Aug 122013
 

A few weeks ago I wrote about the difference between manual citation building and an automated service, such as Yext. The article sparked a discussion specifically around one of the main comparison points – what happens with the already created listings once one cancels or stops paying after particular period for the service. Here is what I wrote:

Yext’s subscription period is 1 year. After 1 year, unless one decides to continue subscribing, the listings are taken down or revert back to the stage they were in prior to the initial subscription. This is something I wrote about recently.

Most manual citation building services are one-time offers. This means that once the process of claiming/submitting/editing is finished, the listings will not disappear or revert back to how they were (incomplete, incorrect, unclaimed). Furthermore, ours, and other citation building services, allow for ongoing citation building, i.e. adding new citations every month for a period of a few months.

My observations at the time were incomplete and were practically based just on three main points – what was written in the Yahoo! Localworks FAQ (note: this is white-labeled Yext PowerListings), the (at least) tens of comments around the web about how listings disappeared or reverted back when one canceled with Yext, and things people have shared directly with me while discussing about Yext. Obviously, I realized that this was not a strong enough basis to support my statement, and that is why I started digging around for additional information.

First, Jeff Bridges sent me this interesting screenshot:

Yext Cancellation Warning

The sentence that is specifically curious is: “Your listings will be taken down on or after [date].” One could argue that by “listings” is meant “Yext listings”, or “listings coming from Yext”, but there is no clarification on that. In any case, if I was a small business owner going to cancel this service, I would leave with the impression that all of my listings will be removed.

A few days later, the guys at Yext were kind enough to shed some light on what happens after the cancellation. You could read the full article here. Apparently this article was dedicated to me:

 

In the very beginning of the article the author answers negatively a few questions that practically haven’t been asked, namely: “Does the business listing data get deleted by Yext at each publisher? Does Yext take down the Name, Address, Phone (NAP) from each of the sites and search engines? Does the business’s online presence disappear? Lastly, does Yext put the old data back that used to be wrong?” (*underscoring by me). It has to be very clear that the questions that are being asked are others. For instance, “After I cancel Yext, does the business listing data get deleted in any way at any publisher?” or “Is the old data reverted back in any way to as it was prior to using Yext?” As you would notice further below in my research, the answer to these questions is, if I could use Yext’s phraseology, “a resounding and emphatic YES”. And it is actually answered in the exposé of the article Christian Ward of Yext put together. Here is what he writes:

…because Yext no longer has this lock in place, Yext has no control over the listing directly at all, and the business listing data will now act as it normally would occur without Yext.

Further, when a PowerListing becomes inactive, the enhanced content (photos, menus, hours of operation, products, biographies, featured messages, and more) that was connected to the business listing ceases to be available.

The conclusion we could draw from this explanation is that not just Yext, but no one (including the business owner) has control over the listings after they are released by the “Lock” of Yext. This brings the question “Who controls the listings DURING the Yext PowerListings usage?” Or another one – “Why should I pay $500/year when in the end of the day, my control over my business’s listings will be stripped off?”

Just a side note, another interesting fact I discovered during my research is that in order to track clicks to website from the listings that were “locked” during the PowerListing process, Yext creates an odd redirect script that actually links to their own property, rather than linking to the business’s own website. The redirects look like this:

class=”url” href=”http://pl.yext.com/plclick?pid=p7L7pHc3HF&ids=1075027&continue=[insert-site]&target=website” onclick=”return tnr(‘http://pl.yext.com/plpixel?pid=p7L7pHc3HF&ids=&target=website&source=detailspage&action=click’,'http://pl.yext.com/plclick?pid=p7L7pHc3HF&ids=1075027&continue=[insert-site]&target=website’);”

What this means is that even if you wanted to gain some additional value from the links from your business listings, you couldn’t if you use Yext PowerListings.

And we finally come to the research I keep mentioning. A few weeks ago Spencer Belkofer contacted me to tell me that he previously purchased Yext PowerListings for his client – Dawson Family of Faith, but as he was dissatisfied with the results he was planning to cancel it. He had heard that I was looking for a potential case study of what happens after the cancellation and was kind enough to wait for me a few days so I could research and make a before-and-after comparison.

Background

Spencer signed his client up for PowerListings on June 24 after a Yext sales representative assured him that all listings will be taken care of, including duplicate listings (something I’ve previously written that Yext are not good at dealing with). The major issue was that Spencer’s client was changing its name – from Dawson Memorial Baptist Church to Dawson Family of Faith. They had been using the former name for years and therefore their online footprint was significant. Spencer considered Yext as a fast and easy way to get the problem solved. There were a few problems that made Spencer realize something was not as he was promised it was going to be:

1) According to Spencer, the church was listed on numerous places as “Synagogue, Jewish Temple, Buddhist Worship Temple, and Mosque”. He had to call “several times” before he got the answer that he had to “manually go through each site and create a list of the ones that had incorrect categorization”. He got frustrated and after another call they promised they were going to fix this issue.

2) Yext reps offered Spencer their new enhanced content service (apparently PowerListings+), which featured “staff, calendar, and menu pages appended to business profiles”. He agreed and they promised him it was going to be up in “2-3 days”. According to him, it took 2 weeks and very few of the listings ever displayed this content.

3) The real disappointment was with the inaccurate duplicate listings that didn’t get fixed. Spencer was told that he needed to go through each “publisher”, make a list of the duplicate listings he finds, and send them to Yext, so they could try to remove them. After a disgrunted support request, Spencer had to wait a week before following up as he didn’t get an answer or any help with this issue. After he was finally answered to, the Yext rep closed the case as solved, although “nothing has been solved” (Spencer’s words).

Actual Research and Methodology

I started my research on August 1st, and finished the preliminary stage (before the cancellation) on August 4th. The cancellation was completed on August 5th. I started the “After” research phase on August 6th, and completed it on August 9th. Note that all the research data is valid as per August 9th, 2013 and as we are going to be doing a manual citations clean-up, it is very possible that a lot of the raw data will be outdated soon.

The research methodology was the same which we use during our citation building, citations clean-up, and citations audit processes. It involves two parts – automatic and manual. During the automatic research part, I used a number of online software tools to find out all listings both on sites that are part of Yext’s network, and on other online properties. During the manual research part, I manually checked all the sites in Yext’s network that allow public checking via desktop.

Research Limitations

There are a few limitations that my research has and that have to be taken into account when reviewing the results:

1) I did not have full access to some of the web properties in Yext’s network, as these do not have publicly available desktop-based user interfaces. These include AirYell, Avantar, CoPilot, Cricket, MetroPCS, Navmii, White&YellowPages;

2) I do not have access to the state of the business listings of the business prior to the signing-up with Yext;

3) I had limited access to some online properties due to me not being physically within the US. I did use US IP addresses, but the limitation was still there. Some of the online properties that block or limit traffic from outside the US are Bing and Superpages.

Results

You could download the raw data from here:

Listings Synced by Yext (Before Cancellation) (original report provided by Yext)

Listings Synced by Yext (Before Cancellation) (report amended by me)

Listings Not Synced by Yext, But in Yext’s Network

Listings Outside Yext’s Network (Before Cancellation)

Listings Synced by Yext (1 Day After Cancellation)

Listings Synced by Yext (5 Days After Cancellation)

A. Before the cancellation

Remarks:
- There are officially 47 web properties within Yext’s network;
- No listing has been synced for Bing; the following explanation was provided: “Bing has indicated to us that they cannot provide a PowerListing for this location because it is already controlled by another source.
- No listing has been synced for Facebook; the following explanation was provided: “Opted out
- No listing has been synced for GetFave; the following explanation was provided: “Processing
- No listing has been synced for Patch; the following explanation was provided: “Patch is not available in every geography and does not currently support your city. As a result, we are unable to provide you a PowerListing on their site.
- Instead of link to the CoPilot listing there was provided a link to the Google+ Local listing of the business, therefore CoPilot was excluded from the final results

After the sites with problems have been excluded, there are 42 listings on 42 web properties left that were synced by Yext. Of these, the following had some problems:

- The listing on 8coupon featured the category “professional services”
- The listing on Tupalo featured the category “Local Services”
- The listing on YaSaBe featured the category “Sports Clubs”

Of the 42 web properties only 35 were further researched due to the limitations mentioned above.

Within the Yext network there were discovered the following additional issues:

- 2 duplicate listings on Citysearch
- 2 duplicate listings on Factual
- 2 duplicate listings on MerchantCircle
- 1 duplicate listing on Bing
- 1 duplicate listing on ChamberofCommerce
- 1 duplicate listing on Citysquares
- 1 duplicate listing on GetFave
- 1 duplicate listing on ShowMeLocal
- 1 duplicate listing on Yelp
- 1 duplicate listing on Yellowbot
- 1 duplicate listing on MojoPages
- 1 correct listing and 1 duplicate on Facebook (not synced with Yext)
- 1 correct listing and 1 duplicate on GetFave (not synced with Yext)
- 1 correct duplicate and 1 incorrect duplicate on Local.com (there was a third listing, synced with Yext)

Overall, there were found 16 major issues (this number excludes the 2 correct unsynced listings on Facebook and GetFave, and the correct duplicate on Local.com).

Across the web, outside Yext’s network, the results were the following:

- 13 correct listings
- 115 incorrect listings
- 25 duplicate listings

Of the incorrect listings, there were only 3 that featured the correct business name.

B. After the cancellation

After the cancellation of Yext PowerListings no changes occurred across the web properties that are not part of Yext’s network.

The following changes occurred across the websites part of Yext’s network (42 web properties) within 5 days after the cancellation:

- 19 listings disappeared
- 4 listings reverted back to the old data
- 15 listings were stripped off the enhanced content
- 4 listings were still “locked” (Yext Synced)

Additionally, the correct duplicate on Local.com disappeared (or rather – all data was stripped off the listing, as the URL was still live).

All listings that were Yext Synced, were not owner-verified after the cancellation, i.e. they were not controlled by the business owner.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

Obviously no definitive conclusion could be drawn from just one case study, but a few things seem to be clarified:

1) It is very possible that after one cancels their subscription with Yext some of their listings would disappear. This is not necessarily the fault of Yext, but it does happen.

2) It is also very possible that some information might get reverted back to its state prior to using Yext PowerListings.

3) Listings created or “locked” using Yext are not owner-verified and thus the business owner would not have control over them once Yext PowerListings is canceled (unless, of course, they go and claim them manually).

4) It is very possible that Yext might not get some incorrect listings fixed or removed, specifically in the cases where there is more than one listing per business per website.

5) Almost no listings outside the Yext network are directly or indirectly influenced, at least within 1 month after the Yext subscription started, by what has been done within Yext’s network alone.

Tomorrow (August 13), we will be starting a manual clean-up of all the listing for Dawson Family of Faith, which will proceed for 3 to 5 weeks. Once the process is completed, I will follow up with a report and a similar case study.

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.

Feb 262013
 

This is an article I have been planning for very, very long time. Although there are a few great lists of local SEO specialists I frequently refer to (David Mihm’s, Mike Ramsey’s, Matthew Hunt’s), there is no single resource which gives more insights into who the people behind the names and the websites actually are. In fact, this is a problem not just with local SEO in particular, but with the online marketing industry as a whole. On the one side are the customers, for whom it is often very difficult to determine which SEO to choose. Traditionally, the cornerstones have been testimonials, recommendations from friends, and general awareness of the reputation of the service provider. But in a business where the “seller” and the “buyer” could be as far from each other as tens of thousands of miles (in my case for example), these traditional guides could sometimes be insufficient. And that is why these people staying on the other side – the local SEO specialists/consultants/providers/ninjas/gourmands, might need some additional “trust push” in order to gain authority and trustworthiness. So here it is: my collection of aspiring local SEOs!

But first, a few notes:

1) This list is in reverse alphabetical order. Why? Because every other list is in old-school alphabetical order, and I’ve always felt a bit discriminated against (there are not really that many other last names that start with Z…).

2) I reached out to all the guys and gals mentioned below, and I got replies from many of them. However, for different reasons some did not get back to me with more information, so I did not include them in the article. Despite this I list them at the bottom, because I believe they are an important part of the local SEO world.

3) For everything to be as fair and square as possible, I decided to use the old “click to see” drop-down trick. Otherwise, it would have been very possible that 99% of the people would have given up before reaching even the middle of the page.

4) As most of the featured specialists are Americans and for accuracy purposes I will use the word “football” to describe the American variation of the sport, and the word “soccer” – for the European one.

And now – happy reading!

Mike Wilton »

Mike says that it was music that dragged him into the world of local search. His first website was focused on local bands, events, and restaurants. He was so passionate about SEO that later on he left his job at Disney to pursue a career at Advanced Access – an Internet marketing company specialized in real estate website design and marketing. It was then that he really started diving deeper into local SEO, experimenting with Google Places, microformats and Geo-data. When he eventually left the company, he used his knowledge to develop a new strategy for the clients of Plastic Surgery Studios, an Internet marketing company focused on medical practices. Currently Mike is the manager of the firm’s Internet Marketing department.

Mike is happily married and a father of two. Besides local SEO, he has passion for gothic culture and Halloween.

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Aaron Weiche »

Aaron built his first webpage in 1997 and he says he has never looked back since. His real passion sparkled a little later, though, when Yahoo’s directory and DMOZ were the major names in SEO. He became more involved in local SEO around 2006, when he began noticing the tremendous impact it had on small and locally focused businesses. More recently, Aaron has been enjoying his time participating in and presenting at the Local University series, together with a big group of other renowned local search specialists.

Aaron has been happily married for 10 years, and is the lucky father of 3 daughters. In his spare time, he loves playing sports and supporting the University of Nebraska football team.

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Larry Sullivan »

Larry has been working with small businesses for more than 10 years, but it was only 5-6 years ago when he spotted local search’s great potential and employed it in his SMB marketing strategies. He says that local is now just one piece of the puzzle and it should be used together with mobile and social tactics.

Besides local search, Larry enjoys mobile gaming and runs two websites dedicated to mobile apps – DroidReviewCentral.com and iReviewCentral.com. He is also an avid fan of the New York Mets and the Knicks.

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Andrew Shotland »

Andrew’s first serious contact with the online world was back in 1994 when he helped launch Showtime Networks’ first website. Soon after that, he managed to help put together the first live chat from a Mike Tyson fight he was hired by NBC and participated in the creation of the first network of local TV station sites, called NBC-IN. In the early 2000s, he met Stu MacFarlane with whom he started InsiderPages, a local-social reviews website. That was when his SEO skills improved as he succeeded in increasing the traffic from 30,000 unique visitors/month to 4 million. After the company was sold to CitySearch in 2006, he went on to become a private consultant; his first client was the head of product at LATimes.com.

Andrew says this about his occupation: “being an SEO is like being a golf pro at a party full of amateur golfers. Everyone you talk to wants a tip for how to improve their swing.” His current hobby is “working on perfecting a recipe for the first shelf-stable, meat-juice-based gourmet hot sauce.”

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Darren Shaw »

Darren doesn’t have the background of a typical geeky web developer. He dropped out of school at the age of 16 and decided to spend his time working at a local restaurant. Later on, he changed his mind and went back to high school and eventually got his university degree in anthropology (major) and computer science (minor). During his university years (circa 1996) he developed his first website. It was not until the early 2000s, though, that he became truly passionate about SEO, as he helped his sister promote her e-commerce website (which Darren himself built). He started diving deeper into local search after 2008, and a little later the Local Citation Finder was born.

Darren is happily married and his daughter occupies a lot of his free time. In his spare he likes to do local search the raccoon way.

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Will Scott »

Will was first hooked up with the Internet and its infinite possibilities by one of his professors while majoring in architecture in Tulane University. He built his first website back in the dark ages of 1994. He claims it was not until 1999 that he abused his first search engine (read: got into SEO). Soon after Will got in close touch with local search for the first time. In 2002, way before Google thought of monopolizing “local”, the company he was working at ventured into building and promoting online Yellow Pages. At first it was easy and it was simply pursuing long-tail keywords (ones that included city name), Will claims, but the real challenge came when Google and the others decided to change the rules and started prioritizing their own products.

Will is the CEO of Search Influence and that is what occupies most of his time. He loves beer, and that is probably why one of his favorite quotes is “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

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Jim Rudnick »

Jim sold his first Internet marketing firm in 1999 when he turned 50 (note: at that time I still hadn’t heard of the Internet, and I had barely seen a PC on TV once or twice). He now handles just about 10 clients personally, just to “keep his hand in.”

He is currently mostly dedicated to his hobbies, primarily wine tasting, and Jim says that if he were 30 years younger and if he’d won the lottery, he would have bought a winery in Napa, CA. He also loves skiing, which he has been practicing for over 55 years. Mr. Rudnick has written 2 books, and is currently working on a 3rd. He enjoys all things “local”, and has been president of the Hamilton Local Chamber of Commerce.

But above all, he is a happy father of 3 and grandfather of 2.

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Phil Rozek »

Phil’s first encounter with online marketing was in 2006 when, while still in college (Japanese Language and Literature major at Boston University), he began helping his father manage AdWords campaigns. He built his first website later the same year. Phil gradually grew more and more curious about why “some businesses were on the map and some weren’t.” His explorations were briefly summarized in his first-ever article on local search marketing, which appeared in a local newspaper in the summer of 2008. He likes getting to know his clients more personally and exchanging gifts with them or having long phone conversations, completely unrelated to local search are not uncommon.

While at his PC, Phil likes listening to jazz, Soul, metal, alternative, and the occasional bagpipe tune. When not working, he spends his best hours with his fiancée, Stefanie, and their 4-year-old cat, Peanut. His hobbies include running, camping, gardening, reading, and collecting coins. As these seem to be features typical of a clean-cut guy, it might come as a surprise that at one time Phil had shoulder-length hair and a Civil-War-caliber beard.

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Yam Regev »

Just 7 years ago Yam was working on his family’s farm in a small village in northern Israel. That was when he moved to Tel Aviv and established the online marketing department of a large locksmith corporation. His team of local SEO consultants grew quickly and after only 3 years it consisted of 25 members. In 2010, Yam left the company and started partnering with different SMBs, helping them strengthen their online presence. His latest venture is called kidEbook – a start-up company specialized in creating smart kids apps. Yam enjoys being where things are happening, close to the end user. He says that “you can take the farmer out of the farm but you can’t take the farm out of the farmer.”

Yam is a happy father of his newborn daughter.

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Mike Ramsey »

Mike’s first steps into the Internet marketing world were during his college years. For a class project he had to launch a website – HugeIdahoPotatoes.com, and monetize it. Around 2007, already out of college, and having his own clients, Mike started digging into local SEO as he noticed the potential positives it could bring to his customers.

Mike has a lovely wife and is a father of two (and one on the way). His hobbies include theater and guitar playing. Mike was Idaho State Drama champion a few times and has participated in a lot of plays. He currently plays in a bluegrass band that travels to different countries and performs at local folk festivals together with his wife’s folk dance team.

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David Oremland »

Dave has been involved in SMB operations since the early 1980′s. His first local-search-related activity came during the 1990′s when he had to compile databases of small businesses information as part of his job of releasing commercial space to this kind of companies. He first recognized the importance of local search for SMBs in the early 2000′s. As his company didn’t manage to find anyone who was knowledgeable enough about local SEO, he took on these duties and has been working on them ever since.

His hobbies include watching sports, dining out, and cooking.

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David Mihm »

David has been inclined to art and design since grad school, where he studied architecture. This naturally led him to using his skills and interest in the online world. His first contact with local was in 2005, when he started helping his clients with claiming their online business listings. What attracted him most was the opportunity to help boost a small business without significant amount of time and investment by the business owner (something, he acknowledges, that is less relevant nowadays).

David has great passion for golf. He is a big fan of The World’s Great Links Courses: his favorites are Portrush, Portstewart, County Down, Ballybunion, Carne, Royal Aberdeen, Nairn, Cruden Bay, Ballyneal, and Old Macdonald and Bandon Dunes. He has combined his two hobbies – architecture and golf, into a website where he shares his accumulated thoughts: EpicGolf.com. In addition to these, David is very much into craft beer (especially Northwest IPA’s and Pale Ales) and craft-roasted coffee.

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Matt McGee »

Matt built his first website in 1995. It was (and still is) dedicated to U2, and since then it has received awards and recognition from the likes of Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly. His jump into online marketing came a little later, though. It happened around 1999/2000 when one of his clients was struggling to sell through their website. Matt bought a listing at Yahoo Directory and eventually this saved the client’s business. The move to local search came naturally as the search engines started pushing into that market. Matt spotted this early on as one of his very first posts suggests.

Matt’s most time-consuming hobby is managing his U2 site. Besides this he likes spending time reading, taking photos, and being with his wife and kids.

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Jackson Lo »

Jackson got enthusiastic about SEO through a friend of his, and started practicing it in 2009. Together they developed a small business (KayLo Marketing) whose primary aim was to help local businesses in the Ottawa region expand their reach through local business marketing. What Jackson liked about online marketing was the continuous stream of new content and perspectives, as well as the opportunity to engage with bright and passionate marketers.

Currently Jackson works as a Web Marketing Analytics / SEO Manager at AdJump Media and Menu.ca. In his spare time he likes doing strength training and playing volleyball. His favorite hobbies are photography and traveling.

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Matthew Hunt »

Matt’s earlier life career as a theater artist didn’t portend his later involvement in online marketing. However, in 2007, when his first son was born, he had to settle down and work a regular job, so he started selling POS Terminals. He felt his door-to-door sales strategy was not optimal and seeking a solution, he soon discovered the power of the Internet. He got his first website and started advertising via AdWords, which provided a significant boost to his sales.

Matt started educating himself on how to do all of this by himself, and over the next 3 years he spent over $100,000 on learning materials and expert guidance. Along the way, he used his knowledge to build a network of merchant account sites, which has been highly successful to date. In 2009, he decided to completely devote himself to online marketing for small businesses and after successfully helping a number of his friends double and even triple their businesses, he established his own company – Small Business Online Coach. Currently the company has more than 15 employees and Matt’s team has worked with more than 150 clients.

Matt spends most of his spare time with his family, especially, exploring the world with his 3 boys (ages 5, 3, and 1).

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Steve Hatcher »

Steve got into local search in late 2006 while he was building website for his brother in law’s landscaping business. He had had general experience with affiliate marketing and SEO for about a year prior to that. Although his first attempts with SEO were rather unsuccessful, using his knowledge and observations, he brought quick results to his brother in law’s website. At that time, Google still hadn’t started showing Maps results in the local search SERPs, so it was mostly about targeting organic rankings for location-specific queries.

Prior to diving into SEO, Steve was a forest fire-fighter in British Columbia, as well as a surfer in Nova Scotia. His current passion is wine and he has even started growing his own grapes.

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Miriam Ellis »

Miriam has been working with her husband on building and optimizing websites since the early 2000′s. Her favorite part of the process is web design and copywriting. Around 2006, she started noticing “local” trickle into the search results and this, paired with reading Mike Blumenthal’s blog (see below) pushed her into getting more involved in local search. What she enjoys most in local SEO is the opportunity to learn about unique local communities throughout North America, as well as developing and “copywriting for civic enhancement.”

When not online, Miriam loves doing organic farming and communicating with nature. Her hobbies include reading, playing chess, studying foreign and ancient languages, sewing, cooking, painting and playing the piano. She strongly believes that a lively, never-ending pursuit of education enables her to bring a bright and creative mind to client projects.

Linda Buquet »

Linda started her first SEO company (InfiniteHits.com) back in 2000. A few years later her current venture – Catalyst eMarketing, was born. She has been doing various types of Internet marketing, including national SEO, ever since. Linda went into local search around 3 years ago and it became her true passion. As a Google Places Top Contributor she spends a significant amount of time in the Google and Your Business forum, as well as in her own forum – Local Search Community Forum.

Linda is a workaholic, so her life is all around local search and helping people succeed online.

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Mary Bowling »

Mary and her husband sold their auto repair business in 2000. Mary didn’t enjoy the life of a retiree, so she started working at a ski and bike shop. After a few years, when this job got boring, she got another one at a local agency, which specialized in promoting bed and breakfasts, boutique inns, hotels and vacation rentals. Her new duties forced her to understand how to rank websites for local search, back in 2003 when this activity didn’t even have an established name.

Mary enjoys skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating in the winter, and rafting in Colorado and Utah in the summer. During the rest of the year she bikes, camps, and hikes in the desert and the mountains. A good prerequisite for her hobbies is the place where she lives – Glenwood Springs, Colorado. She moved there more than 30 years ago just for a temporary job and never left.

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Michael Borgelt »

Before starting his own SEO & Local Search marketing company Michael’s passions were basketball & computers – granted a very weird combination. Born and raised in Minnesota, Michael played basketball from grade school through college. At the same time, Michael’s intellectual thirst led him to technology where he completed a computer science degree at University of St. Thomas. After college Michael worked for a small online company as a computer programmer and as an SEO analyst. This is where Michael got his first taste of online marketing experience. He also continued his passion for basketball through a career as a college basketball referee in his free time.

It was during this period that Michael started his own internet marketing company. After the NBA experience he realized that refereeing was not the career he wanted to follow, so he put his drive and focus into his own company – 51 Blocks. In 2010, he began to notice the shift to local search and the importance Geo-targeted results were going to play in search behavior in the coming years.

Michael has built a number of tools with his computer programming background; these tools help to identify issues with local rankings. He provides these tools free of charge on his site.

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Mike Blumenthal »

Mike says he has been in local search since birth, with the only differences that back then he didn’t have his current beard, and it was not called local search. He worked at the family businesses since he was 8, and at 28 he started a computer sales division, before they closed the retail shop in 2001. At that time the business had over 50 employees and 3 locations. However, Mike and his brother kept the web design and hosting division open as they built their own content management system and proceeded to build websites for local companies. That is when it became clear to him that if these businesses wanted to be found online, they had to be indexed and ranked on Google and Yahoo. At that time, Mike’s own business had to advertise on 8-9 yellow pages directories in order to cover their target area. In 2004, when Google Local was first introduced, Mike literally threw the books away and focused on online advertising. In 2006, when Google Local became part of Google Maps, and its importance increased even further, Mike started looking for authoritative specialists (such as Greg Sterling, Matt McGee, Bill Slawski and David Mihm) to discuss the related issues with, and that is when he started his notorious blog on local search. What pushed him was the fact that no one seemed to be covering the questions he had. Mike’s hobby turned into a new career, and now he is widely known as “Professor Maps”.

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Mike Belasco »

Mike got involved in online marketing a long time ago, when he was learning how to build a website for his mother’s business. At that time he was using Prodigy dial-up Internet connection. He decided to jump into local search after he attended an SES conference where local SEO was broadly discussed. He was so interested at the time that he covered the conference on his blog and the article received a lot of attention.

Mike enjoys fishing, playing golf, and watching football in his spare time.

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Dev Basu »

Dev got into the “Make Money Online” niche around 2006. Back then he was promoting products from Commission Junction. However, he soon realized that ranking high for mainstream products was hard, so he switched to other networks such as ClickBank and Neverblue. Dev’s online marketing experience hasn’t always been bright and he has had a lot of “expensive lessons” over the course of his career; for example he once lost $1,500 in 10 days on PPC. However, he is positive that these were invaluable in helping him to become a better marketer. In 2008, he jumped into local search. He was fascinated by the ease with which one could rank above the organic search results, as well as the great opportunity that existed for businesses targeting local prospects.

Dev is fluent in English, French, Bengali, Hindi, and Urdu. In his leisure time he likes playing folksy songs on his acoustic guitar, or watching action-crime movies.

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Other local SEO specialists I reached out to:

Gregg Stewart
Aleyda Solis
Chris “Silver” Smith
Ed Reese
Ash Nallawalla
Michael Mire
Adam Dorfman
Don Campbell
Martijn Beijk
Myles Anderson

Other local SEO specialists, I didn’t reach out to, without whom this article would be incomplete:

Adam Steele
Travis Van Slooten
Colan Nielsen
Joy Hawkins

Special thanks to Ken Fagan for serving as the editor of the article.

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.

Aug 282012
 

Last week I read a post on Search Engine Land that was discussing a study by Implied Intelligence. The study was related to business data accuracy, and was comparing a number of the biggest players in the UK market. As I felt the SEL article didn’t offer too much details, and I was very interested to learn more, I contacted Marc Brombert and he was kind enough to provide me with the complete research.

Which Sites Were Researched

The full list of sites that were researched includes: Foursquare, Thomsonlocal, Scoot/TouchLocal, Bing Local, DNB, ThePhoneBook, Yell, Google Maps, Yelp, 118.com, 192.com, HotFrog, Yahoo Local UK, Qype UK. The mentioned sites were chosen based on traffic and general industry prestige (see here for reference). It is also worth mentioning that:

1) These are all different types of websites. For instance, Yelp and Qype are rather review social networks, Foursquare is a check-in social network, Yell, Scoot/TouchLocal and Thomsonlocal are traditional IYPs, Google Maps, Bing Local, Yahoo Local are a kind of mixtures. Thus, it is to be expected that the business data accuracy would vary.

2) Many of these exchange data between each other, or get data from the same source. For instance, My118information.co.uk provides data to 118.com, 192.com, TouchLocal, Yahoo, Bing, and others (according to Sarah Shepherd, Head of Customer Service at the company). LocalDataCompany.com provides data to Google, Yell, Thomsonlocal, Touchlocal, Qype, 192.com, and others (according to their website). At the same time 192.com gets data by 118.com.

Methodology of the Research

Implied Intelligence researched “1,400 hand-checked records from a random UK geography.” The records were all extracted from the websites of the businesses themselves. Because of this most of the records were of small businesses, as only records with one address per homepage were chosen (which means that chains and franchises were largely excluded). The study looks into a few aspects of the data, going beyond simple data accuracy. These include: coverage (how many of the records were present), number of duplicates (determining if a listing is a duplicate of another listing was based on a robust match between the name, address, phone number and URL), accuracy (of the main business data), and richness (presence of additional details).

Findings

As stated in the title, it turns out that Google is the most accurate and detailed source of business data in the UK. However, before looking into the final details, I’d like to discuss the scoring per factor.

Where everyone seemed to fail was at the coverage test. Google was the only one to score over 50% (58.8%), followed by 192.com (49.1%). Both these companies’ databases receive data from a large number of places, and this could explain their advantage. The worst scoring, by a large margin, is Foursquare with just 6.9% of the records being present on their website. The reason is most probably the relative unpopularity of the social network in the UK (85.2% of the British have never used it, and just 3.1% use it frequently). It is interesting, however, that Yelp takes the second spot (in reversed order) with only 24.6% of the businesses researched being present on their website. This performance is significantly worse than the one the site shows in the US market – 63.2%.

The second factor researched was percentage of duplicate listings. “Winner” is ThePhoneBook with 20.8% duplicates, followed by HotFrog with 12.3%. Yahoo, which in the UK gets data from Infoserve, was found to have 0% duplicates, followed by Yelp (1.4%). Google is just third here with 2.5%. These percentages are generally much lower than what I would expect. Based on my previous researches, the duplicate percentage should be on average around the low double-digits.

It gets scary when looking at the data accuracy findings. The worst performing overall is once again ThePhoneBook, featuring a wrong phone number in 27.8% of the cases, and a wrong address in 2.9% of the cases. It is followed by HotFrog (25.9% and 2.5% respectively). The best two are Qype (19.2% and 1.7%) and Bing (20% and 1.6%). It is to be noted that according to the research DNB does not provide any business information, such as address, phone, and additional details, so most of their scores are either N/A or 0.

The survey looks into what percentage of the records have website URL associated with them. Google is the winner with 87.9%, followed by Yell with 79.7%, and Bing with 78.7%. A number of websites do not allow business websites to be added to listings, so their overall score is significantly lowered by this factor. These include: DNB, ThePhoneBook, 118.com, 192.com, and Qype.

The most inaccurate in terms of business website associated with a listing are Yelp (33.6%), Yahoo (33.3%), and Scoot (32.6%). Google is the best performer (from the ones that do allow business websites to be added to listings) with just 15.8% incorrect URLs.

The research also looks into the percentage of records with opening hours, and the percentage of records with additional information (including about-us information (taglines), payment options, free quotes, certifications, and others, but excluding reviews and check-ins). The unchallenged winner in both is Google with 28.3% and 97.9% respectively. There are again quite a number of directories that do not offer any additional information: Foursquare, DNB, ThePhoneBook, 118.com, 192.com, Yahoo.

Based on the factors discussed above (coverage score, duplicate score, phone error score, address error score, URL coverage score, URL accuracy score, hours score, and additional info score), the winner is Google Maps. Second place goes to HotFrog, and third place goes to Bing.

While I appreciate and respect the scoring system Implied Intelligence used, I believe some of the factors are not equal in terms of importance to other factors. These include URL coverage, URL accuracy, and business hours presence. I combined URL coverage, business hours coverage, and additional details presence into one factor, and completely excluded URL accuracy, and here is how the data accuracy rankings turned out:

1. Google Maps (=)

2. Bing Local (+1)

3. Thomsonlocal (+5)

4. Qype (+3)

5/6. HotFrog (-3/-4) and Yell (-1/-2)

7/8. Yelp (-1/-2) and Yahoo Local (+2/+3)

9. Scoot (-4)

10. 118.com (-1)

11. Foursquare (=)

12. 192.com (=)

13. DNB (+1)

14. The PhoneBook (-1)

Below is a graph that shows the difference in overall score when using Implied Intelligence’s scoring system and my scoring system:

 

Takeaways

Undoubtedly, Google is the winner in terms of complete and accurate UK businesses data. It is interesting that Bing, which does not have an automated system for businesses to list themselves or to edit their data (such as Business Portal in the US), performs very well (they do, however, have a request form for adding/updating a listing). From the viewpoint of local SEO, HotFrog and Yell seem to be important citation sources (I have discussed this previously) as they offer a big number of additional business information bits to be added (check here why this is important).

Aug 212012
 

Mobile advertising network xAd has released an interesting report on the most recent trends in mobile-local advertising, specifically in the context of the restaurant industry. The reported data is derived from the performance seen on their network, which delivered 3.4 billion locally-targeted ads in the second quarter of 2012.

According to the report, the overall ads click-through rates (CTR) are 8% for search and 0.68% for display, and are significantly higher than these for the restaurant category alone (4.86% and 0.42% accordingly). On the contrary, the restaurant category performs much above average in terms of secondary action rate (SAR). The most common secondary actions in this category are downloading map or looking up directions to the place (63%), and calling the business (17%) which is a very strong signal for purchase intent. This is supported by another recent research by xAd and Telemetrics, which found that 85% of smartphone/tablet users, who conducted research for a restaurant ultimately made a purchase.

xAd provides a break down per restaurant category for the secondary actions data with pizza, sit-down restaurants, coffee, and fast food facilities being at the spotlight. The most popular secondary action for all but coffee is checking map and driving directions with it spiking to as high as 82% in the fast food category. Calls are most common secondary actions with pizza restaurants (19%), because of the delivery service popularity. The picture is entirely different with coffee shops. According to the report, only 30% look up driving directions and map as a secondary action (which is low compared to this metric for the other types of restaurant facilities), and at the same time 27% check reviews, and 38% look for other information, such as working hours.

Another important finding is that mobile search activity related to dining is much higher in the later hours of the day than it is for most of the other local search categories. The peak of this activity is around 8PM, but it stays relatively high until 10-11PM. The report suggests that “these hours are prime territory for mobile-local ads targeted to the late night dinner crowd, club-goers and late night snackers.” Thus, the stress is put on the importance of time of day and user segment ad targeting.

Aug 162012
 

Jade Wang of Google posted a very necessary and awaited thread in the Google and Your Business forum, which provides tips on what business owners and brands should do while Google is rolling out the functionality to merge the Google+ Local pages with the Google+ Business pages into Google+ pages (yes, I know). Here is what Jade suggests:

Should I verify?

  • Storefront business with a page in Google+ (under the local business/place category) who are using it regularly: request verification. You will need to get a postcard sent to your business address and enter the PIN. Then, manage this page using the Google+ pages admin. Do not use the Google Places for Business to edit after verifying in Google+.
  • Verified owner in the Google Places for Business: continue to manage your information from the Google Places for Business dashboard and please wait for further instructions. We are working on a smooth upgrade process for everyone.
  • New storefront businesses: (not verified on Google Places for Business) you may create a page in Google+ (under the local business/place category) and go through the verification process. Then, manage your page through the Google+ pages admin.

What if I’m a …

  • Service area business with address correctly hidden: the upgraded (merged) local Google+ pages are not currently supporting service area businesses. Please continue to manage it via Google Places for Business and hide your address as necessary, detailed in the quality guidelines.
  • Big brand or business with multiple locations: There is no way to link a single brand page to multiple local Google+ pages. Continue to manage your brand page in Google+, if you already have on. To manage your locations, continue to use use the Google Places for Business dashboard.

I have a sticky situation…

  • Created a page in Google+ in a category other than local business/place? Only +pages in the local business/place category can be verified and merged with a Google-generated local Google+ page. There is no way to change the category of +pages. You may create a page in the local business/place category and verify that if you’re not currently verified in Google Places for Business. We will not be able to move your followers or content.
  • Data issues? continue to use Edit business details to resolve these issues. Please do not attempt to merge or verify a page with data issues.
  • Someone else verified your social local Google+ page? Please make sure it isn’t a Google-generated page. If you’re sure it’s a social page, you can learn more about admin rights here.
  • Someone else verified your Google-generated page? You can also request verification. Any Google-generated pages can be verified by any account in Google Places for Business. If you suspect that someone else is adding incorrect information to your Google-generated page, use this troubleshooter.

Ever since the verification option was announced, there were many discussions, specifically if one should urge to pass through the route of this merger yet. The main concern is that the full spectrum of functions is apparently still being worked on and rolled out gradually. As you could understand from Jade’s answer, there are a very significant number of businesses that cannot actually verify their Google+ pages for one reason or another. The only ones, to whom Google gives green light, are storefront businesses that actively use Google+ for marketing, and storefront businesses that are new to the world of Google local.

Jul 192012
 

The question of the differences between Google+ Local and Google Map Maker, and the potential difficulties they cause for the local businesses, has been opened recently by Mike Blumenthal. He focused on categories, but I believe a more major problem might be hidden even lower at the ladder – the listing creation itself.

1. Escort agencies.

There have been many discussions in the past few months related to the eligibility of escort service businesses on Google Maps. Here is what Google+ Local Quality Guidelines says: “Fraudulent or illegal activities aren’t tolerated on Google and may result in account suspension and removal of listing information from search results.” The legal status of escort agencies in many countries is not clear, but as long as sexual services are not included, they would normally be considered confining with the law. However, according to Map Maker’s guide to “Permitted Businesses and Points of Interest” escort services are considered “non-fixed location” businesses and therefore are prohibited from being listed on Google Maps. Theoretically, this inconsistency in the guidelines means that an owner of an escort agency could list the agency via Google+ Local, but it is very possible that it would later be removed by a Google moderator or by a spam fighter via Map Maker. Additionally, the rules might be interpreted in another way – an escort agency might be eligible for a listing as long as it does not advertise itself as offering escort services (note that Map Maker prohibits the service, not the agency).

2. Vacation rentals.

The eligibility of vacation homes is another problem which has never been given a clear answer (that I know of) by any Google representative. According to the Google+ Local Quality Guidelines:

Rental or for-sale properties, such as vacation homes or vacant apartments, are not eligible to be listed on Google Maps and should not be verified. Instead, verify the listing for your sales or leasing office or offices. If you have a property with an on-site office, you may verify that office location.

At the same time the Map Maker “Permitted Businesses and Points of Interest” says that as long as the vacation homes have “permanent on-site management” they are eligible for a listing on Google Maps. If we decide to trust both sources (although at first they seem contradicting), we could conclude that while a business owner cannot list their vacation home(s) via Google+ Local, and cannot claim an already existing listing, such a listing could exist on Google Maps, as long as all-year on-site management is present. A way to add such a listing would be directly via Map Maker or via a trusted data provider (Localeze, for instance).

3. Non-permanent location businesses.

If you thought the above two issues are complicated, wait until you read the rules related to non-permanent location businesses. Back in October 2011, Google introduced the following guideline:

“You also can’t create a Places listing for an ongoing service, class, or meeting at a location that you don’t own or have the authority to represent. Please coordinate with your host to have your information displayed on their Place Page within their Description field.”

There is no further information or clarification on what is considered as a legitimate “authority to represent” status. However, this rule seems to mostly cater to businesses that have irregular or rather rare events happening at particular location(s), such as the ones mentioned in the guideline itself – classes, meetings. As you can see, though, there is no explanation on how often/rarely these classes/meetings should happen in order to be ineligible for an individual listing. According to the Map Maker guide “seasonal businesses without a permanent, recurring location”, “temporary, one-time events”, “meeting places” are prohibited from being listed on Google Maps. However, the following types of businesses are permitted: “farmer’s markets”, “recurring performances”.

If we again trust both sources, it turns out that any type of businesses/organization organizing meetings are ineligible for listings on Google Maps. Additionally, any type of businesses that have their events/classes organized at one particular location would also be ineligible. The same goes for the ones that organize seasonal, temporary, or one-time events. Thus, if your business is, for example, yoga class that is being held twice per week at two (or more) different locations, you might not be allowed to have a listing on Google Maps. If your classes are conducted only at one specific location, you would be eligible, though. It also seems that even if you do not have the “authority to represent” a location (whatever this means), you might still have your listing as long as you are classified as “recurring performance” (Google gives Penn & Teller at the Rio as an example).

Conclusion

Everything related to Google’s local listings is completely messed up. Starting with the determination of if a business could even be listed, going through the process of creating and maintaining a listing, and finishing with the process of representing a listing publicly. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again – if Google doesn’t get the basics right, they can never expect to have the best product.

Jun 212012
 

Update: Matt McGee just emailed me that he contacted Yelp, and they claimed the link has been added by a user, and they are going to update the listing.

Today I stumbled upon one of the most curious listings I’ve seen in a while. And I am seeing literally hundreds every day.

Here it is:

The link to the Google Maps listing is dead. It leads to this URL:

https://maps.google.com/maps/place?hl=en&georestrict=input_srcid:

This is the way a Google Places listing’s URL was appearing previously (before the transition to Google+ Local) when someone looked it up when they clicked on “See your listing on Google Maps” from their Google Places dashboard. With the obvious difference that the actual Source ID is missing in this particular URL. This means that no one can actually have such a link except the verified business owner, or someone that has access to the business database of Google.

As the listing is obviously unclaimed, it is very doubtful it was the business owner who created it. It is also impossible that it was created by a user, because they’d not have such a link. Overall the listings seems to be automatically generated.

Do you think it is possible that Google and Yelp went into some deal in which Google (!!!) provides data to Yelp? Or do you think it is possible that Yelp is now scraping content from Google (payback?), and is simply placing a dead link to Google Maps?