Meet Google+ Local (Google Places Is Dead)

UPDATE: MAY 30, 2012

Google announced in July 2011 that there would be one day be Google+ business profiles.  We didn’t know they’d look like THIS…

We here at Upright have been spending our after-hours tonight scouring through the new features of Google+ pages.  In our conversation we’re focused on the entirely new system of reviewing businesses on Google, using a 0-3 numerical scale.

When Google drop bombshells like this, we get to headscratching and re-strategizing!

Starting now, this blog will feature a series of helpful posts teaching business owners about the new Google+ pages, including:

  • how to create a Google+ page
  • how to make your Google+ page earn new business for your company
  • how to instruct customers to leave feedback on Google+

In the meantime, search for your own business in Google, ie. “Upright Communications Cincinnati OH”.  If you find a link to a Google+ page, click it to explore how your business is now marketed locally on Google.

Stay tuned!

Demand for Positive Reviews (Fake Ones!)

Online reviews are increasingly growing in importance (You may be thinking, “duh”!). But not only are they extremely important for YOUR company, they’re just as important for when you’re not at work. You want people to trust what’s being said about where you work, but you also want to trust that the restaurant you go to tonight will really be that good!

What if I told you that some online reviews are FAKE? You may say to yourself, “I could see competitors writing bad reviews for their biggest rival” or “I’ve seen reviews where its obvious the employees write it”. Well those examples do indeed happen, but the latest craze is actually PAYING for positive reviews. Not all that surprised? Me either!

Most recently on a website asking “What would you be willing to do for $5?”, one man offered to write two positive online reviews for a company. On another site, one person said they would pay someone to write a positive review on TripAdvisor.

I could probably go on all day, listing off examples of people paying for reviews, but that’s not what I want you to take away from this blog post.  I want to educate you on how to spot a fake review.

A group of researchers at Cornell University studied reviews and developed an algorithm that worked 90% of the time. Here is what they concluded:

“The fakes tended to be a narrative talking about their experience using a lot of superlatives, but they were not very good on description. Naturally: They had never been there. Instead, they talked about why they were in Chicago (for example). They also used words like ‘I’ and ‘me’ more frequently, as if to underline their own credibility.”

We can only hope that word spreads about these paid reviews and that more people become educated on how to spot them. We don’t want what was once a positive online strategy, to end badly.

Now you know how to spot a fake review!  Get online and make me proud!

Verify Your Business in Google Places & Bing Local Business Center

Every business– from local start-ups to international corporations– benefits when they claim their location profiles in the Top 3 search engines’ local listing centers.

The Top 3 local listing centers are:

The larger your business and the longer it’s been around, the higher chances that incorrect or outdated info about your business is displayed by these 3 business centers.  Claiming these profiles ensures you have control over how your business is represented online.  You can correct mistakes and also add marketing assets like photos and coupons!  Each has its own special perks — Google Places offers the Google Dashboard, where you can see visibility numbers for your local listings.  Yahoo does not require any verification step to complete Local profiles.  And Bing offers mobile-marketing considerations and allows you to prioritize your services.

HOWEVER, there is one minor caveat to the simplicity of this process: the dreaded VERIFICATION STEP required by Google and Bing.

This verification step, required before a new listing is published, is vital to limiting spam.  But for those attempting to ethically publish info about their location(s) online, verification can be an inconvenient challenge.  Depending on several factors, Google and Bing require one of two forms of verification before a location’s listing can successfully publish:

1) phone verification – Google or Bing call you, and provide a PIN number to enter
2) letter verification – Google or Bing send your location a letter, supplying a PIN number to enter

There are pros and cons to each method.  When given a choice, phone verification is more immediate.  However, it requires the person who answers the phone at your location(s) to understand the process described above (sometimes a lot to ask during a busy day!).  Good thing both Google and Bing provide multiple attempts before letter verification is required.  Letter verification is no longer a snail’s journey.  The time it takes to receive these letters is getting faster– most companies will find Google and Bing letters in their mailboxes within a week.  And letters can be easily resent on command.

The bottom line is to stay calm during the tricky verification process.  These verification systems are patient and offer several attempts.  And the light at the end of the tunnel is awesome — much-increased visibility of your business to local consumers.

If you continue to have trouble verifying your business in Google Places specifically, search Mike Blumenthal’s blog for solutions.  The actual Google Places forum is a tangled web, and Mike does a great job to synthesize issues business owners face during this process.  Popular user issues covered on Mike’s blog include:

What does “We currently do not support this location” mean in Google Places?
My Google Places listing has been in ‘Pending’ status forever!

Why did I receive the error message that I’ve used a banned term in Google Places?
Why is my business marked closed in Google Places?  I’m still here!

Best of luck, and please comment below with any questions as you verify your business in Google, Yahoo and Bing!

Google Business Profiles to Become Un-Free?

Eyebrows are raised.

The sheer timing of recent changes to Google Places (reported here) and the introduction of Google+ (reported here) is suspect.  Google strips a considerable amount of information from Places profiles in the same month as they release Google+, which enables rich social interactions for users.  A coincidence?

Local Search experts are reading between the lines.  Previously, Google encouraged all business owners to edit information about their business for free, in order to provide consumers with details on the businesses nearby.  Will Google soon charge business owners for enhanced profiles, data-rich and infused with flashy features from Google+?  Will business owners pay for this?

Previous attempts from Google to encourage local business owners to advertise have NOT been wildly successful.  Products like Google Boost have come and gone, as business owners did not see the benefit of paying to display their hours and photos.  How better to force business owners into advertising, than requiring payment in order to create a business profile at all!

As we anticipate Google Business Profiles (an unreleased product), many theorize that Google Places will become the equivalent of a bare-bones Yellow Pages listing.  Meanwhile, paid Google Business Profiles would become big and colorful display ads with lots of interactive features.  There is certainly a demand for business owners to control information out there about their business.  That is really their right!  If data control becomes un-free, Google seeks to reap considerable rewards.  Stay tuned.

Google Places Updates

Google Places listings are looking different from week-to-week, as Google actively tests different profile displays.

Last week, Google axed 3rd party reviews from Places listings (reviews from sites like Yelp.com), and removed the “More About This Place” feature where business citations were listed.  What’s next?

After researching and following these changes closely and anxiously anticipating what will happen in the near future, we stumbled upon a forum post by a Google Places Community Manager (i.e. Google employee) that confirms additional display changes in Google Places profiles.

Vanessa from Google states:

Seeing a lot of questions in the forum, let me just clarify a couple things about the new Place pages. The following info you provide may not appear on your Place page, but it’s all still used to help us understand more about your business:

  • Email address
  • Menu
  • Reservations
  • Optional attributes / Additional details
  • Service area toggle “Show service area”

So just because we’re not showing it, doesn’t mean it’s not helpful for us to have – it helps our system ensure that your organic listing appears and ranks appropriately on Google and Google Maps when potential customers perform searches related to your service.

At this point, we can only theorize as to why Google would un-display helpful data provided by business owners. Mike Blumenthal, a known Google Places guru, seems to think Google is making room for more paid local features. Whatever the case may be, we expect more changes to surface. Until then, as they say: “keep calm and carry on”!

Google+ (A New Social Platform)

Google+ is a new social platform which many see as Google’s answer to Facebook. There are several components to the free product, launching now and over the next several months:

1) CLICK TO SHARE The first feature (available now to all Google users) is the ability to “+1″ Google search results. Enable this feature, and you will see a +1 button to the right of each Google search result. It’s similar to ‘liking’ on Facebook– when you click the button, other participants in your Google social network will see what you +1 in their own search results. See screenshot:

Sign up for the ability to “+1″ specific Google search results, the new form of social sharing. (Log into your Google account first.)

2) HOOK +1 UP ON YOUR WEBSITE Most likely, Google will eventually factor the amount of +1s a webpage receives as a ranking factor. Currently, the amount of tweets and Facebook shares a page receives is a ranking factor; so this is the next logical step. According to your comfort level, we recommend you add the +1 sharing button to your webpages:

Add the +1 button to your website, to enable visitors to share your webpages and blog entries with their Google networks.

3) ADDITIONAL FEATURES Google has a whole world planned with Google+. For example: ten-person video sharing, management of Facebook-style social profiles, and easy mobile sharing. Currently, only a select few Google users have access to these features. Read one user’s experience of the new features.

Sign up to be notified when additional Google+ features are rolled out to the public.

More to come on Google+ in the coming weeks and months!

Shoppers Are Going Mobile, Are You Going With Them?

As Smartphone technology advances, more shoppers are using mobile capability to research purchases and find products.  But while users are keeping up with mobile innovation, it appears that this is not the case with online marketers. A recent Search Engine Land article reports that 79% of website marketers do not offer mobile-ready content, according to a recent Google survey.  In light of statistics revealed in a separate Google report on mobile use, serious opportunities are being missed by those marketers.

According the Google mobile use findings, among local information seekers:

 

  • 79% of smartphone consumers use their phones to help with shopping, from comparing prices, finding more product info to locating a retailer
  • 74% of smartphone shoppers make a purchase, whether online, in-store, or on their phones
  • 70% use their smartphones while in the store, reflecting varied purchase paths that often begin online or on their phones and bring consumers to the store

 

While mobile search is becoming more important to consumers, nearly 80% of marketers are missing mobile opportunities. Furthermore, the Google survey revealed that among 21% that have adopted mobile technology, most are only providing mobile-friendly pages through the home page. As the Search Engine Land article reports, this creates a problem in that most searches, ads, and social media links do not lead users to the home page, but rather, specific pages relating to the query. What happens when users try to connect the pages other than the home page? The article’s author reports that according to his own “Mobile IQ” study, among sites that were supposed to be mobile friendly:

 

  • Amazon: 95% of pages requested fail to connect iPhone and Android shoppers with mobile content. 22% of pages fail to connect Blackberry shoppers to mobile content.
  • Best Buy: 90% of pages requested fail to connect iPhone, Android, and Blackberry shoppers with mobile content.
  • Staples: 98% of pages requested fail to connect iPhone, Android, and Blackberry shoppers with mobile content.
  • Office Depot: 99% of pages requested fail to connect iPhone, Android, and Blackberry shoppers with mobile content.

 

If you are investing in website marketing, you will want to be sure that you are making the most of every opportunity, including rapidly expanding mobile opportunities. The World Wide Web Consortium has an online tool called W3C mobileOK Checker that can help you to analyze your website’s level of mobile friendliness. The mobileOK test results will reveal how effective your website is in several areas, and offer best practice suggestions for improvement.

Contact Upright to assist you in developing a plan for making the most of mobile search.

Google Tags Expires – Need a Boost?

After only one year, Google is discontinuing Google Tags.  Tags was a tool that enabled local businesses to promote specific areas of their business for $25/month.  Are you running a Tag currently?  Here are examples of how these bright yellow call-outs appear in local Google results:

Announcement

An excerpt from Google’s brief email notice to Tags users: “We are retiring Google Tags for all users on April 29, 2011. No action is required on your part, and your Places account and listing will continue to work as usual. Effective today, no new tags can be created, but all active tags will keep running to the end of April for free.

Reasoning

Many argue that the axe of Google Tags is simply a transition in lieu of Google Boost, which also supports local small businesses.  Like Tags previously, Google Boost enables business owners to create online search ads from their Google Places account.  The main difference is that Boost ads use a unique blue pinpoint marker, and ads are eligible to appear both within Google Adwords sponsored listings and beside the map in local searches:

In addition, its payment plan differentiates Google Boost from Google Tags.  Boost bills users on an automatic pay-per-click basis, versus a monthly standard cost.

Resources

  • For setup instructions and to read pros/cons of Google Boost, please click here.
  • For Google’s official Google Boost manual, please click here.

Bing Business Portal

UPDATE: Are business listings you created in Bing Local missing when you log into the new Bing Business Portal?  We’ve noticed across several clients that business listings claimed before April 1 have not migrated into the Bing Business Portal.  Others have also noted this in Bing’s forums.  Bing recommends that you fill out this online form if previously-claimed locations are missing from the Bing Business Portal.

ORIGINAL POST: Microsoft, a multinational corporation, has released its newly upgraded version of Bing’s directory of local businesses, which allows users to update, claim and manage their business listings for free.

What was once called Bing Local Listing Center is now being referred to as Bing Business Portal Beta.  The platform is in beta, which means it’s still in the testing phase.

The portal allows for business owners to dress up their listings by adding their company logo, photos and basic information.  In addition, you can add store hours, parking availability, and types of payments accepted.  This might sound familiar because you could do this in past versions, but Bing Business Portal has added even more features:

  • Mobile Products (refer to first image below)- where you can add product descriptions to your profile page for mobile use
  • Specialties (refer to second image below) – where you scan decide a percentage portion of your business efforts
  • Facebook – enabling users to post information from the portal to their Facebook page
  • Coupons – the option to share your best deals with the public

…plus MORE!

Like other prominent search engines (i.e. Google and Yahoo), Bing has created this tool to assist businesses in obtaining professional relationships with those in their local areas, online.

We will keep you updated on any new changes the Beta version has in store for us!  We encourage you to explore your account, and if you don’t have one- it’s easy and free to sign up.

List of Banned Terms in Google Places

Are you a small business owner who’s seen this ominous message in Google Places?


Eeek, it’s scary looking right?!  The Google Places forum is full of posts from people who have received this error after using correct, official business data in their listing.  They do not understand which terms within their listing are banned.  We may never know why certain terms are banned, but we now have a pretty definitive list of banned terms.

All thanks to our friend, Local Search guru Mike Blumenthal…we present:

The Comprehensive List of Banned Terms on Google Places

Enjoy, and avoid using any of the banned terms in your Google Places listing.  If you find any others not on the list, please comment below.