Author Archives: Nyagoslav

Interesting Google Places and Local Search Articles (22-29 May)

I proceed gathering all the interesting articles from the past week, related to local search, Google Places and the social-local. You can see the previous editions here:

Articles 15 – 21 May
Articles 7 – 14 May
Articles 1 – 7 May
Articles 23 – 30 April

I’d say the most interesting even of the past week was the discovery that the businesses which used rich snippets for their testimonials are now rewarded, as they get reviews on their Place pages directly from their own websites. Furthermore, a new feature of Google Places was discovered (by me) – “Featured review”. I wrote 2 articles on what it is and how it could be used. Linda Buquet also picked the topic and wrote a 2-piece post on the same feature. There were also numerous great articles on Yelp and Google Places reviews.

Google Places and Local SEO:

hReview Testimonials from SMB Sites Starting to Show in Places
Using hReview on Your Website
Google: 40% of Mobile Searches Local
Yelp’s Community Strategy and Google
How Yelp Crushed Citysearch & Yahoo Local … & Why Google Is Stealing Yelp’s Playbook
Study: Yelp has More Productive, Less Extreme Reviewers
The Growth of Reviews In Google Places (aka Hotpot)
Check-ins and rating places get easier with Google Maps 5.5 for Android
Google Places Mobile: Is a Broad Rollout of Check-In Offers Imminent?
10 Unorthodox Ideas For Local Citations & Links
Locksmith Spam Listing Issue
Google Places Big New FEATURED Reviews – Make that Place Page Stand Out from the Pack
Google Places BIG New FEATURED Reviews – How To – Part 2
Online Reputation Management: 10 Fighting Tips!

Social-Local for SMBs:

Have Deals ‘Jumped the Shark’? Unlikely
Survey: 44% Buy Daily Deals at Least Monthly
14% Of Groupon/LivingSocial Subscribers Respond To Push Notifications
Location-Based Marketing: The Convergence of Social and Mobile
For Small-Business Marketers, Are Fewer Channels Better?
Everyone Should Hire ‘Social Media Experts’
Friend Recommendations Drive Local Business Visits
Discover more places you’ll like based on people who’re like you

Have a nice weekend reading!

How to Use Google Places Featured Review

A few days ago I wrote about an interesting new feature I found out by chance – “Featured review” on Google Places. Unfortunately, I struggled to uncover more about it as I don’t have an Android phone and the people in Google seemed not to be willing to give away some information on it. However, I spoke with Linda Buquet on that and she picked up the topic and wrote a two-parts article on the feature. Her blog is probably followed by Vanessa Schneider, who is Community Manager for Google Places and she clarified how these “Featured reviews” appear (she gave me the same answer as in the comments under the post of Linda, on the Facebook page of Google Places):

When a Google Places user posts their rating or review to Twitter using Google Maps for Android — more info on how to here: http://goo.gl/ohmqF — their followers receive a tweet containing a shortened URL. The URL directs followers to the Place page for the business, where the recently tweeted rating or review appears in an easy-to-find section called “Featured review.”

What new information did Linda discover and what more was brought by this answer of Vanessa:
- only Android users retweeted reviews are being shown as “featured”
- when you go to the Place page via organic search or via Google Maps you don’t see the “Featured review”, you can see it only if you follow the short URL sent with the tweet
- this feature most probably exists since the announcement of the option to tweet your reviews and ratings from March 3rd, 2011

What did I come out with from all this:
- “Featured reviews” do not expire
- every review from a Google User can be featured, using the correct URL direct
- this could be helpful only for businesses that use buttons such as “See our reviews on Google Places” on their websites, so it isn’t useful for the spammers

Here is how to create a “Featured review” out of any review:

1. Go to your Google Places Place page and click on “Link” in the upper right corner:

2. When you get the link, delete the bolded parts:

http://maps.google.com/maps/place?oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&ie=UTF8&q=hotel+las+vegas&fb=1&hq=hotel&hnear=0x80beb782a4f57dd1:0x3accd5e6d5b379a3,Las+Vegas,+NV&cid=5442487001343959034&z=14

so that it looks like this:

http://maps.google.com/maps/place?cid=5442487001343959034

The numbers after the “cid=” are the unique ID number of each Place page, so they will be different for your particular Place page.

3. Save this link somewhere and scroll down to the “Reviews by Google users” section. When you go there click on the nickname of any of them. A new page will open, whose URL will look something like that:

http://maps.google.com/maps/user?uid=215234974382015503873&hl=en&gl=US&ved=0COoCEIUK&sa=X&ei=XgDgTZWLDZemsQbrx8TfDQ

4. From this link, take just the numbers after “uid=”. In this case the numbers are “215234974382015503873

5. Go back to the URL of your Place page (in this case: http://maps.google.com/maps/place?cid=5442487001343959034) and add the following at the end of it: “&cad=source:gmm-twitter&ppht=review_permalink&author=“. The URL should look like this:

http://maps.google.com/maps/place?cid=5442487001343959034&cad=source:gmm-twitter&ppht=review_permalink&author=

6. Add the UID number of the user that you have chosen in step 4 (in this case: “215234974382015503873″) to the end of the URL that we just created in step 5. The URL should look like this now:

http://maps.google.com/maps/place?cid=5442487001343959034&cad=source:gmm-twitter&ppht=review_permalink&author=215234974382015503873

*Note: the numbers after the “cid=” and “author=” in this pattern URL are unique and they will differ when you create a “Featured review” URL for your own business Place page.

The “Featured review” section should appear right under your description on your Place page. In our example it looks like that:

Some examples how you could use that:

A) On your website, if you put a link leading to your Google Places page. The “Featured review” pops up almost on the top of the Place page, so that potential click-throughers (new word?) could immediately notice your great review.

B) Create a QR code leading to that “Featured review” Place page. As Linda Buquet noted, not only the “Featured review” section contains a great, clearly visible review, together with enlarged stars bar, but also a good call-to-action: “Local recommendations powered by you and your friends. Start rating“. This could potentially help you get more reviews from your customers that you do not directly ask for review.

C) Use it in your email review gathering campaign the same way as you are using the link to your Place page. This time you could link to the upgraded “Featured review Place page” (also a new term?)

These are just a few examples, but using your imagination, you can definitely think of something interesting. I’d be happy to hear some thoughts.

Google Places Featured Review

I just discovered by chance a new feature on Google Places. Did you know that you can tweet your reviews on Google Places? If you didn’t know – now you do, but if you did – I have something interesting for you. Check out the “Featured review”:

In the beginning of March 2011, Google announced that anyone could tweet their Hotpot reviews via their Android phone. That’s one of the reasons which is making me unsure if this feature is a new one, but I should repeat – today was the first day that I spotted it. New or not, after checking around I understood one sure thing – the featured review is one that has been tweeted. Unfortunately, currently I cannot say if it is the newest tweeted review, or just a random one, but this is definitely of huge importance for the local businesses. The featured review is showing up right under the main section of the Place page, which makes it instantly visible when someone enters. Moreover, the stars are much bigger than the ones in the normal “non-featured” reviews. This review is also going to show on Google Maps:

What does that mean for the SMBs? Even if you have hundreds of shiny 5-star reviews, both from Google Places users and third-party review websites, one “featured review” can take you down instantly. I am still not sure how this review is chosen to be “featured”, but if this is the only special “feature” of this review, than it widely opens the doors for a new portion of headache for each local business owner. Especially if it looks like this:

A few questions I couldn’t find the answer of:

- how is the featured review chosen (other than being tweeted)
- is it a recent review or could be an old one
- if the business owner replies to it, will the reply appear at the “Featured review” section too
- when did these reviews start appearing

Interesting Google Places and Local Search Articles (15-21 May)

Here are the interesting Google Places and local search articles from the past week. In case you’ve missed some of these, every week I will be posting a list of the ones that I consider the most valuable and informative. This week the biggest event was definitely the SMX in London, where specialists from all over Europe gathered with colleagues from the United States. That is why I will start with a few items related to that topic.

SMX London (Local Search):

What’s new in Local and Mobile Search – London SMX – Day 2
What’s new in Local Search and Mobile – SMX London
State of Search radioshow – episode 55: local Search with David Mihm, Lisa Myers and Martijn Beijk

The other hot topic of the week is definitely the check-in features and how they could be used by businesses for marketing purposes. Google Places rolled an update which allows Hotpot Google Places users to import data via Foursquare feeds for Places they have checked-in for.

Google Places and Local SEO:

Google Maps & Places Tidbits
A Brief History of Features in Google Local, Maps and Places
Closer Look at Local Revenue Numbers
Confessions Of A Yellow Pages User
Google Places Rich Snippets Finally Working?
Quick Tips: Optimizing a Site for Local Search
Announcing New Bing Maps & Local Features
Local marketing alert: Facebook Pages with Places function boosts social referrals
Nokia India to release a Google Places competitor?
Using Semantic Markup To Strengthen Your Local SEO Efforts
The “Right Way” to Delete a Google Places Listing

Social-Local for SMBs:

MerchantCircle’s New Lead-Gen Service
Social Media Use by SMBs Exploding
Core Foursquare Users Like Badges
6 Ways to Use Social Media to Boost Local Search Results
Facebook, LinkedIn More Popular Among SMBs Than Twitter, Survey Says
Better access to your content is, well, better
18% of Smartphone Subscribers Use Mobile Check-in
1 in 3 Smartphone Shoppers Often Accesses In-store Coupons
Location Based Services (LBS): Who’s Checking In Now? [Chart]
Infographic: A Look At The Size And Shape Of The Geosocial Universe In 2011

Google Places Optimization and Local SEO Fraud – How to Detect It


As Google Places becomes one of the most important online marketing tools, the scam and fraud connected to it starts to pop up like mushrooms in a warm, rainy April morning. For the average business owner it is difficult to distinguish a real, solid and fair specialist from a swindler. There are two great articles telling stories of such owners being cheated by charlatans:

Charlatan’s Web – Identify Local SEO Scammers Before They Bite You (by Miriam Ellis)

$1200 Google Places Extortion Scam – Careful who you Hire (by Linda Buquet)

They are both good sources of information about what you should be cautious of, but I wanted to give some specific tips on what to be aware of and what to request from a company that you would want to hand to one of your most important online presence bases – your Google Places page.

Tips on how to identify fraud:

1) Google Calls
Although Google are making phone calls (very rarely) to business owners, the phone call will be coming out from Google and not from a random phone number. If the other side does not legitimate themselves with anything else except saying that they are from Google – this is scam. Furthermore, I’ve never heard up to now of Google calling businesses outside the US (I repeat – very rarely).

2) On Google page 1 for 1 month
If someone tells you that they can get your Place page on page 1, or even more – on position A, for a month or less – this is scam. Although this is possible in very few cases, with very low competitive keywords (where you won’t even need to pay for any service to get your Place page on page 1), generally it’s impossible to get a new Place page on page 1 for less than a month. There is another exclusion – if your Place page is currently ranking on page 2-3 for low competitive keyword, it is possible to get it on page 1 for about a month, but without they completely not having any information about your Place page, and not having done analysis of the competition, they would not be able to tell you how long it would take. Generally, whoever calls you and tells you some very short period of time for getting on page 1 without ever knowing anything about you or your competition – this is scam.

3) Calling you without you ever contacted them
If someone calls you and starts offering you online services such as Google Places optimization, local SEO, web development, etc, it generally means they are not “clean”. For a company that specializes in search engine optimization, and especially in its niche – local SEO and Google Places, it shouldn’t be a problem to get their own website ranking high and get loads of business via the Internet. I haven’t heard up to date for any reputable local SEO company doing cold calling or persuading clients to buy services. If you are good at what you do – and you do some kind of marketing, you will get your leads via your website, blog, reputation. Not via phone calls, especially calls to people that have never contacted you before.

4) “It’s a secret how we will get your high Google Places ranking”
You have to remember one thing – the Google Places page is yours, and you just allow some third-person to work on it, and you pay them for that service. You can look at your Place page as a type of online real estate, which you own with your business information and no one has the right to do anything on it without your permission or knowledge. If someone tells you that they are going to do some “magical secrets” or some “tricks that are not to be revealed” it is the same as you getting someone to tune up your car, and when they ask them what exactly they plan to do, they say “it’s our secret magic”, and moreover – you are being a taxi driver, so the car is your main source of daily bread for your whole family. Would you let your car in the hands of these people? I doubt it. There are no secrets with Google Places that cannot be revealed to the customer. Everything should be as transparent as possible and the company should generally send you a full-proof step-by-step plan of what they are going to do. If they don’t want to tell you – tell them bye-bye.

5) “We will give you heaven for a hundred bucks”
You must be aware that Google Places and local SEO are not easy to implement and they are very time consuming. What a local SEO is selling you would not only be their special skills and knowledge, but also their time. Think it that way – if you have some complicated and very important case and need to hire a lawyer to help you solve it, would you hire one who tells you that he will complete all the work and will guarantee you he will win the case for $50 per hour? Or will you hire someone who will tell you what he thinks should be done, how he is going to do it and how much time it will take, and tell you the truth – that the final outcome is not 100% sure, but their price is, say, $150 per hour, and this guy is a famous specialist in this area? Now, I don’t know any good quality local SEO company that would work on any website or Place page for less than $100 per month. If they work for less there are two options: 1) either they outsource all the work to Indians or Filipinos via freelancer.com, 2) or they will do nothing or close to nothing to improve your SEO. Generally, if you hear too low price – run.

6) “Your business location is at the remote Nowhereville, TX? No problem – we will rank you for Dallas!”
One of the most important factors in local search (that’s why it’s called “local”) is the proximity to the center of the city where the searcher is performing the search from. If you do not have a real office, or establishment at that city (or very near it), there is no legal way that anyone could secure you high ranking for searches performed for that area, period. If someone promises you such thing, and if you are tempted to accept (because everyone knows that there is more business in Dallas, than in Nowhereville), think about how one day you wake up and receive a lawsuit. You pick up the phone and call the company you’ve hired to ask them what is going on, they close the line and you never hear back from them. Good luck.

Tips on what to do if, after all, you’ve hired a shady, scammy “local SEO” company:

1) Fake reviews
If you notice that numerous reviews are popping up on your Place page (or anywhere else on the Web, regarding your business), and they are not from your actual clients – ask the company what’s happening and ask them to remove them as soon as possible.

2) Fake address/location
If you check your listing and the address that your business is at is not the one on the Place page, but a completely different one, or if you notice that the Google Maps marker is not pointing to the correct place, contact the company immediately. While the second might be just a technical glitch, the first one is a major fraud and could be punished by law. Request immediate explanation of what is going on. If they tell you that they did all this purposefully so that your listing ranks higher in the search results, request to fix it immediately.

3) Fake phone number
In some cases the scammers could set a redirect phone number for your listing. No matter what reasons they state, unless you don’t have any phone number at all, or your only phone number is with phone code of other town, there is no reason to accept the redirect, especially if the “SEO” company has control over the monitoring of the redirect phone.

4) Spammers
If you notice that your listing is spammed with keywords, including additions to your business name, business description, or additional details – request the company to immediately clear all of these (especially the business name changes). The keyword stuffing of the business name, although bringing short-term benefits, can get your Google Places page suspended, and then you will, most probably, have to start all over on your own, as the company will very often never more pick up the call.

5) Never contacting you after you pay
Well, most probably you just got your money burnt. There is not much to be done except tracking the company by the phone (or any other means) they contacted you through, and give them to your lawyer.

6) Before canceling with the scammers
Before you cancel the contract with such a company, make sure you have the password for the account that is the verified owner of the Place page. Change the password before taking action. Very often such companies would take the listing as a hostage and blackmail you for a lot of money.

Generally, before you hire anyone to work on your Google Places and website local SEO make sure you have researched them, as well as all the other possibilities. Hiring such company is one of the most important steps for your online presence, so you have to be sure the job will be delivered in high quality. Ask and get the answers of the following questions:

- how will you help me get higher ranking?
- how long will it take?
- what will be my role in the process?
- how will we work together?
- how often will I hear from you and how often can I contact you?
- how much would you charge for that all?
- how can I monitor the process and when can I see the evidence of your work?

Finally, if you have any stories with related to the topic, feel free to share, as well as any information for the company that cheated you, so that they get exposed.

Interesting Articles from the Past Week (7-14 May)

This week was not as full of nice articles related to local search, Google Places and local-social as it was during the previous one. The biggest event was the Google I/O where a lot of innovations were announced, but only very few regarding local. However, let’s see what I’ve chosen for you to read during the peaceful weekend evenings.

Google Places and Local SEO:
Google Places Help – Verification Problems and Tips for Consultants
Hot Google Places Citations Source for Tier 1 Citations
Yelp Segues into Spain
YPG: 30% of Our Searches Come from Mobile
A Little Light Reading On Google Maps Ranking Factors
The Future of the Yellow Pages
Bing Quietly Adds Bulk Uploads to Local Business Listings
Yellow Pages Opt-In & Opt-Out in Seattle and San Francisco | 2011
Ten Things I Hope Google Places Fixes in 2011
Google Going Places With Local SMB Marketing Swag
Google Opens Places API to the Public
Citation Theory – Higher Rankings in Google with Google Places
Genbook Customer Reviews Now Published to Google Places

Local-Social:
A “real life” example of social media marketing
Social Profiles: It’s Quality, Not Quantity

Google Giving Tips for Places

It seems like Google has really heard of the problems and numerous complaints of all the users of Google Places and started taking some action to provide them some truly valuable tips. Here is what I saw today when I tried to join the Google Places “Create New Listing” Page:

These tips address some of the most common mistakes made by the newbie Google Places users, which are mostly small business owners, who have no idea what problems are awaiting them. Google says:

Before you create a business listing, think about which Google Account you are using. In the future, you may want to share this account with other people at your business.

This is a very often encountered problem, because usually after the small business owners realize that they need professional help for their Google Places, they mostly need to give away their Google Account’s password, which hides potential threads, the least of which is that someone could intrude their private business information and the worst being that someone could steal their Google Account, including not only the Google Places page, but also Gmail, AdWords, Docs, Blogger, GTalk, etc. so you can imagine what the harm could be. Such cases started popping up more and more with more frauds showing up and pretending to be helpful specialists, but instead cheating the money or worse – blackmailing the business owners. It is nice of Google that they address the issue, and it is at least some kind of start. But one could speculate if the real reason is not that Bing included in their Bing Business Portal a multilevel system for managing the account. Let’s talk about that later.

The second thing that Google shares as a tip is:

Enter your business’s main phone number to see if Google Maps already has some information about your business. You’ll then be able to edit any existing information and add new details, including photos and videos.

This is also important as most people are not aware that Google is actually scraping business information from the web and creating its own Place pages for their business. Most of the owners would never think of that, but would rather directly create a new Place page, an act which hides a lot of troubles if there is another Page already created for their business. When you search by phone number and Google does not find any listing using that phone, it automatically redirects you to the page where you could start creating it. However, if there is already a page for this business, the following screen appears with the map on the right side:

The third tip seems to me to be giving the answer to the question I was wondering about above – what is the real reason for these Tips to appear:

Have more than 10 business listings?
Add them quickly by using bulk upload.

You wonder why? Because as Matt McGee noted yesterday, Bing added bulk uploads to Bing Business Portal.

Whatever the reason is, this is a first step to improving the service of Google Places and providing at least some helpful tips for the millions of small business owners wandering out there and pulling their hair about the hundreds of problems that Google Places might cause.

New Local Ranking Factor Coming Up?

A few days ago Greg Linden notified about new local search ranking factor that might be implemented in the Google algorithm. It would be the number of driving direction queries.

He found that out via a paper, named “Hyper-Local, Direction-Based Ranking of Places“, written by four scientists from Google, Stanford University and Aarhus University (Note: Although I read the whole paper twice, there are very few things I understood about the way in which the algorithm would be changed as I am not a web/database analyst; maybe you would have better luck). The paper is scheduled to be presented at VLDB 2011 in Seattle.

The main problem of the study is the determination of the importance of points of interests or places in local search results, and how could the direction queries aid to solving this problem more accurately. They say:

A query that asks for directions from a location a to a location
b is taken to suggest that a user is interested in traveling to b
and thus is a vote that location b is interesting. Such user-generated
directions queries are particularly interesting because they are numerous
and contain precise locations.

The most important feature of the direction queries that is discussed in the paper is the frequency with which a place has been referred to. The four scientists write that this could serve as a signal as strong (or even stronger?) than user reviews. Immediately there a few questions that come to my mind:

- how about the people that do not drive (walk, go by bus/train)?
- how would that benefit places that are not points of interest to drive to?
- (as an user – Tom Health, has commented on the Greg Linden blog post) how would the cultural differences of using different means of transportation, rather than car, would be addressed?
- (and as the same user suggested) how would the issue be solved from the viewpoint of people who already know the place and don’t need checking the driving directions?

I guess we would have to sit and wait until September to find out the answers.

The Importance of Images for Your Google Places Page

One of the important features of every Google Places page is the pictures. Google realizes that and they put effort to stress the importance of the images for the public. Two events from the past week made me be even more sure in that. First, Google changed the interface of the Google Places pages and now the Photos & Videos section appears right under the business description. Then, Marissa Mayer, the de facto “public face of Google Places” announced the official launch of Business Photos.

The last month, Bright Local announced the results of a survey they conducted among 1250 US citizens. The results were more than eloquent – 60% of customers put more consideration on Place pages, which have images. And 23% of all customers are much more likely to contact a business with an image on their Place page.

These results basically mean two things:
- 60% higher click-through rate then the competitors without images
- 23% higher chances for conversion then the competitors without images
Furthermore, it is to note that significant 20% of the asked customers said that completely ignore the Google Places results, which means that only 20% of all customers ignore the images when taking the decision which Google Places page owner to contact.

This survey, although very informative, shows only the surface of the problem. The more important question is “What picture to place as a leading image of my Place page?” The answer could greatly vary from case to case, but let’s make a little brainstorming. What would be the most appealing image for a potential customer, searching for a:

1. Restaurant
a) not appealing – logo; interior showing no people; the chef
b) possible – exterior showing the whole place; interior showing customers eating; the restaurant staff
c) great – a dish or a set of dishes (the specialties); a close up of friends eating and having fun

2. Doctor/dentist
a) not appealing – logo; the building where the practice is
b) possible – the interior of the cabinet/waiting room
c) great – the doctor or the team of doctors themselves in their work suits; a close up of the doctor/dentist treating a patient

3. Florist
a) not appealing – logo; the outside of the shop
b) possible – the florist themselves holding flowers; the interior of the shop
c) great – a stunning bouquet of flowers

Generally speaking, if you are trading a visible products (no matter if it is food, flowers, teeth whitening) you will need to show the potential customers what they could have with you. On the other side, if the product you are offering and its value/effect are invisible for the camera (massage, SPA, medical check up, car repair) – you need to show the people who you are, because if they haven’t heard anything about you, they would be at least slightly suspicious and unsure whether to call you. Showing yourself publicly would be the first step to breaking the ice. Both of these recommendations could vary as well. For a hotel, whose product is a mix of visible and invisible elements, the best results would come if they show the facilities in the leading image.

Spend some time and effort and take nice photos of your business, your products and yourself/your team. I would bet on it paying back.

Great Local Search Articles From the Last Week

As I’ve promised, I would try to make it a regular practice to post links to some of the most interesting articles I’ve spotted during the past 7 days on topics related to local search and Google Places. But as the social element becomes more and more important part of the marketing of every small company, I would add also some references to articles related to small businesses’ local marketing (social + deals):

Local Search and Google Places:

Optimizing Your Google Places Page

Business Listing Management

6 Key Takeaways From The Local Search Association’s Inaugural Conference

Google Places Ranking Shakeup, New Algo, Testing or Bugs?

How To Find The Right Local & Vertical Sites For Your Small Business

Google and Marketing to the SMB

TechCrunch Interview: Marissa Mayer Reveals The Two Pillars Of Google’s Local Strategy

Google’s Marissa Mayer Talks Location Strategy

Google’s Plan To Win Location & Social

Google Wonders…

Yelp Help: Optimizing Your Small Business Listing on Yelp

Social (Foursquare) + Deals (Groupon, Facebook Deals, Google Offers)

All You Ever Wanted to Know About Coupon Marketing: The Sorority Girl: Facebook Deals

Big Man on Campus: Groupon

The “A” Student: LivingSocial

The Geek: Google Offers

Small Business Guide to Online Couponing

Deals and Repeat Buying: Is It Happening?

Survey: Deals More Impactful than Reviews in New Customer Acquisition

Local Consumer Review Survey 2010, Part 3

Can Geolocation Apps Win Over Smartphone Users?

Top 14 Things Marketers Need to Know About QR Codes

Checking Into the Future with Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley

Wish you a good reading!