Aug 112013
 

Service-Area Business Google MapsGoogle just made some small, but important clarifications to their Quality Guidelines for local listings. The clarifications are related to some situations that weren’t previously covered, or were covered obscurely, by the guidelines.

The first clarification reads:

Do not create a listing or place your pin marker at a location where the business does not physically exist. P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations. Your business location should be staffed during its stated hours.

  • Exceptions to the above are self-serve businesses such as ATMs or video-rental kiosks. If adding these locations, you should include contact information for customers to get help.

We already knew that post office boxes, or virtual offices were not allowed to be placed as business locations on Google Maps, but I feel this rule comes mostly in relation with the ongoing confusion with service-area and especially home-based businesses. What is meant by this rule is that it is perfectly fine to display your business address, no matter what kind of business you are, as long as when you state, for instance, that your working hours are from 9 to 5, if someone decides to visit your “office” within this period, there would be a person to open the door and serve the customer. This clarification also sheds light on how important “community units” such as ATMs or video-rental kiosks should be displayed on Google Maps. Obviously these types of businesses cannot have on-site staff 24/7, and at the same time if they hide their business addresses from public display that wouldn’t make sense. Now Google states that as long as there is contact information where anyone could get served at any time (presumably), everything would be fine.

The second addition to the guidelines also comes to explain how Google would like to treat the service-area businesses, and specifically covers the ongoing topic of hide vs. display business address for SABs:

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.

This rule pretty much repeats the one above, but what is more interesting is the statement that Google (not the business owner) will determine the way a business address is displayed publicly. What might be meant by this is that even if you decide to display your address on Google Maps, if Google decides otherwise, or if Google finds that your address is hidden on other sources around the web, then the address might get hidden (and vice versa). This means that you must be very accurate in how you display (or not display) your business address not just on Google Maps, but also anywhere else across the web. It is to be noted that not all business directories allow for the address to be hidden. Here is a great list Phil Rozek compiled with business directories that have a hide-address feature.

May 162013
 

As previously noted by Mike Blumenthal, Google effectively closed their Places support forums in all languages other than English. Obviously this situation is not perfect for users around the world, so since yesterday Google started offering email support for Places/+Local issues for users in the following languages:

And apparently the ones in Chinese (Simplified and Traditional) are still under construction.

I haven’t tested those myself yet, so I currently have no information on how much the response time is.

Feb 272013
 

Since I wrote my first (and only, up to now) e-book (Citation Building Guide) about 3 months ago I’ve been having a lot of requests for additions and I’ve been receiving questions related to topics that for one reason or another are not covered in the current version of the e-book. That is why I decided to prepare a “second edition” of a sort. This second edition is scheduled to be issued on 18 March.

What will change and what will be added

Besides some changes to the structure of the content, there will be the following additions and updates:

1. Information about citation building in countries other than the United States – I have rightly been blamed that the guide focuses too much on the case of the US. And I agree. That is why there will be many improvements that could be beneficial to Internet marketers and regular businesses from the following countries:

- Canada
- United Kingdom
- Australia
- New Zealand
- Germany

2. Extended coverage of the data aggregators and Google’s trusted data providers – both in the US, and in the other countries mentioned above.

3. Case studies – diving deeper into specific complicated cases and the ways my team and I untangled them.

4. Updated “List of Business Directories for the US” and newly added “List of Business Directories for Canada”. The updated one would include both more business directories, and more information about why particular directories are excluded from the list. Note that both these lists include the direct URLs to the submission page of each website.

5. More “Phone Verification Guides”, including Google (universal), Yelp (universal), Bing (US), Nokia (US), LocalEze (US), Citysearch (US), Yellowbot (US), Yellowee (US), iBegin (US, Canada), YellowPages.ca (Canada), WebLocal (Canada).

6. Updated “Fixing and Reporting Duplicate Listings”, including more than 30 of the most important business directories.

How the price will change

The price will be increased, unfortunately. However, the good news is that if you purchase the guide by 17 March, 11:59PM (Eastern Standard Time) it will be at its current price (US$30) and you will enjoy free updates forever. I am planning to be updating it and adding more information to it at least twice a year (and even more often, in case some major changes occur). But the good news don’t end here. If you purchase the guide and send request for additions that haven’t been covered yet by 3 March, 11:59PM (EST), I will include them in the updated version.

Who should get the guide

The Citation Building Guide is suitable for the following groups:

- Internet marketing (and especially inbound marketing) agencies and specialists – the guide could help you in developing an organized system to deal with tedious tasks such as citations research, competitive citation analysis, and brute ones such as citation submission and citation building; it could also help you in training new staff to complete such tasks;

- Small and medium businesses – if you have a website and a Google Local listing, and you are wondering where to start from in order to make them more visible and to potentially monetize them, the e-book will guide you through the process;

- Franchises and chains targeting locally multiple areas – organizing the workflow and determining task priority are two of the most difficult problems for companies with many locations that try to make all of them visible and at the same time keep their brand image consistent; these are the problems the guide could help solving.

And besides all mentioned, you would have my personal assistance available in case you have troubles of any sort with the guide or its content.

You could read more about it and purchase it here.

Feb 082013
 

Google Maps Moderators Phone Number
Joel Headley of Google shared the following:

“… NAP consistency is important not just online, but real world. Not just signage, but in phone conversations. I expect, and so does our quality team, to hear the full and complete name of the business over the phone. When it is answered or when specifically asked.”

He also said that if the calling data quality moderator hears the business presenting themselves in even slightly different way from what is listed on their Google+ page, this might result in the moderator taking the decision to change the business name.

While I generally do agree that consistency should be observed both online and in the real world – for branding purposes to say the least, I see a major problems with such an approach: too much power is given to a single person to decide how to modify something of such importance for any business. I would be fine with that if I was convinced that the quality data moderator is as well-trained as possible. Unfortunately, I am not. On the contrary, there are hundreds of reports (here, here, here, and many others) of bad quality service by the quality moderators. The main issues reported are:

- Bad to incomprehensible English

- Generally rude behavior

- Lack of explanation of the reason for the calling

- And above all – mistakenly being recognized as telemarketers, mostly as a consequence of the above three problems

My advice: make sure that you, your customer service representatives, your secretary, and anyone who might be picking up your business phone, actually do pick up the phone call from 650-253-2000, because this IS Google Maps. And when you pick up make sure that you (or whoever picks) state the information as it should appear on Google Maps. If you are “Plumbing and Heating Dallas” on Google Places, then present yourself this way on the phone. If you haven’t hidden your address on Google Places, make sure you state that you DO serve clients at your business location. Otherwise there might be no salvation for you even if you are Andrew Shotland.

*Image courtesy of Andrew Shotland

Feb 062013
 

Update (8 February): Joel Headley (Consumer Operations Manager for Google Maps) said: “This was an isolated problem, which was corrected.”

The horribleness of the customer service at Google, and especially the customer service for their free products is notorious and has a long and sad history. Google Places/Plus Local is one of those unfortunate products, which had to go a long way before getting the deserved attention on the support front. And while things are improving there, Google apparently still has a lot to do in terms of training their sales representatives. A user at the Local Search Forum shared an email from Google, which made a great impression on me. The email goes like this:

I tried reaching you earlier to brief you on the Google Places Page.
If it’s easier, please call me at this number 1-877-503-0842 (ext. 23920) to discuss your Places Page.

Please Call DO NOT Respond to this email as it will not be received.

You need to reclaim you Google Places Page or it will be set for removal for having no ownership.

LOW ACTIVITY
NOTES
1)Your Google Places
Page:
Go to www.Google.com/Places
Then Click “Get Started Now” (Blue Button under the lady on the
right)
Sign in with your email account : Once your signed in take note of your Total Activity.
MAKE SURE: Your listing is up to date

Your Impressions vs. Actions
Impressions are how many people searching for keywords
related to your business and Actions how many people click specificly on your
business.

To help with your activity check out your Adwords Express right above your activity graphs.
You should’ve recive a credit in the mail for you to use to help build and gain eyes to your business.
If you haven’t recieved yours in the mail feel free to contact me back and I’ll get one re-generated for you.
Video’s below are to help you gain a little knowlege about what Adwords
Express is and does.

How to Set up Your Adwords Express

Google AdWords Express: Local online advertising made easy

What is AdWords Express?

AdWords Express Stories: Connecting to customers

There is a $100 Credit availible to you that I can provided for your AdWords Express, contact me back via phone if you would like to use it.
Otherwise you should have recived on via email at some point or in snail mail.
Call me at 1-877-503-0842 (ext. 23920) for any other questions you may
have.

Talk to you soon”

The fact that there is no link to any non-Google property, the links that are provided are not tracking ones, and the phone number provided is an official AdWords Express number, leads to the obvious conclusion that this email was indeed sent by a Google employee. And this is probably the first time I see a Google sales representative using threats (the listing will be set for removal) in a sales pitch.

Overall, the email is badly structured and formatted, and includes a few punctuation and spelling mistakes. The potential reason for the removal (having no ownership) is invalid, based on the feedback of the user who manages the listing. The guidance on how to check the “activity” on the listing (apparently “low activity” is the other potential reason for removal) is incorrect. The explanation on what “impressions” in the Google Places Analytics are is also inaccurate.

It is very possible that this is not a template email, but rather one that was created by that particular sales rep. However, the questions this case raises are valid:

- Is the quality of training at Google really that bad?
- Is Google really having such major financial problems financial problems that they are hiring inexperienced and potentially cheaper labor force?
- Is Google really having such major difficulties selling their paid products and hitting their targets that their sales representatives start using threats to pitch?

Dec 122012
 

I have been getting a lot of questions lately about what a business should do if they have moved to a new location, or if they re-branded themselves in regards with their Google+ Local listing. The options are generally two:

1. Edit the old listing and add the new information (duh…)

2. “Close” the old listing and create a new one with the new information (duh?!)

I know that if you’ve never had to deal with Google and if you are newcomers to the world of local search this topic might look completely silly to you, and you might be saying to yourself “Isn’t it more than obvious the correct answer is 1?”, let me surprise you – it’s not how things work in the Places world. What Google actually suggests and encourages is to mark the listing that features outdated information as closed and to create a brand new one. There are two major problems with this method from business’s point of view, though:

- If the listing gets closed, all the reviews for the business will stay there forever. Imagine that you have invested in establishing and optimizing a feedback gathering system, which over the years has brought you tens, or even hundreds of positive reviews on your Google local listing. Now imagine that this should all be forfeited just because you decided to change the official name of your business. Because this is what Google suggests. Here is what Google says in such cases:

“You’ve moved locations. Note, that we intentionally do not carry over reviews from an old closed location to a newly opened one.”

- The old listing might have been ranking pretty well in the local search results and the business might have been getting a lot of new customers out of it. While listing age is not a factor by itself (i.e. a listing that is 200 days old would not necessarily be “more powerful” than a listing that is 100 days old), it takes time for Google to assign trust points to a listing. These trust points accumulate over time as Google finds more “evidence” (a.k.a. citations) about the existence and popularity of the business. Mike Blumenthal and David Mihm did a great job compiling information about how long it takes for particular citation to be discovered (indexed), and picked up (included in the local data index) by Google. In a competitive niche it may take 6+ months for a listing to regain the same power as its old “closed” brethren. Even in very low competitive niches it takes at least a few weeks.

Unfortunately, the situation worsens. Currently, for the Google Places dashboard users the process of editing the business name or address goes like this:

- Go to the dashboard
- Edit the information
- Click “Submit”
- Wait for the postcard (usually) to arrive

However, the process for the businesses that have already merged their listings into the new “social Google+ local pages”, or who have created a brand new listing directly via Google+, is a little bit different. They can still go and edit the information, but it immediately goes into “Review” status and a moderator/reviewer has to verify it manually before it goes live. As you could imagine, the edits get rejected more often than not and in the end of the day the business owner doesn’t have any other choice but to give up and mark their listing as closed.

Why does Google do that?

Everyone is wondering the same – why would Google suggest such an unimaginably illogical move. The reason is because their business data clustering system is not yet perfect. I have talked previously about the fact that the business owner is not the only source Google gets information from. The verified owner is, of course, the most authoritative source, but information submitted by them can still be trumped by third-party one if it is sufficient and trustworthy enough. This means that if you submit change to Google with your new address, but at the same time your old address shows up everywhere else on the web (Yelp, Yellowpages, Citysearch, etc.), then it is very possible that Google might soon revert the publicly displayed address back to the old one.

The Solution

In April, Google promised that a “Location Moved” option is on the way. While it would be a nice new feature, if it ever airs, I don’t think it is still the best case for business owners for the same two reasons I described above (although it would make sense from mapping and user point of view). The best solution to the problem, in my opinion, is to update how your business show up everywhere on the Internet. I have previously written about how to discover these mentions (citations), and how to schedule your editing timeline. There is also a more in-depth explanation of the methodology of researching citations in my Citation Building Guide.

Have you had to deal with such cases? What has been your experience?

Oct 092012
 

Duplicate listings can very easily turn into the plague of the online marketing of every local business. They not only often feature old or incorrect and misleading information, but could also potentially “transmit” this information to other sites, thus spreading it throughout the whole ecosystem and ultimately reaching Google’s local data cluster, which could be devastating for business’s local search rankings. Unfortunately, getting rid of such duplicates has proven to be more difficult than any other process related to local listings – adding, claiming, or editing them. Additionally, there is currently no automated service that deals with this problem, so manual clean-up is the only way to go.

Why removing duplicates is so difficult?

There are a few main reasons for this:

1) Making it easy for people and businesses to remove listings from a business directory could very easily backfire and cause the loss of data that has been paid for. Therefore, it is not of the websites’ own interest to offer such a service.

2) Many business directories lack the technology to solve complicated problems with business data and prefer to ignore them rather than invest into trying to fix them (Google itself is an example of a company that has been ignoring the importance and complexity of the problem for way too long).

3) While websites might lack the technology to solve the problem with duplicate listings, they might also lack the human resources to maintain the process via some sort of customer service.

These, together with the fact that many websites are left without (almost) any editorial backing make the process tedious and frustrating. I myself am dealing with it daily and I have a list of good practices for removing duplicate listings on a number of the most important business directories on the web and as I know many others share the same burden I am sharing a few tips here.

Which websites am I covering here and why?

I will definitely not cover the whole list of business directories (note: this article covers predominantly US business directories), but just the ones I consider to be of the highest importance and at the same time have a rather troublesome process of listings removal, plus the ones where I normally find the highest numbers of duplicate listings.

Yelp

The site is notorious for the problems it causes to businesses when they want to remove their listings, usually for the purpose of getting their negative reviews gone, too. In the majority of the cases the answer coming from Yelp is “No”. However, there is a mechanism to get this done in the cases when the listing is a duplicate. You simply have to go to the contact form and choose “Duplicate business listing” from the drop-down menu. After this you’d need to use the search option to locate the two listings – the original one you’d want to keep, and the duplicate one and select them. Normally these get solved within 1-2 weeks.

Citysearch

The site, while hosting one of the largest business databases, has no official system for getting duplicates removed. The fastest way to deal with the problem would be to send them an email at myaccount@citygridmedia.com. Unfortunately, answers are not regular and frequent, so it might take some time and a few attempts to get this done. Another way, which is unofficial and might take you to a sales agent rather than to the desired destination (hopefully a customer service rep or a tech), is to call the company’s phone number 800-611-4827.

Superpages

Similarly to Citysearch, Superpages does not have a system in place to get duplicate listings removed. The best way I’ve found to get this resolved is by calling the customer service phone number: 800-428-8722.

Yahoo! Local

Yahoo’s mechanism is pretty clear when it comes to listing removal (unlike the mechanism for getting a listing verified). You have to go to the Local Listing Removal Request Form, choose “Business Moved” from the drop-down menu, and fill in the form.  Then it usually takes about 2-4 weeks for the listings to be taken down.

MapQuest

The process is again rather simple (once you discover where to start, of course): simply go to the Report an Issue page, tick “Business Listing/Location Issue” and describe the problem in the box at the bottom.

LocalEze

To get a listing “closed” you’d first need to verify your ownership over it. After you are done with that, you’d need to go to the “Manage Listings” dashboard and under “More Actions”, click on “Close Listing”:

Yellowbot

This one is a bit more complicated. You’d need to locate the duplicate listing and click on “Help us make it right” at the bottom of the page (note that you’d first need to register to the website, because you will be practically sending a user edit). On the next page, scroll to the bottom and click on “Submit corrections” and a window will be prompted asking if you are the business owner. Answer with a “No”. At the next page choose “Duplicate” from the drop-down and in “Reason for change” box fill in the URL to the original, correct listing.

MerchantCircle

This is my “favorite” in terms of number of duplicate listings. This is one of the reasons why I was so amazed to see it topping this research by Yext. The mechanism for removing those is, however, relatively easy. You have to go to the Remove a Business Listing, search for the duplicate(s), and after this simply mark them and send them for deletion. All this seems fine, but unfortunately, according to my experience the site is very slow at taking action on these reports and at the same time they are virtually unreachable via phone or email.

HotFrog

The mechanism for removing a listing is very well outlined in the FAQ of the site, so I will just cite it here:

“If you do want to leave though, login and click on ‘My account’ once you’ve logged into the dashboard. From there click on ‘Remove your free profile’ and follow the instructions.”

Therefore, you’d need to first have the listing claimed before being able to delete it.

EZLocal

The site does not have a system in place for removing duplicates, but calling customer service at 877-416-2378 and looking for Denise has proven to be a very nice and easy way to solve one’s problems.

Ones I haven’t Discovered Solution for

Besides these there are a couple of more websites, which often feature incorrect duplicate listings – Citysquares.com and GetFave.com. Unfortunately, my attempts to find a solution to this problem have always failed up to now. It appears that the easiest way to get this issue fixed is by simply editing the duplicate(s), including the correct information in each of them.

Have you had problems with removing a listing from some of these websites, or from other ones? Have you solved them in some more effective ways?

*Note: Our Citation Building Guide features more information, tips, and tactics on how to deal with duplicate listings and data consistency.

Aug 202012
 

Google’s algorithms often have weird sense of humor. One of these is the algorithm responsible for choosing what type of verification options would be available for your Plus Local (Places) listing. In the majority of the cases, there would be just the postcard option given, especially if your company doesn’t have an already existing listing. Once in a blue moon you might get to use phone verification (and that is why so many are interested in workarounds to make this happen more often). But what if you have some kind of automated phone system and the big G decides to strike? Google’s verification bot is not smart, so if it is requested to “click 1 for customer service”, it won’t. It will just hang up. Here are three of the most sound suggestions:

1) Use the troubleshooter:

In October 2011, a troubleshooter for problems related to Google Places was launched. You can use it for this sort of verification issues, too:

- Go to “I’m having a problem verifiying my listing(s).

- Choose “I tried PIN verification for a single listing.”

- Choose “The status is not Needs Action.”

- Choose “Phone”

- Choose “My phone number was for a business line.”

- Choose “Yes”

- Fill in the requested information and hit “Submit”.

The downside of this option is that you would have to rely too much on the mercy of Google’s customer service reps, and sometimes they are not offering the best service in the market. However, this is the recommended method (by Google, not necessarily by me).

2) Use a workaround:

The system allows only up to 3 verifications per phone number. This means that if you fail 3 times, your only option left would be the postcard one. Do this if you feel postcard verification is the most suitable for your business.

3) Pause your automated system:

This one is obvious. It might have the positive side that you will get verified almost instantly (the whole process takes about 5 minutes overall), but at the same time if you are a business that gets at least a few calls every hour, it might mean a missed/unhappy client or two. Use it at your own risk.

Have you/your clients faced such problems? What “tactic” did you use?

Aug 102012
 

Google+ Local is obviously not a perfect product. From incorrect data to lost reviews, the problems associated with it are countless. Last year Google opened a “Moderator page” for questions and ideas related to Google Places. There were many great suggestions. Some of them are already reality:

Notifications on changes happening on business’s verified listing

- Multi-user management over listing(s) (came with Google+ Local)

- Integration of social media into business profiles on Google+ (came with Google+ Local)

Faster work on reported problems, such as merges and duplicates

Some are yet to be worked on:

- More feedback on issues related to listing suspension or rejection

- Better control over third-party data overwriting the owner-verified data

- Ability to get Google reviews directly on business’s website

- Better anti-spam options

- More and better structured analytics data for Google Places

- Google Places certification program for professionals

What are some of the features that you see as important to be improved as soon as possible with Google+ Local? What are the things that you hate with Google+ Local?