January 2009

Western Union Dealing In Baked Goods Now?

Western Union As Local Data Provider

Well, now I knew Western Union sends money around the world, but what do you think of them being a local source for Mexican baked goods?

Martijn Beijk and I are collaborating on a project (soon to be published here on the SEOigloo Blog) and while doing research for this, I came across the above results. I had never seen Western Union as a data source before, and unlike instances in which something like a specific Yelp URL is being cited as home base for a business that doesn’t have a website, the links in the 10-pack go right to the Western Union homepage. There are, needless to say, no mentions of bakeries on that page.

I’m not seeing this as a very meaningful addition to the usefulness of the user experience with the 10-pack. I’d be interested to know:

1) If you’ve come across Western Union as a data source for Google Maps before, and if so, where these citations are actually coming from.

2) If you think the inclusion of URLs in the 10-pack layout improves the user experience, and if so, how.

Cre8asite Forums’ Mod, Donna Swain, has just sent me this Panaderia-related screenshot from this Google Maps search:

Local Bakery

Look at the food inspections of this bakery acting as citations for this business! Has Donna discovered a reason, at last, for food service workers to cheer when the health inspector comes calling?

The plus side here is what I am assuming Google considers a very authoritative citation of this business from the Environmental Health Division.

The not-so-plus side is the fact that…well…this is a health inspection being given all the prominence of a shiny user review. The business in question had 2 (albeit minor) violations. We may just have entered a new era in reputation management. Thanks for the tip, Donna, and I’m interested in hearing any and all thoughts on the various topics in this post!

Woo Hoo! Nominated In The 2009 SEMMYs!

2009 SEMMY Nominee

2009 sees round 2 of Matt McGee’s SEMMY Awards. I was totally over the moon to discover that 3 of my articles have been nominated in the Local Search Category of this fantastic and fun awards series. What an honor to be included amongst the pool of wonderful writers a second year.

I’m in super company in the Local category, with friends like Mike Blumenthal and David Mihm and a talented pool of other bloggers whom I’d love to talk to one of these days. There are some powerhouse entries in this category and I know I’ll have a hard time voting for the best of such excellent reading material.

Public voting begins January 28, after the finalists have been determined, and I highly recommend that anyone interested in Local matters spend a happy afternoon reading all of the entries. My 3 are:

Local SEO Interview Roundup!
This was the roundup for a series of 5 interviews it was my honor to do with Local SEOs. A couple of Local SEOs have since thanked me for getting them talking and for introducing them to one another and I’m really happy to think I might have helped contribute to the easy and pleasurable nature of conversation in the Local sphere.

10 SEO Copywriting Tips for Hyperlocal Bloggers – A 5 Part Series
This was my other big series of 2008, focusing on how to implement hyperlocal blogging strategies. What was most fun for me about writing this series of 5 posts was that I chose to set each one in a specific region of California, and tried to give region-specific suggestions for good, hyperlocal writing.

Where Do Real Estate Citations Come From?
In this post, I wrote about the fact that Google pulls address domain home listings as citations for the real estate firms representing the properties…even after the properties have sold. Some folks really thought this was interesting, and a few thought I shouldn’t have spilled the beans about a good thing going on. But, hey, if blogging isn’t a platform for sharing, I don’t know what is!

The winner of a SEMMY in the Local Search category can really be proud, with so many fine entries in the running. I am simply thrilled to be included and feeling very proud of everyone in Local Search today. Good luck, everybody!

Ay Caramba! Case of the Missing Tasty Mexican

Call me a local nut, but sometimes I just sit around looking at listings of local businesses…for fun. Tonight I came across a rather poignant example of why it’s so necessary to claim your Google Local Business Listing.

There’s a Mexican restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area called Maya Palenque. I’ve always liked the name. They’ve been in business for years and years and I imagine they have quite a few regulars, but I doubt they’d be happy to learn that any new potential patrons are being sent to Texas by Google when looking to dine with them. Here’s their listing in Google, with the website of Texas restaurant called the Palenque Grill being incorrectly billed as Maya Palenque’s home base on the web:

Maya Palenque incorrect Google listing

The correct URL for Maya Palenque is TastyMexican.com and I’ll shoot them a little link juice in case it may help Google hit upon the wide difference between Texas and California. Sadly, the restaurant’s website isn’t in very good shape and is lost on Page 2 of the Universal SERPs for its own name (it’s not even ranking at the top for Tasty Mexican…I wouldn’t have thought that would be terribly competitive…or terribly useful!)

Looking at the citations for the restaurant, we see a big culprit right at the top of the list:

Maya Palenque incorrect Google listing

For some reason, the completely unrelated grill in Texas is being pulled as a citation for the California restaurant. There is no connection I can see. It’s not a chain. It’s not even the same name. This isn’t a case of Bob’s Doughnuts in Phoenix being confused with Bob’s Doughnuts in Chicago (oh, THAT Bob’s Doughnuts!). I haven’t looked very deeply into how Google’s signals got mixed up on this but it’s just one more sterling example of why not claiming your listing is dangerous and, as my Mexican great-great grandmother would have said, “estupido!”

But Abuelita didn’t have the compassion I have for restaurant owners like the head man at Maya Palenque who is doubtless without a clue that his guests are being told to go eat in Texas by Google. Really, what I’d like is to help the guy out. In just minutes, he could be logging in, fixing that web address and getting his online rep back on track. And then I’d like to get my little hands on his website!

But speaking of that, how much attention is Google really paying to websites when it comes to Local? My gut feeling is that your website is very important, but then I see Maya Palenque ranking near the top of Maps for a broad search for ‘restaurants novato ca’ and it’s clear that their 30+ citations, 40+ reviews and other factors are outweighing the fact, in the mind of Google, that their restaurant is apparently located way down south in Laredo, TX. Pretty strange.

In conclusion, I hope someone who eats or works at Maya Palenque will stumble across this post at some point and take strong action to clear up this situation that is doubtless bewildering hungry diners across the Bay Area and beyond. Buena Suerte!

UPDATE: As of February 8, 2009, Maya Palenque’s Maps’ lisiting has been fixed to show the correct URL: tastymexican.com. I don’t know if this post had anything to do with it, but I’m glad to see this change!

The Local New Year’s Resolution I Wish Eric Schmidt Would Make

Eric Schmidt, Google

It’s 2009! It’s time for out with the old and in with the new. The ‘old’ I’d like to see sink below the horizon is this business of Google sailing an unmanned ship in Local waters. The ‘new’ I’d like to see is a staffed Local Business Center with meaningful help for the small businesses who have become a fat pat of the butter on Google’s bread.

See the little icon on Google’s most recent and very pretty Maps interface? It represents a man – a person. The idea of personhood is being given a new and powerful prominence in this application. Click on the little man and he will walk you through Downtown, YourTown, showing you all of the small businesses you might visit.

But what would happen if Mr. Person stepped off his StreetView track and into all these shops and there was nobody there to talk to? He finds himself alone in unfamiliar environments, surrounded by objects he doesn’t really understand, and when he calls out for assistance – in hopes that perhaps someone’s in the back room of the shop – no help arrives. I believe that Mr. Person would start to feel dehumanized and voiceless. Mr. Person would be having the experience of the small business owner featured in Mike Blumenthal’s latest post on the failings of the Google Local Business Center

They will not send a postcard to my NJ office for a SC location. They will not call a NJ phone for a SC location. They will not allow me ot change the listing until they verify, but when they tried to call it was unsuccesful and I don’t know why. (the number is correct) I’m at a total loss… and quite frustrated. Please…

At A Total Loss…And Quite Frustrated
Such has been the vocabulary of too many of the 20,983 posts sitting in the Troubleshooting section of Google Maps Help Group, and it has also been the lingo of nearly every Local Search specialist I’ve spoken to regarding Google’s Local entity in 2008. I think we all agree that Mr. Person needs more than a place on the map; he needs a real place in Google’s business model that guarantees him fair representation as a businessman and accurate data as a user of the Local index. Mr. Person needs to stop being an icon, a mere transient idea in the Google workshop. He needs to be treated with the deference due the key ingredient in all locally-oriented directories. He needs to be given some power.

A phone number, an email address, a live chat box, a form to fill out guaranteed of a non-automated reply in order to report problems with local business listings; any of these things would empower Mr. Person as he navigates the Local environment. He doesn’t need it to be fancy. Functional would be fine.

Shouldn’t 2009 be the year Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his colleagues in Mountainview take this simple yet powerful stand for the dignity of the human person by giving him a genuine voice in the Google conversation that is having such a tremendous impact on the success or failure of his local business? Who can rejoice in an imbalanced power structure where all of the talk and decision making goes on at the top of the pyramid while all of the important effects are felt down at ground level by the man on the street? It may have seemed like a good setup to the Incas, but democracy and fair play are better themes for a 21st century take on human rights, and the right to have one’s business fairly represented is a basic that should stand at the very heart of any Local venture undertaken in the Google Empire.

3 Steps To A Better Google Local

Educate – In 2008, less than 10 of the scores of small business owners I spoke to knew, prior to speaking to me, what the Local Business Center was. Not one of the clients we took on had claimed their listing prior to working with us. If Google intends to continue giving top billing to local business data in their Universal SERPs, the time has come to explain to the public what this is all about and what they need to do to participate and protect their professional reputations. Run a national TV commercial. Put a big notice on the Google homepage. Start an email campaign. Get the message to the people that the LBC exists and that small business owner participation is required in order to avoid the devastating pitfalls of misrepresentation, competitive hijacking and lost income.

Communicate – It simply isn’t ethical to make advertising revenue by representing businesses whom you refuse to communicate with. If the 10-pack and Maps entities were opt-in/opt-out business models, that would be a different story, but taking and displaying business data without notifying the owner of the business and then leaving him no option to communicate with you about what you’ve done with his data is high-handed and unfair. It’s time for Google to start doing business ‘for reals’. Create a functional way for small business owners to report and gain speedy resolution to errors in their business data. This can’t be automated. Real people must staff this in order to protect the rights and livelihood of business owners. This isn’t a game…it’s real business, involving real money and real people. I see no two ways about this.

Acquire It – If Google can’t internally create a staff to handle the support system which ought to be manning the LBC, why not acquire an existent business with the technology and people already in place? It worked when Google bought YouTube, right? How about buying Yelp or Merchant Circle? Goodness knows, they love phoning small business owners. On second thought, how about buying some lesser known local directory company with a more savory reputation? Pay them to staff the phones, the live chat, the forum. Pay them to resolve all of these errors that are plaguing the LBC and making life a pain for small business owners who have already had it up-to-here with economic stresses. If Google genuinely cannot create a staff that will befriend and assist the local business owners who are the filling in Google’s pie, Google should acquire an existent business that is ready to do the job.

In just 3 simple steps, we could see a better, more ethical Google. It’s the New Year’s resolution I’d love to see them make.

Small Positive Businesses We Want To Work With In The 2009 Economy

Happy New Year, Everyone! I’m going to make Happy the operative word in this post because I think everyone has had their fill of doom and gloom regarding the present U.S. economy. While I recognize the problems afoot in our great land, I also recognize the opportunities for the smart and positive small business owner, and these are the clients we want to work with 2009. If you’re running a business that fits any of the following criteria, I want to hear from you:

Getting Real
Luxury items are on their way out for many families on a budget. Families are deciding that they don’t really need a bigger TV, a newer car, this year’s cooler computer, but they still need the basics of life and will be obliged to budget for them. If your company is offering true basic living needs like essential household items, nutritious foods, vegetable seeds, well water equipment, or can’t-do-without clothing items, people still need what you’ve got to offer.

Going Domestic
Americans are starting to see the big picture of where outsourcing manufacture and labor to other countries has taken us. If your business is qualified to feature a Made-in-The-USA label, you have a unique selling proposition to make to the buying public. Purchasing your products or services supports the domestic economy in which your customers live and anyone who wants to see the economy improve can make the choice to support companies that create jobs for Americans.

Going Local
Friends and colleagues from across the country tell me about the closing of small businesses in their shopping districts. I see the empty buildings here, too. Consumers who don’t want to see their small towns turn into ghost towns can make the choice to do business locally, supporting their local economies. If you are running a small business that offers a local alternative to big box stores, you have an opportunity to promote the local aspect of your business in a way that shows your neighbors that supporting you means keeping your town and its unique, local character alive.

Going Green
Just as Americans are looking with a weather eye at our economy, they are also looking at the burdens our energy and agricultural practices are putting on our health, our budget and our land. If yours is the business that will get your town off the grid, get pesticide junkies onto the organic wagon or get homeowners planting grass on their roofs, the current climate of our country may just be attuned to finally hear your green message and the Internet is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal.

Getting Spiritual
For so many Americans, strength in hard times comes from looking deeper into the self for the power of spiritual well-being. If you have spiritual goods or gifts to share, your offerings will be essential to many people who are looking for new-found faith in themselves and their deepest beliefs about the sacred nature of life. Whether your goals are non-profit or for-profit, if your business or organization is offering spiritual support of some kind, this is a good time to reach out to people you can help.

Over the years, we’ve worked with all kinds of small businesses. The longer we serve small business owners, the more apparent to me my unique skills and professional interests have become. I really listen closely when I talk to small business owners, and I tend to get drawn into their world when I truly admire what they do. Any small business owner who is offering essential, domestic, local, green or spiritual benefits to Americans is guaranteed of my fullest attention when they contact me. The truth is, I can’t help getting excited when I jump aboard a project that I know will be good for our people and our planet. I can’t think of a better way to use my skills as a web designer, SEO, local search consultant and professional copywriter.

If 2009 is the year you want to see your beneficial business succeed on the web, I’d be very happy to hear from you.