Using a Shortened URL to Ask for Google Reviews? Goo.gl May Cut You Down

https://www.flickr.com/photos/cuatrok77/16044942927/

A good way to make it easier for customers / clients / patients to review you on Google Maps is to send them a link straight to the “Write a review” popup.

You probably send a shortened URL (like https://goo.gl/qQgbjT), because it’s tidier than the full URL.

That is most likely to be a problem under two conditions: (1) if your address is “hidden” on your Google My Business page, and (2) you use the Goo.gl URL shortener to create the short link you send to would-be reviewers.

The problem is Google disables your short URL and takes people to a scary page like the one shown here.

Is it always a problem?  Doesn’t appear so.  In some cases I’ve been able to get the shortened links to work for service-area businesses.  On the other hand, Chris Barnard of Social Dental Network tells me that Google nixed his shortened URL for a bricks-and-mortar business.  (Chris’s post at the Local Search Google+ Community is what alerted me to this issue in the first place.)  Your mileage may vary.

The kicker is you won’t even know Google doesn’t like your short URL unless you or your customers click on it.  Goo.gl won’t show you an error message after shortening your URL.  Looks just peachy.

You may even run into that problem if you send a shortened link to a page of search results, rather than to the “write a review” pop-up.  I’m still testing that one.

Count on Google to harsh the mellow.

By the way, you shouldn’t have problems if your Google My Business page shows your full address publicly.  So if you’ve got a bricks-and-mortar location, or if you just don’t want to “hide” your address (these days you don’t need to), you probably could use Goo.gl to shorten your “review us” links without incident, if you wanted to.  But I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that.  Google eventually may take issue with all shortened “review us” links, at which point you’ll probably be the last to know.

Googles policies on shortened links don’t shed any light on why “review us” links are a problem, or on why they seem to be a problem only or mostly for businesses with hidden addresses on Google My Business.  Chalk it up to Google reviews being a mess in general.

What can you do?  Some options:

1. Use other URL shorteners, like bit.ly or TinyURL. I imagine the only reasons you’d use Goo.gl in the first place are that you can access your links later, and that you can see usage data (like how many people click on the links). If you don’t care too much about Google’s data, I can’t think of a good reason to use Goo.gl.

2. Send longer, not-shortened links. They’re only messy if you send a link to the “write a review” popup. They’re not too bad if you send a link to a page of brand-name search results, with a simple URL like google.com/search?q=Local+Visibility+System

3. Consider un-hiding your address on your Google My Business page. Whether you should have it hidden in the first place is mostly a matter of preference. On the slim chance Google doesn’t like it, they’ll simply hide your address for you.

4. Test your URLs before sending them to any would-be reviewers. One way to do that is to use Whitespark’s Google Review Link Generator. If you search there for your business and it doesn’t come up, Google probably won’t want you to use a shortened URL.

5. Contact reviewers to whom you sent a Goo.gl URL and send them a link that works.  Maybe apologize for the hassle. (Also, that’s a good excuse to send them a reminder.)

6. Redirect a page on your site to the full “Write a review” URL. Thanks to Jay Holtslander for reminding me of that option.

7. Don’t rely only on “review us” links. You shouldn’t do that anyway. Especially given the unreliability of Google-shortened URLs, you’ll want to go belt-n’-suspenders.  If possible, ask for Google reviews in-person first, and provide clear instructions in a follow-up email (if not also in your initial request).  The links should be part of a broader strategy you work on continually.

Do you send shortened “review us on Google” links?  If so, when have you run into problems, and when have you not?

Can you find any Google policy that clearly states Google’s problem with using shortened links to encourage Google reviews?

Leave a comment!

The Most Obscure “Rule” in Google My Business – a Nasty Surprise

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jayvee/6317802466/

A few days ago I wrote about a tricky issue I seem to have figured out based on a hunch: that having two or more Google My Business pages in the same service area can cause problems if you need to owner-verify one of the pages.

When I was troubleshooting with my client, I couldn’t remember where I saw that overlapping service areas might be an issue for Google.  That bugged me.

Turns out I hadn’t gone totally senile (yet), and that at one point I must have seen this MapMaker thread (or one like it), where MapMaker editor Gregg “Flash” Gordon wrote that:

It is important to note that there is only one listing permitted per SAB per urban area and per location. [Emphasis added.]

Here’s a screenshot (click to enlarge).

As of today (April 4, 2016), that “per urban area” part is not in the Google Places Quality Guidelines:

Businesses that operate in a service area should create one listing for the central office or location and designate service areas.  If you wish to display your complete business address while setting your service area(s), your business location should be staffed and able to receive customers during its stated hours. Google will determine how best to display your business address based on your inputs as well as inputs from other sources

Nor is it in the Google My Business Quality Guidelines, nor in “Service-area businesses on Google” guidelines, nor in “Address entry guidelines,” nor in any other document I know of.  It’s certainly not in any documentation a business owner will ever run across.

It’s not even mentioned by any of the Google My Business Forum “Top Contributors” in my 2014 post on “What’s Missing from the Google Places Quality Guidelines?

Apparently, the only people who know about this dumb, buried “urban area” rule are Googlers, MapMaker editors, and maybe Top Contributors at the GMB forum.  Fine.  Whatever.

But what in tarnation constitutes an “urban area”?

Is it a small town?  Is it Manhattan, or the Five Boroughs of New York City, or the Tri-state area?

What if you’ve got two locations of a business in the middle of nowhere – where the definition of “urban” is the dirt road between the church and the general store?

Oy.

If it’s a rule that’s actually enforced – especially a mushy-worded one like this – it should be present and visible in the rules that Google expects the average business owner to read.  Period.

I guess Google has had bigger fish to fry, like Mic Drop.

Did you know about the “urban area” rule?  If so, where did you read it or hear about it?

Have you seen it enforced?

Leave a comment!

Google My Business Mails Verification Postcard to the Wrong Address: What to Do

Did your Google My Business verification postcard end up in the wrong neighborhood?

(goo.gl/S6DEks)

Yesterday I did a consultation for a guy whose client – an HVAC contractor – had a problem with duplicate Google pages.

Just two pages – one for each office location.  Each location served mostly different cities, with a little overlap.

Page A was set up fine.  Page B was also fine, except it used the same street address as Page A.  The client didn’t want it that way.  He entered the right address into the dashboard, but when it came time to seal the deal by owner-verifying Page B, Google put the street address of Page A – the other location – on the postcard.

The client was creating Page B for the first time, and didn’t see a way to make Google send the postcard to the correct address, so he went ahead and had it sent anyway, and owner-verified his page.  Soon after that, his local 3-pack rankings dried up, and his SEO/marketing dude booked a consultation with me.

Somehow, Google was messing up the addresses between when the client entered the correct address in the dashboard and when it showed him the preview of where the postcard would be mailed.

If you’ve run into a similar problem, you probably want to know what’s going on.

The problem seems to be overlapping “service area” settings, if you’ve got a service-area businesses with multiple Google My Business pages.

Let’s say you’re a plumber in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  You’ve got a location in Dallas, and your plumbers there travel up to 20 miles for a job.  But your plumbers in Fort Worth also travel up to 20 miles for a job.  So for each Google page you set a service area with a 20-mile radius.  The trouble is now the service areas overlap.

It gets worse if you get greedy.  If you’re like many owners of service-area businesses I’ve spoken with, you probably picked a 70-mile-radius service area, thinking that you’ll rank throughout that huge swath of land.  You will not.  It’s like putting 30 gifts on your Christmas wish-list.  You’ll be lucky if Google Claus gets you 3 of them.

We finally got Google to send the postcard to the correct address once I went into the Google My Business dashboards of both pages, removed all the service-area targeting, and un-hid the address of Page B.

(No, Google doesn’t care about un-hidden addresses anymore, and only did for a year or so.)

Maybe your case is different, and all you’ll have to do is change the service-area radii, for example.  Who knows.  But now you know what to tinker with.

Have you run into this problem – of Google mailing the postcard to the wrong address?  Did my solution do the trick?

Leave a comment!

Too Many Donuts for the Google MapMaker Anti-Spam Cops?

Google’s finest aren’t throwing the book at spammers.

I recently asked Dan Austin – a longtime buster-upper of MapMaker and other spam – to help with a project.  One of my client’s competitors was doing the following:

  • Created multiple pages for the same business at the same address
  • Created additional pages using a residential address – for a bricks-and-mortar business
  • Keyword-stuffing the description (yes, even more than you might be told is acceptable)
  • Writing sock-puppet reviews for themselves
  • Writing negative reviews of their competitors
  • Sniping at competitors in MapMaker, like by changing their business hours to showing “Closed” for most of the day

My client had gone back and forth with this slimy competitor over MapMaker edits and “Report a problem” requests, to no avail.  That’s when I decided the least-inefficient option would be to contact Sheriff Dan.

Dan reported the abuses.  Then we contacted Google and got through to the right person.

What Google did to the offending business ranged from good to (almost) laughable:

1.  They removed the descriptors from the Google Places business name(s).  That was good.

2.  They removed one of the spammy pages.  Also good.

3.  They converted one of the spammy pages into a non-local Google+ page, rather than nuke the page entirely (or merge it with the one legit page at the same address).   That’s what Google temporarily – and I now know accidentally – did to a couple of my clients last month.  Inadequate.

4.  They let the sock-puppet reviews remain.  Pathetic.

Overall, the spam situation in my client’s market is much better than it was, because that one guy has had some of the wind taken out of his sails.  But Google gave him 2 months with conjugal visits, when he should be doing 5 years in solitary.

The sad thing is, this case got more human-review than others do.  It’s not like we only went through the usual channels.

As Dan explained:

It shows that Google has multiple contradictory policies (each Geo group handles the same data differently), little inclination to enforce their vague guidelines, and are more interested in hoarding and preserving data at all costs than ensuring the integrity of the listings.

The absurdity is that you have to use extraordinary measures to get half a response.  Using the normal reporting channels (MM “Report this”/delete, Maps “Report a problem,” Google+ Local “Edit details”) yielded no response at all!

– Dan

As Dan also said, Google has developed an “inability to know what to do with spam, even when they’re clearly shown what it is via direct contact channels.”

As I mentioned in point #3, Google didn’t remove one of the obvious spam pages, but instead kept it around as a non-local Google+ page.  If they didn’t know about it or couldn’t do anything about it, even that meager change wouldn’t have been made.

Although I suppose Google could still take harsher measures against this spammer and others, what we’re seeing is a reluctance to penalize obvious violators.  Google could be cutting out the spam with a sword.  Instead they wave a Play-Doh knife.

Fortunately, spam battles like the one I described aren’t quite as common as maybe I made them sound.  They’re not an issue for the vast majority of my clients, and they might not be an issue for you.

What’s the spam situation in your market?  What has / hasn’t worked for you?  Leave a comment!

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

 

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

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

I’m beginning to think so.

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

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

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

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

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