Jan 092013
 

One year ago I published a list of the best local SEO and local SEM articles of 2011. Ever since, one of my dreams has been to turn this into a regular practice. And here we are – in the beginning of 2013, and I managed to compile a list of the best local-search-related pieces of the past year. The list consists of approximately 200 articles divided into 8 categories (clicking on the category name will take you to the corresponding part of the list):

General Local-Search-Related
Onsite Local SEO
Offsite Local SEO
Google Places and Google+ Local
Local Citations and Citation Building
Reviews and Reputation Management for Local Search
Non-Google Local Search (Bing, Yelp, Apple, Nokia, Yahoo)
Mobile-Local

I also included a list of some of the articles I published this year that you might find read-worthy:

My Articles

This article library holds a ton of wealthy information shared by the most renowned specialists in the industry, including Mike Blumenthal, David Mihm, Phil Rozek, Chris Smith, Miriam Ellis, Andrew Shotland, and many others. Happy reading!

General Local-Search-Related

Local Search Ranking Factors, Volume 5 (David Mihm, Own Blog)

10 Commandments of Local Search & the LSO Prophets (Cody Baird, Milkmen)

Your Local SEO Checklist for 2012! (Miriam Ellis, Search Engine Guide)

Big List of Local SEO’s To Follow On Google+ Some Thoughts (Mike Ramsey, Nifty Marketing)

Interview with Local Marketing Experts Jake Puhl & Adam Zilko (Eric Covino, SEO Book)

Best Local Search Tools – 2012 (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

Local Ranking Factors – Google Places Optimization (Bizible)

The Venice Shift from Local Pack to Blended Results (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Finders Are Now Seekers: How Local Has Changed the Game (Gregg Stewart, Clickz)

Local Search “Pros” Breaking the Hippocratic Oath (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

Local SEO Tips from Darren Shaw of Whitespark (Eric Covino, SEO Book)

Essential Local Search Resources (Bryan Phelps, Whitespark)

Invisible Businesses In Google’s Local Search – The Problem No One Sees (Chris Smith, Search Engine Land)

The SMB Guide To Changing Business Names & SEO (Andrew Shotland, Search Engine Land)

The Long Tail of Local Search (Damian Rollison, Street Fight)

Deep Data and the Semantics of Local (Damian Rollison, Street Fight)

Who should care about Geo-Rankings and why? (Matt Roberts, Koozai)

How Can Local Search Better Serve Service-Oriented Businesses? (Damian Rollison, Street Fight)

Local Search Insights: What Are Consumers in Your Local Area Searching For? (Miranda Miller, Search Engine Watch)

50 Local SEO Lessons from 50 Clients (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

How Long Does Local-Search Visibility Take? (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

Relocation, Relocation, Relocation – A “New” Local Ranking Tactic? (Chris Smith, Search Engine Land)

The Rudiments Of Local SEO (Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo Blog)

Memo to Google: Solve the Local Data Problem With Local Data (Damian Rollison, Street Fight)

Google Local: Train Wreck at the Junction (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

What Matt Cutts Says about Local Search (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

The Local Search Ecosystem in Canada (David Mihm, Own Blog)

Laying the Groundwork for a Local SEO Campaign (Eric Covino, SEO Book)

Local SEO as a Gateway Service (Eric Covino, SEO Book)

2013′s Top Local Search Ranking Factor: Honesty (Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo Blog)

Local Search Dream Team – Tips, Tools & Predictions (Bryan Phelps, SEO.com)

The Venice Shift from Local Pack to Blended Results (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

The Zen Of Local SEO (Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo Blog)

Insiders Guide To Selecting The Right Local SEO Tools (Myles Anderson, Search Engine Land)

Local SEO “Substitutions” (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

Matchmaking Advice for Local SEOs and Business Owners (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

How Google May Identify Implicitly Local Queries (Bill Slawski, SEO by the Sea)

How Business Names Might be Used by Google in Local Search Ranking Signals (Bill Slawski, SEO by the Sea)

 

Onsite Local SEO

Understand and Rock the Google Venice Update (Mike Ramsey, SEOmoz)

Local SEO: How Geotargeting Keywords Brought 333% More Revenue  (Adam Sutton, Marketing Sherpa)

The Local Search Plus Box (Nyagoslav Zhekov, Search Engine People)

Site audit: How can a local limousine service get found in dozens of cities? How can it stand out in the crowd? (Kathy Long, Own Blog)

The Hideous Site: An Allegory For Oddities In Local Search Results (Chris Smith, Search Engine Land)

The Anatomy of an Optimal Local Landing Page (Mike Ramsey, Nifty Marketing)

The Ugly State of Google SERPs: Rich Snippet Abuse (Mike Wilton, Search News Central)

How to Create Local Content for Multiple Cities (Matt McGee, Small Business SEM)

5 Local Blogging Ideas to Supercharge Your Local Marketing (Jessy Troy, Search Engine People)

13 Semantic Markup Tips For 2013: A Local SEO Checklist (Chris Smith, Search Engine Land)

Can Blogging Be Your Secret Weapon For Local SEO? (Chris Smith, Search Engine Land)

Using the Home Page to Improve Local Search Rankings (Chris Smith, Web Marketing Today)

Why Local Blogging Works (Matt McGee, Small Business SEM)

What Makes for a Good Author Photo in the Local Results? (Part 1) (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

What Makes for a Good Author Photo in the Local Results? (Part 2) (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

 

Offsite Local SEO

How to Use Driving Directions in Local Search SEO for Google Places (Ted Ives, Coconut Headphones)

Are Check-Ins A Local Ranking Factor? (Chris Smith, Search Engine Land)

5 Local Linkbuilding Ideas For The Post-Penguin/Panda Era (Andrew Shotland, Search Engine Land)

Culture Building: 8 Local Link Building Tactics Beyond Business Listings (Scott Dodge, Whitespark)

The Complete Guide to Link Building with Local Events (Kane Jamison, SEOmoz)

Link Building for Local Search (Julie Joyce, Search Engine Watch)

The PlaceRank Secret Behind Google’s Local Search Rankings (Chris Smith, Web Marketing Today)

5 Link Building Tactics to Improve Your Local Ranking (Matt Green, SEOmoz)

SEO: 7 Ways To Optimize For Local Rankings Via Images (Chris Smith, Web Marketing Today)

 

Google Places and Google+ Local

A Brief History of Google Places (David Mihm, Own Blog)

Best Google Places Troubleshooting Posts (2011 – Early 2012) (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

Interview With Google Places Help Forum Top Contributors: Blumenthal And Zhekov (Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo Blog)

How to Pimp Your Google Places Listing (Phil Rozek, Whitespark Blog)

My Illustrated Plea To The Google Places Help Forum Team (Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo Blog)

13 Best-Practices for Picking Google Places Business Categories (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

Why You May Need To Hide Your Google Places Address ASAP (Miriam Ellis, SEOmoz)

The Face of Google Places (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

5 Things You Should Not Do on Google Places (Nyagoslav Zhekov, Search Engine People)

The Google Places Purgatory and How to Get Out of It (Matthew Hunt, Small Business Online Coach)

Milestones in a Google Places Campaign That’s Working (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

12-Week Action Plan for Google Places Visibility (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

The Worst Kept “Secret” in Local Search: My Thoughts on the Impending Plus-Places Merge (David Mihm, Own Blog)

Google Places Description and More Details Section – Some News and Pro Opinions from the Field (Linda Buquet, Catalyst eMarketing)

Rankings on Google+ Local: Some Observations (David Mihm, Own Blog)

Google + Local: Q’s and some A’s (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Google+ Local – What Wasn’t in the Announcement Was More Important Than What Was (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Helping Or Hurting: The Debate Over Google+ Local (Jordan Kasteler, Search Engine Land)

Overcoming New Google Places Duplicate Listing Problems for Dentists, Doctors, Attorneys (Linda Buquet, Catalyst eMarketing)

Syncing Your Google Plus and +Local Pages: Plusses and Minuses (David Mihm, Own Blog)

The Suite Life of Google Plus Local Address Issues (Joseph Henson, Search Influence)

Why You May Need To Hide Your Google Places Address ASAP (Miriam Ellis, SEOmoz)

Google Tackles Geographic (Map) Spam for Businesses (Bill Slawski, SEO by the Sea)

Google Places Troubleshooting: Best Practice for Dealing with a Merged Listing (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Many Google Places Searches Are Showing an Increased Radius For Search Results (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Is Google’s New Requirement to Hide a Home Business Appropriate? (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Google Places Pages Are No More – But What has Changed? (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

What Should Your Business Listing Categories Be in MapMaker (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

MapMaker Bots and What They Do (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

5 Google Places Tests I’d Love to See (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

 

Local Citations and Citation Building

How to Squeeze Maximum Google Places Love from GetListed.org Scans (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

The Local Search Ecosystem in 2012 (David Mihm, Own Blog)

6 Tools SMBs Can Use to Update Digital Directory Listings (Stephanie Miles, Street Fight)

Citation Consistency: The Key to Local Search Rankings (Chris Suppa, Thunder SEO)

The Best Citation Sources by U.S. City (David Mihm & Darren Shaw, GetListed)

Best “Events” Sites for Local Search Citations, Links, and Visibility (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

Local Citations: Another Signal Being Devalued by Google? (Mike Wilton, Search News Central)

Follow-up Study: The Best Citation Sources by Category (David Mihm & Darren Shaw, GetListed)

Can You Rank Well in Local Google without Revealing Your Street Address Anywhere? (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

Will Citations Stop Being Effective for Local Optimization in the Future? (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

5 Ridiculously Sneaky Citations Most Small Business Never Think to Get! (Matthew Hunt, Small Business Online Coach)

Infographic: Citations – Time To Live (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

The Role of Directories in the New Local Ecosystem (Damian Rollison, Street Fight)

Local Search: Understanding ‘Citations’ to Improve Rankings (Chris Smith, Web Marketing Today)

My Thoughts on Where Yext Fits Into a Local Search Marketing Plan (David Mihm, Own Blog)

SBSM Mailbag: Does Google Normalize NAP Data? (Name, Address, Phone) (Matt McGee, Small Business SEM)

Catching Up with your Local Competitors & Automating Citation Discovery (John-Henry Scherck, Seer Interactive)

Yext & Local SEO (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Can a Citation Campaign Cause a Drop in Google Local Rankings? (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Local Citations / Business Directories for Specific Ethnicities and Identities (US) (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

 

Reviews and Reputation Management for Local Search

Cold Hard Numbers on How Third-Party Reviews Help Google Places Rankings (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

21 Ways to Get Customer Reviews: the Ultimate List (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

Local Consumer Review Survey 2012 – Part 2 (Myles Anderson, Search Engine Land)

What Should You Tell A Client When Google Loses Their Reviews – A 4 Part Plan (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Google Places Reviews – Critically Broken or Chronically Ignored? (Linda Buquet, Catalyst eMarketing)

Cheat Codes for Google+Local Customer Reviews (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

Google on Reviews: Asking for them is OK, Soliciting them is BAD (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Asking for Reviews (Post Google Apocalypse) (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

FAQ about Local-Business Reviews (on Google+Local and Third-Party Sites) (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

9 Questions To Assess Your Review Management Stress Levels (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Have You Been The Target Of A Google Places Hit Job? (Andrew Shotland, Search Engine Land)

The Local Business Reviews Ecosystem (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

 

Non-Google Local Search (Bing, Yelp, Apple, Nokia, Yahoo)

Yellow Pages Sites Beat Google In Local Data Accuracy Test (Greg Sterling, Search Engine Land)

5 “Local” Search Engines You Should Be Targeting (Chris Smith, Search Engine Land)

Bing Ties Yellow Pages Sites For Most Accurate Local Data (Greg Sterling, Search Engine Land)

IYP Ranking Factors: Getting Visible in Local-Biz Directories (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

10 Basic Bing Local Optimization Tips (Chris Smith, Search Engine Land)

Unofficial Apple Maps Frequently Asked Questions by Businesses (Andrew Shotland, Apple Maps Marketing)

How to Find Local Business Customers in Twitter (Kathy Long, Own Blog)

Yelp Ranking Factors (Phil Rozek, Local Visibility System)

6 Things to Know About the Yelp-Bing Local Data Partnership (Matt McGee, Small Business SEM)

Local SEO Blocking and Tackling for Siri & Apple Maps (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

Is Google’s Australian Data Partner Spamming Places for $11 a Listing? (Mike Blumenthal, Own Blog)

 

Mobile-Local

The Rise Of Local Mobile Pay-Per-Call – 3 Tips For SMBs (Bill Dinan, Search Engine Land)

Why It’s Time For Local SMBs To Get On Board With Mobile (Stephanie Hobbs, Search Engine Land)

 

My Articles

Interview with Dan Austin, a Google Maps Spam Fighter

Thoughts on Bizible’s Local Ranking Factors

Changes in Local Search – Implications on Local SEO

The Real Meaning of the Google Places Statuses

8 Ways to Recognize Fake Google Reviews

Local Citation Building Study Part 1: Niche-Relevant Local Citation Sources

Google Plus Local Rankings – What Changed and What Will Change

Local Citation Building Study Part 2: What the Pros Think

Local Citation Building Study Part 3: Plenitude of the Business Data

Local Citation Building Study Part 4: Local Business Directories Around the World (Canada and the UK)

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

Local Citation Building Tools

Google with the Most Accurate Business Database in the UK

The Two Types of Local Search and How Local SEO Should Reflect Them

Local Citation Sources for Australia, Germany, and New Zealand

Why Yext Might Not Be the Best Fit for Your Business

Overcoming Google Local Listing Mergers with Additional Citations

How to Remove Duplicate Listings from Different Business Directories

Learning Local SEO from the Ones That Do It Best

How Google Might Be Determining If A Local Citation Is Spammy or Not

Oct 022012
 

Yesterday at Local University Advanced Joel Headley, one of the main people behind the development of Google Maps answered a number of very intriguing questions related to Google+ Local. But before I start discussing some of those Q&A’s I should note that I didn’t participate personally in the event, so everything I know is sourced from the social networks. One of the topics that was of greatest interest to me was the Google reviews one. It all started with the following tweet:

I was curious to get a clearer idea of which reviews have been targeted and that is why I asked:

Mike was kind enough to ask Joel for clarification and here is what turned out:

 

And a bit more details:

 

As I have learnt not to trust Google for anything (they even show me as part of a company I left more than half a year ago for crying out loud), I decided to check this myself. Obviously, the biggest problem in such an experiment would be to find an appropriate sample. It would have to be dated, and it would have to be blatantly fake. How do I find these? In fact, it is very easy. I look for businesses that are very unlikely to be reviewed many times, but in fact do have a decent number of reviews.

I first decided to “target” the plumbing industry. I really “love” exact match domains such as this one, as well as keyword-stuffed business names, so the reviews associated with this business seemed like a promising laboratory rat. I used the following review that dates back a year ago (i.e. Google had plenty of time to figure out if this review is fake or not):

We had 4 different plumbing companies come to our house before we committed to letting Dallas Plumbing do our work. They were, by far, the most professional and trustworthy! We have given out their cards to all of our family and friends. I would highly recomend them to anyone.

How unsurprised I was to discover that there was a very similar review left for another plumbing company on another site (Yahoo! Local) that very much reminds of the above mentioned one (note: it has been deleted by Yahoo – talk about efficiency of combating fake reviews, but it still does exist in Google’s index, i.e. Google thinks it still exists):

We had 2 different plumbing companies come to our house before we committed to letting YB Plumbing Dallas do our work. They were, by far, the most professional and trustworthy! We have given out their cards to all of our family and friends. I would highly recomend YB Plumbing Dallas to anyone.

My second sample was a company in the moving industry. I used the following review, written 10 months ago:

Awesome!!! Called before arriving, on time! Moved everything out of the old house and into the new house in just under 2 hours. They worked hard, were very careful about corners, walls and banisters. Polite, respectful and I can’t reccomend them more!

And I found a very close match on Judysbook for another moving company. Here it is:

Called before arriving, on time! Moved everything out of the old house and into the new house in just under 4 hours. They worked hard, were very careful about corners, walls and banisters. Polite, respectful and I can’t reccomend them more!

Note: what I really “love” the most in both of these examples are the matching misspellings of “recommend”.

My third, and last, example was a carpet cleaning company, and more specifically the following review (from 10 months ago):

After finding that my dog urinated all over my couch, first of all I put him outside, and second of all, I called Los Angeles Carpet Cleaning. They gave me a really affordable price for the cleaning so I hired them and they were able to extract the urine and few other stains I had and the smell is gone.

There is an exact match review for the same business (probably) on Insiderpages.

What is the conclusion?

Google claims to be fighting spammy reviews (check here how long it might take them to get this done in some obvious cases) and they are hopefully getting smarter at doing so, using different signals and thus making the anti-spam filter more sophisticated. Unfortunately, they do not seem to be using the signal of finding exact (or close to exact) match reviews across the web. It should be noted that these should be reviews on business directory and/or review websites, but not simply found anywhere on the web, because in that case it would take, as mentioned here, just a dummy site where all reviews for all competitors could be stuffed, so that Google could match them as duplicates and delete them. There are two very distinctive features of the spammers, which Google could leverage in their favor: they are working in bulks, and they are lazy. This means that Google could easily track down whole networks of fake reviews by finding patterns (such as the one I discussed in this post).

Update (2 October 2012, 9:15 AM EST): Joel gave the following clarification on what he had said during the SMX session:

Communication by tweet always lacks context. Specifically, I said duplication of content was against our terms and doing so could result in removal of said content from our reviews system. I didn’t make specific claims about what had been done in the past, but rather was discussing the policy of duplicating/using the exact same text when leaving reviews.

Jul 102012
 

The matter of privacy, and to what extent it is being abused by Google, has been the hot topic of the last months, and specifically since “Search Plus Your World” was launched. However, it hasn’t really been tackled much in direct relation to the world of local search, but after Google Places became Google+ Local, some legitimate concerns arose.

In order to write a review on a business’s Google+ Local page, you’d need to have a Google+ profile. In order to create a Google+ profile, you’d need to use your real name. There is no way to stay anonymous when posting a review currently. Here is the official explanation by Google:

“Any reviews you write or scores that you provide will be attributed to your Google+ name and visible publicly. Public scores and reviews makes it possible for us to provide high-quality information for all users, and provide you with personalized suggestions based on your preferences.”

Many have expressed concerns about how users would accept this and how online reputation management would become even more difficult for the honest businesses, while the spammers would still thrive. Here are a few threads related to the problem. One of the users summarizes it well:

“I like reviewing, but I don’t want every Tom, Dick and Jane on the web to see me and my review.  I’d be better with a nickname and you could see all my nick name’s comments with out having to worry about harassment from a disgruntled vendor.  A place I do business would treat me worse if I really express my feelings.  Same things with contractors, they know where you live and did a terrible job.  I’d leave a note to warn others, but don’t want that contractor coming and robbing me or harming my pets.”

Some industries would definitely be hit more significantly than others. According to Jeffrey Segal of Medical Justice, seconded by Mike Wilton of Plastic Surgery Studios, doctors (as well as clinics, psychologists, dentists, chiropractors, nursing homes, pharmacies, health insurance companies, and others) would not even be able to reply to negative reviews any more as this would go against the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Additionally, I cannot imagine how a criminal, or divorce, or DUI, or bankruptcy attorney would get legitimate reviews now that their clients would have to post their real names publicly.

Lastly, I am not completely convinced with the reasons of Google to require a person’s name in order to provide “personalized suggestions” to them and other users. Is it that if John C. liked a local restaurant, then it might be very possible that John B. and John D. would also like it, thus Google would make recommendations based on their names? I’d argue that this rule would not only reduce the overall review flow, but also bias the reviews. I’d not be surprised if large part of the reviews written after the launch of Google+ Local are positive. My personal opinion – a lame and unnecessary way to fight spam.

Jun 112012
 

Local Search Ranking Factors 2012
The 2012 edition of the Local Search Ranking Factors survey by David Mihm has been officially released. Its first presentation was a few days ago at the SMX Advanced in Seattle, when we could get some sneak peeks into how the factors changed over the years and how they look like now. One thing that might have major influence on the results is the recent roll out of Google+ Local, which came to substitute Google Places. The expectations are that search will become more social and personalized, thus social ranking factors such as +1′s, adding to circles, reviews on Google+ Local and/or Zagat might have significantly increased influence on the rankings. This is not the case right now, but everything could change tomorrow, or the next week.

I will post more thoughts on it later today/early tomorrow.

Jun 072012
 

Image courtesy of Aaron Weiche

I don’t have the chance to attend SMX Advanced in Seattle which is rolling right now. However, I am following everything that is happening via a number of sources – live bloggers, Twitter streams, Google+, recap posts, etc. The event that I am most interested in is the Local University Advanced, and particularly David Mihm‘s announcement of the Vol. 5 of the Local Search Ranking Factors in which I also took part (w00t).

David Mihm is focusing primarily on the evolution of Google’s local algorithm from the perspective of the changes in the rankings of the ranking factors over the years. Here is what he shares:

- The ranking factors haven’t really changed that much over the years (2008-2012) Tweet

- The factors haven’t changed even after the launch of Google+ Local Tweet

- Importance of the “distance to city centroid” ranking factor depends on the industry Tweet, but nevertheless, it is still a ranking factor Tweet

- SMB websites matter a lot in local search rankings and in building authority Tweet

- Ratings are not as important as reviews currently (but this might change); in future a trust factor will be added to reviews, so the more trustworthy the reviewer, the higher the value of the review Tweet

- The most negative ranking factor is inconsistent N.A.P. data, and especially an inconsistent (tracking) phone number Tweet

- Other negative ranking factors include multiple Places pages (Google+ Pages) with similar/same business names and addresses, as well as the inclusion of location keyword in the categories in a Google business listing Tweet

- David Mihm mentions me (second w00t) in relation to getting the Local University to Bulgaria? Hm :) Tweet

- Social circles will be a very important factor in local search in (the not very distant) future Tweet

- Quantity of reviews is more important than quality in the local search rankings Tweet

- According to people in the audience there is no way for a small business to do local SEO on their own Tweet

- Getting more reviews might help in overcoming the problematic “distance to city centroid” ranking factor Tweet

- There are cases in which the centroid isn’t really being taken into account Tweet

- Personalization and socialization of the local search results is going to be the trend Tweet

- Branded anchor texts is now more important than keyword anchor text (Hi, @Penguin) Tweet

And that’s pretty much everything I managed to get from the 30-minute presentation. This is really just a snapshot, so I am really looking forward to the next week’s official online announcement of the Local Search Ranking Factors, edition 2012!

May 302012
 

Today Google made some major changes to its overall local search and social layers. These changes were anticipated for a long time, but that’s not all – this is just the beginning. I will not go into too many details about what was rolled out. You can read about it in a lot of details here, here, and here. Basically, Google started the integration of their business data clusters (known as Google Places for Business) and reviews database (known as Google Places), with their social layer (known as Google Plus). This process has up to now led to changes in:

- how reviews are being collected and displayed

- where reviews are being collected and displayed

- Google Places business data flowing, together with reviews to Google Plus

What hasn’t changed though is:

- the business dashboard (Local Business Center) is still under “Google Places for Business”

- listings coming from Google Places are still separate from the Google + Business Pages for the corresponding businesses

- the factors that determine how listings are ranked in local search

However, Google gives us a sneak peak to what is going to come next with a few chosen companies’ pages. Some examples include:

Nick Strocchia Photography

The Meatball Shop

Delfina Restaurant

These all look very similar to the “old” Google+ Business Pages with a few exceptions, all inherited by Google Places:

- you can add photos to the page

- you can see driving directions and public transportation availability

- you can “street view” inside the business

- you can claim and/or edit the page (currently via the Google Places for Business dashboard)

- you can write a review for the business

- you can see reviews from other Google users, or snippets from reviews coming from third-party websites

- you can see descriptive terms for the business

- you can see “similar places”

- you can see links to information such as “Menu”, and probably in future the lost “Additional Details” section will be reinstated under some form.

Google+ Local Page

None of these is currently available for the vast majority of the businesses. Google claim to be working on making it work soon, but I suppose this will involve some higher level integration between the Google Places dashboard and the Google Plus dashboard – functionality which seems to be already available for the chosen handful of businesses.

There currently seem to be no implications on local SEO and the local search ranking factors, but it is possible that in the near future more value would be put on the social factors such as Google+ mentions, +1′s, Google+ shares, number of comments per post, number of posts, number of people that have you in circle (compared to the number of people one has in their circles), relevancy of content shared, etc.

Some great resources to learn more about the change (apart from what I shared in the beginning above):

Official Google+ Local Help Articles

Google+ Local Reviews (by Mike Blumenthal)

It’s Finally Here: Chronicling the Plus-Places Merge (by David Mihm)

Google+ Local: Learn more here (sticky thread in the Google and Your Business Forum)

May 212012
 

Fake reviews are the plague of Google Places. The search company is reportedly working on improving their anti-spam algorithm, but the status quo (according to my small-scale research) is that over 50% of the reviews are either fake, or not left by the customers themselves (which is against the terms of service). This percentage may go to over 90% when talking about service-based businesses, and specifically locksmiths, garage door repair, towing, taxis, movers, plumbers, electricians, painters, HVAC engineers, to which we could add bail bonds, personal injury attorneys, escort services, and limousine services. It could be hard for the regular user to know this and to recognize the fake feedback. There are a few signs that could help in such situations (ordered according to the strength of the signal):

1) Reviewer’s other reviews

This is the strongest signal. Google Places allows everyone to check the profile of each reviewer. In the majority of the cases the fake reviews are being left by fraudulent “reputation management” or “SEO” companies, which frequently handle tens, or even hundreds of listings. They have the habit of posting the reviews via the same accounts. User “Mike M.“, for instance, seems to have a lot of favourite businesses across the entire United States. He is getting his trees cut in Saint Louis, MO, his iPhone fixed in Salt Lake City, UT, and his carpet cleaned in Houston, TX. If I see even one of the reviewers for particular business have such a profile, I’d consider two options: either call the business and ask them if they know they have many fake reviews on their Google Places listing (they sometimes won’t know that); or simply run, fast.

2) Generic reviews

Very often the fake reviews are written using a template. Again because most of them are being handled by reputation management companies with multiple clients. Such reviews usually don’t mention any details about price, concrete dates, concrete explanation of the situation(s), or anything else that could personalize the review and give something more than an appraisal to the business. They normally look like this:

“Los Angeles plumbing was recommended by my friend who used them before, introduction was great and the experience was believable so I contacted them and they sent professional plumbers to fix the leaking faucets in my home. The price was affordable yet the service was professional. Thanks!”

Additionally, the usage of exclamation marks and generic words, such as “Thanks!” in the above example, is frequently noticed among fake reviews. They also like to use the name of the business (especially if it is keyword-rich), as well as keywords that sound very unnaturally and not at the right place (as with “professional plumbers” in the above example). In the case below the fake reviewer was so much in a hurry that even forgot to remove the HTML tags from the review:

“My basement flooded and I called Magic Plumbing. They gave me in the moment advice – are your faucets off? Don’t use unnecessary water. &quot;My plumber will be there to fix your problem before you start to really worry.&quot; <br/>They were completely professional, personable and left me feeling confidant that they would be there for me again. Thank you <br/>Magic Plumbing for being there when I <br/>Needed you the most.”

3) Reviewer’s avatar

Many of the sock puppet profiles, created for the sole purpose of writing fake reviews, use as avatars either non-face/non-person images, or images of faces stolen from the Internet (this goes very close to criminal behaviour). In the second case, it is easy to check if the face belongs to the reviewer if you do a search on images.google.com. You simply need to drag and drop the image in the search box and it will show you where else this photo appears on the web (if anywhere). Below are some images that fake reviewers use frequently:

4) Best-ever badge

The fake reviewers seem to love it. They probably think it adds some value to the review or to its trustworthiness, but it actually reveals them. Very few users actually know about this feature or how to use it, because it is practically hidden deeply inside the profile. Even fewer would choose a plumber, or carpet cleaner, as their most favourite local business.

5) Same reviews

Fake reviewers, while knowing how to cheat, are usually not the smartest people. That is why they tend to steal reviews from other websites and use them for their activities. One can easily discover if a review has already been written somewhere else on the web by a simple search on Google.com. Surprisingly enough, Google themselves don’t seem to be using this tactic to stop the spam.

6) A couple of 1-star reviews, and 20 5-star ones

This situation would be a valid fake review detector if the 1-star reviews are long, containing a lot of details and explaining particular situation(s), while the 5-star ones consist of one-two sentences, and look like the ones mentioned in point 2 above. Usually the bad reviews are being buried below all the good ones, so you will have to dig to find them. Here is a good example. However, in some situations such fake reviews might have been posted by a competitor, or by the same “reputation management” firms, who would later go on and extort the business.

7. All reviews posted along a short period of time

While this might be a result of an inconsistent and badly planned online reputation campaign, it is most probably caused by the business (or someone on their behalf) posting fake reviews. In many cases these are testimonials, previously left by customers that the business owner decided to post on their behalf. However, I’d suggest that these be taken with a grain of salt.

8. The overall appearance of the Google Places listing

If the listing contains pictures stolen from the Internet (to verify you can use the same tactic as in point 3 above), has a keyword-stuffed business name (Los Angeles Plumbers, Premier Locksmith Nashville), or is located at a strange position, close to the city name label on the map, the chances are good that this information is partly, or completely, fake. Such businesses rarely (if ever) have any real customers leaving good reviews for them.

The saddest of this all is that I didn’t even have to go past page 1 of Google’s local search results to find all the examples. Most of the businesses that have fake reviews rank very high organically, which is scary. It means Google not only provides bad results (wrong business information, addresses, phone numbers), but also ones that are potentially dangerous for the average user. My advice is that you make a thorough research before calling any business, even (especially!) if you are in an emergency situation. If you ask me, I’d use Google reviews as just a minor factor in my decision making.

May 112012
 

Hamish McKenzie noted that Google displays wrong reviews counts for Google reviews in the local search results. The counts displayed are many times higher than the actual number of reviews for the business. He received the following answer to the issue from Google:

We’re currently experiencing a technical error in which the total number of Google reviews is accurately appearing in the Places listing, but only some of the reviews are appearing on the corresponding Place page. We’re aware of this error affecting a limited number of Google Places listings, and are working to resolve it as quickly as possible.

I dug a little deeper into the issue and investigated two hypotheses of what the number of reviews displayed might mean.

1) These are the Google reviews + reviews from other websites.

This was my initial thought. In this example Google tells us that the restaurant has “844 Google reviews”. However, if you sum up all reviews the count for which is shown (Google reviews + top 4 third-party sites), the count is over 1,000. So this hypothesis seems to be wrong.

Wrong Google Reviews Count

2) These are Google reviews that are currently “active” + reviews that have been filtered out.

For the test, I took the case of Flower Power Davenport, FL, who expressed their problem with disappeared reviews here. They currently have 13 reviews in their listing, and the same number of reviews shows up in the search results.

None of these two hypotheses seems to be true. However, this erroneous review count seems too natural not to be caused by a random bug.

What do you think might be causing it?

May 052012
 

Google added new paragraph to their Google Places Quality Guidelines:

Marketing, promotions, or other contests

Any promotion, marketing, contests, or other giveaways should clearly link to the terms of the activity and provide clear guidelines and qualifications. All such promises, given or implied, should be adhered to.

Previously, there have been numerous discussions and concerns about how Google treats solicited reviews, especially in the context of the frequent contests for review writing organized predominantly by their community managers in Portland, Austin, and New York City. The controversial Google reviews guideline is the following:

Conflict of interest: Reviews are only valuable when they are honest and unbiased. Even if well-intentioned, a biased review can undermine its credibility. For instance, don’t offer or accept money or product to write positive reviews about a business, or to write negative reviews about a competitor. Don’t post reviews on behalf of others or misrepresent your identity or affiliation with the place you are reviewing.

Google has always seemed to be OK with indirect solicitation in the form of contests, similar to other major review sites. However, the newly introduced rule is rather blurry and the explanation is insufficient. The only new information we get from it is that a business that starts a “promotion, marketing, contests, or other giveaways” should establish specific terms and guidelines to the potential contestants. Judging from the way Google has been doing this, the guidelines should include:

- clear winner selection specifications
- specific details about what consists of a quality review (examples could be “originality”, “unique view points”, “style”, “capturing the spirit of the place”, etc)
- eligibility of the contestants, i.e. they have to have personal experience with the business
- specified contest period

And should not include:

- direct solicitation for positive reviews, i.e. the contestants should be be treated equally no matter if they leave positive or negative feedback
- promises for prize even if they do not win

Examples of rules for some of the previous Google Places review contests:

- PIFF 2012
- Google Places T-Shirt Contest
- Google Places Happy Hour Contest (Australia)

I think the new guideline does not solve the problem with how these rules are going to be monitored, and how there would not be any conflict of interest. If I were a business owner throwing such a competition, I’d want to achieve two main things through it: 1) get more reviews (not necessarily positive); 2) get more publicity. However, if the best review is a very negative one, hitting straight to the point, how would I choose it and how would it make good use for my business in general?

What do you think about the rule? Does it make the things more clear or it just raises more questions? Is it written to self-serve Google’s promotional contests?

Jan 092012
 

A few weeks ago I wrote about the AdWords – Google Places linkage and the corresponding reviews that could (and should) potentially appear on the live ads. However, a little later Matthew Hunt provided some feedback saying that this function is currently not working. Here is an excerpt from an answer he received from a Google AdWords rep:

I also looked in to the issue of the Places Reviews. It turns out that it is in fact not available on AdWords. The Seller Ratings we discussed are completely separate from Places Reviews, and AdWords Express is currently the only ad format that shows Places Reviews. I’m sure we will be looking to change that in the future.

However, on Friday David Kyle tweeted that the Google reviews finally found their way on the (normal) AdWords ads with location extension. Here is the screenshot:

Google Places Reviews on AdWords Ads

Obviously, the review count of 0 is incorrect.

David Oremland shared a similar screenshot, where 3 AdWords ads linked with Google Places, and 1 AdWords Express ad were displayed. The 3 normal AdWords ads were all showing 0 reviews:

AdWords with Google Places Reviews

I saw the same type of results for searches in the UK and Germany, too. Since yesterday, they don’t show anywhere.

Google is obviously running an update, which might have a very positive effect for the advertisers targeting locally and using Google Places as a reputation management tool. This would be a logical step in their fight for conquering the small business reviews vertical. Such a step could also significantly increase the absolute number of businesses using AdWords as an advertising mean, and at the same time could potentially cause a major traffic drop for the ones focusing only on organic search.