October 2010

Make Like PB&J With New Google Places Search And Win

New Google Places Search Like Goober Grape

In 1968, the J.M. Smucker Company blended peanut butter and jelly into a single jar for a smash hit sandwich, and today, in 2010, Google has taken a page for the goober people’s book, layering organic results with local ones into a whole new kind of sandwich that has my friends and colleagues, Mike Blumenthal, Matt McGee, Greg Sterling, David Mihm, Andrew Shotland, and Yours Truly writing up a storm. If the new Google Places Search is news to you and you run a local-focused business, start clicking those links to read-up on this massive change in how Google is handling local results.

Rather than re-cap what has already been covered with such eloquence and smarts, I just want to state what I see as the chief upshot of these new circumstances. I have spent the last 48 hours looking at the results of clients who so sagely hired us to both overhaul their existing websites to include good general SEO, local SEO, human usability and design practices and to implement good basic off-page Local SEO tactics for them. I have spoken with a number of colleagues who have been doing the same. The outcome of this dilligent, smart work is turning out to be quite a tasty feast in the new SERPs. Formerly, this work was paying off in two separate places – the 7-Pack and organic results. Now, it’s all been whirled together into a single dense, rich, rewarding treat.

I love seeing this, of course, and it is pointing the way for our future relations with incoming clients. In the past, we’ve often had the experience of being asked to look at a client’s situation in Google Maps and have had our advice that the improvement of the company’s site needed to be integrated into any work we were going to do turned down.

“I’m happy with my site,” folks have said to me as I’ve sat at the other end of the line, looking at the flash-based-website-without-any-title-tag-optimization-built-by-my-nephew-who-knows-web-design. Yes, in the past, we’ve taken on a few projects like this, just creating some local business profiles in places like Google Maps, having lost the battle of explaining that sending traffic to a poor website is not a best practice. And I always walked away from these projects feeling like the work was half done.

Well, with the new Places Search, Google is finally backing me up in this. And so, future clients, I want you to know that I would love your business, but you’re going to have to take my advice about your website as well as your Place Page, because it all hangs together now. I cannot serve you well without integrating this and my job is to get you the best return on your money. It was always important, but its basically unavoidable now. Now is the time to take a long, clear look at your website to see if it’s as awesome as you can possibly make it. Is it optimized? Is it usable? Is it rich in solutions to users’ problems and answers to their questions? Is your location totally obvious? Your local area code phone number? Got that in your footer? On your contact page? How about in some of your title tags? Can Google crawl your site? Can people with dial-up load it? Is your text couched in images or shining through with good old HTML? How long are people staying on your pages? Who is linking to them? Are you using hCard formatting or KML files? Got MyMaps? Got citations? Got reviews?

Wow, the list has grown long of what can be done for the benefit of your business, and while all of these elements were always there, now the many streams are flowing into a single ocean of rewards for the savvy business owners who get the job done right. The peanut butter and jelly have become one.

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Photo Credit from Flickr

Google Working Toward Solution For Farmers Markets

farmers' market in Google Maps

Back in November of 2009, I included the above graphic in a post citing conflicts in the Google Maps system. If you look at that screenshot, you will see a one box for a farmer’s market with one big thing listing – an actual street address. There’s a street name, but no street numbers.

Now, you and I both know that Google Maps is an address-based index, supposed to feature solely those businesses which have a physical location. So what is this number-less farm market doing with a one box and inclusion in maps? Well, I was really intrigued to see this problem come up in the Google Places Help Forum yesterday. Here’s what the farm market admin/employee, blbrocks, had to say:

I can’t verify my business… farmers mkts dont have mailing address on location. only postcard option is given to me

I wasn’t sure whether this person would receive a direct reply from a Google rep, so I took a moment to shoot them an answer:

Your question is one I’d love to see a Google rep answer, blbrocks.

Google Maps is an address-based application. You are only meant to list your business in it if you have an address. Most farmer’s markets I’ve attended don’t have an address – they are held in parking lots, vacant fields, etc. Because of this, you’d think that a business like yours does not belong in Google Maps.

However, the odd thing is that Farmers Markets is a category in Google Maps – indicating that they do want these types of businesses listed in their index.

This is one of the frustrating conflicts I see in the Maps system. It’s especially tough for you, if the location you are in doesn’t support a phone verification call. No one really knows why some businesses are allowed to claimed by phone and others get the postcard-only option. Unless a Google rep can solve this for you, my bet is that you may have to abandon the idea of having a verified listing in Google Maps, until Google catches up with the complexity of the many types of businesses that exist in the U.S., and instead try to create strong profiles elsewhere such as in Yahoo, Yelp and at specific industry directories such as Local Harvest.

I’ll check back on this thread to see if you receive any reply from Google. You do deserve an answer.

As I wrote back in 2009, what I find most conflicting about this is that Google Maps has a category for Farmers Markets, but few of them (at least out here in the West) are going to have a permanent physical address. Interestingly, another Forum member chimed in to show how his local farm market is also being listed without a street number. I think this is happening frequently. So, while Google appears to have aggregated data about Farmers Markets and is listing many of them, there is almost no hope of the farmers being able to claim their listing. This is a real problem, and I was very interested when Google Rep, Helen L., stepped in with this reply:

Hi blbrocks and SolasWebDesign,

Thanks for bringing this up. Solas, you’re correct that not all business models are eligible for Google Places. We’re working on clarifying that on our business listing quality guidelines page [1].

At this time, in order to be eligible for a Google Places listing, a business must either have a dedicated physical location that customers can visit, or it must make in-person contact with a customer at the his location.

Businesses that do not fulfill one of these requirements are not a fit for Google Places right now. This includes businesses who operate in a physical location on a temporary basis, like a farmer’s market; businesses who operate in a physical location owned by another business, like a drug testing service; or businesses who make no in-person interaction with users, like an Etsy shop.

We are working on making options available for businesses like yours, blbrocks. Thank you for your feedback!

Cheers,
Helen

I was extremely glad to hear from Helen L. that Google is aware of this problem and is working towards a solution. I will stand up and cheer the day they figure this one out. Readers know how crazy I am about farming, local eating, etc. and I’d like to see farmers given highest consideration for the value of what they provide to our communities. A solution to this address problem may also come as a happy surprise to many other kinds of businesses, too. Stay tuned on this one. A move in the right direction on Google’s part will help Maps to become more reflective of the real business world in which all types of businesses – including ones without a permanent physical address – are part of the local commercial scene.

Locksmith Spam: Caught In The Act!

caught red handed

Talk about being caught red handed! In a Google Places Help Forum thread, user SQLPerformance asks, is this where locksmith spam comes from? The link points to this job offer on elance.com:

Hello,

I’m looking for an expert who can promote my Local Locksmith/garage doors business in google maps, yahoo local and bing.

You will need to be able to post me multiple times in the cities I’m in include in the same city.

You will need to be able to place me first for each city as well for the right keywords.

You will have to be able to write for me 100′s of reviews for each listing.

And anything you can to make this listing dominent the city…

an experience with promoting a Locksmith business it’s a bonus…

Please make sure you can do the job( Creating a Locksmith listing) before you contact me.

Thank you

And, thank you, Mr. Spamming Locksmith, for showing us all a blueprint of how you go about polluting local businesses indexes with your multiple listings and hundreds of phony reviews! And, for enabling people to contact you about your job offer. I hereby invite all my chums in Local Search to contact this company and make them an offer they can’t refuse.

Seriously, now, what do you make of this? A totally misguided but well-meaning business owner who is trying to learn the ropes in Maps and has mistakenly understood that this is how to proceed because so many other people are doing it, or a dyed-in-the-wool crook who feels no compunction about hiring help to spam Google? Things remain so loony in the locksmith business, it’s hard to say. When one juxtapositions this with other threads in the Places Forum in which legit locksmiths are clamoring to have flags removed from their listings, you certainly have a funny picture of the state of Local.

Meanwhile, I wonder if Elance has any rules governing compliance with FTC laws concerning False Testimonial Endorsements. Is it legal to post a job description that requires the employee to break the law? Is there a lawyer in the house?

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Photo Credit: Amarand Agasi