July 2011

A Google Postcard Verification Issue That I’d Never Heard Of Before

Here’s a really interesting scenario being described in the Google Places Help Forum, to wit:

We are a national home builder with sales offices in about 150 communities in 8 states. In most cases, the sales office addresses are on brand new streets with brand new addresses that Google Maps does not yet recognize. We are able to overcome that by properly locating the map marker in consultation with our people in the field.

However, the problem we are now running into is in many cases the USPS has not initiated mail delivery to these new addresses where our sales offices/model homes are located. Because of that, postcard verification is not possible.

All of these offices have phones, however. Is there some way to change settings to verify by phone by default? If that could be done, it would be simple and we’d have everything verified in minutes. But if we are stuck with verifying the listings by postcard I’m not sure how we’ll be able to do so, despite the fact that these addresses are very real, and we are conducting business there every day.

I’d never thought of this situation before. What if you’re developing new neighborhoods and they haven’t made it securely onto the map yet or aren’t yet receiving mail delivery? As many of my readers will already know, Google has been offering postcard-verification-only options more frequently over the past half year or so, and very frequently for brand new businesses.

Back in February, I highlighted the issue of whole communities not receiving USPS mail delivery and thereby being left out of the whole Local game. But I’d never considered what happens when a development is brand new.

I’m not sure what the business owner of the contracting firm can do. If the post office eventually starts delivering mail to the new neighborhoods, then he will be able to take advantage of Google Places marketing. If Google starts offering more phone verification options again to new profiles, that would solve his problem, too. For now, I think he may be stuck with Organic SEO of his website, unless he can get into direct contact with someone in Mountain View.

Do you have any thoughts on this? I’d love to know!

The Case Of The 5 Vanishing Reviews In The New Places Layout

Thanks, Mike & Richard, for clearing up the mystery! See comments below. And, sorry, Google. It was me that was buggy this time…not you!.

Over the past few days, there has been massive reportage about the changes in Google’s handling of reviews and overall Place Page layout changes (actually, 90% of it has emanated from Mike Blumenthal as part of a ritual involving the Old Testament Deity).

While what I have to report is not of Samsonesque proportions, I want to highlight an apparent bug I’ve noticed because it is in keeping with a mystery that has plagued Google’s review base from day one. I think it’s time for Google to bring in the Hardy Boys on this one, especially as Google appears determined to go head to head with Yelp.

At right is a screenshot for the business ranked #1 when I search for restaurants Santa Cruz CA.

The review count displayed on the 7-pack at the top of the organic SERPs, and the review count displayed near the top of the Place Page are both 37. But, scroll down to the part of the Place Page just above the tiny new links to 3rd party reviews sources and the review count is being displayed as 32.

What happened to 5 of the reviews?

I am seeing this discrepancy of 5 vanished reviews on Place Page after Place Page.

I did a manual count of the reviews on the Place Page of the business shown in my example and there are, indeed, 37 of them.

My guess is that this is a bug and that’s it’s affecting a large number of profiles (at least, it was present on every Place Page I looked at). Local business owners are likely to be feeling cranky enough right now with review counts plummeting from the 100s down to the 10s over the last few days as Google dropped third party reviews out of prominence, but to apparently lose an additional 5 of them just seems like an extra little kick out the door.

For years now, I have been aware of a significant issue with review count in Google’s Maps/Places entity. I’ve seen review counts change from one day to the next, with no actual alterations being made to a given profile. I’ve seen Google discount their own reviews while highlighting data from other review sources.

Things are different now. Google wants to be Yelp. But Yelp has been able to gain such traction and deliver a reasonable level of user satisfaction because reviews are all they do. Google’s list of projects and properties, if lined up end to end, would circle the globe 72 1/2 times (I made that up). Can Google hope to provide equivalent satisfaction when this is just one tiny corner of their empire? I’d say mending the numbers bug would make a nice start to proving up.

I’ll be watching.

Linda Buquet Demonstrates Organic/Local Correlation And Offers Tool

Today is a busy one for me, but I just had to take a couple of minutes out of my schedule to point the way to this awesome post by my friend and colleague, Linda Buquet, of Catalyst eMarketing.

Since the rollout of the blended local/organic SERPs last October, all of the local SEOs I chat with have opined that organic factors are packing the heaviest punch in blended rankings. Linda’s piece shares her own considerable knowledge in this regard and even contains her own tool for comparing the old Organic results with the new blended one. Linda also breaks down what she sees as the main ranking factors for the non-blended 7-pack results. If you’ve not yet read the article, dash on over there. I consider this one of the must-read Local features of 2011.

Time and again, I see that my own Local clients were #1 prior to the rollout of the blended results have maintained that top position in the newer SERPs. And what does this mean? It means that you – my incoming client – are likely to benefit considerably from Solas Web Design’s methods of building strong, optimized, usable websites for great small businesses. If blended results are Google’s display of choice for your industry and geography, I’m ready to show you how my firm builds sites that speak to Google’s needs, as well as always putting the human user (your customer) first!

Kudos to Linda Buquet on her truly noteworthy post!