

Any questions for Andrew or Saikrishna (or me)?  How about a great big thank you to these guys for taking the time to share some insights?  Leave a comment!

Is Google Maps Piggybacking off of Yelp (Again)?

I just saw something I’ve never seen: an organic search result for a business listed on Yelp.com, with a gray Google Map pin as part of the search result.

Take a look at this:

That was when I typed in that business from my crib in North Attleboro, MA.  I cleared my browser cache and then changed the search location to Chicago, and what I saw was even more striking:

So, no, it wasn’t an accident: the “blended” Google local search result had the gray map pin, as it always does.  But the Yelp search result had it, too!

The map pin links to maps.google.com – the “Maps” tab – of course.

I’ll be on the lookout for more instances of this.  It’s probably a test, but if it is, I don’t know the scope of it at this stage.

My thought is Google may be moving in the direction of duly giving Yelp reviews special prominence – at least in the organic results, albeit not on businesses’ Google+Local pages.  That would be a nice symbiosis.  Dare we say it’s the birth of “blended Yelp search results”?

On the other hand, maybe Google is just trying to siphon off some visitors who’d click on Yelp results.

On the third hand (wait a minute…), maybe Google isn’t doing anything right now and it’s just a short-lived test.

Whatever the case, it would be a strange partnership – but who doesn’t like a strange partnership?

 

Your thoughts?

Note: check out Mike Blumenthal’s post about an observation similar to this one.