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.

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May 12, 2011 at 8:21 pm 1 comment

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.

May 10, 2011 at 1:40 am Leave a comment

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!

May 7, 2011 at 4:10 am Leave a comment

Google Places Listings with Changed Interface


Lately, Google was making significant changes in the interface of the Google Places listings. Some of these included the repositioning of different sections over the page, others – the adoption of completely new features, and still others – the disappearing of some. These are the changes spotted up to now:

1) New features:

– Links to the top 3 third-party review websites, where the business got reviewed on, over the business description

– A whole new “Upcoming events” section

2) Repositioning of the sections:

Currently

Previously

1. Upcoming Events (new) 1. Details
2. Photos & Videos 2. What people are saying
3. What people are saying 3. Photos & Videos
4. Details 4. Reviews from around the web
5. Offers 5. Reviews by Google users
6. Reviews from around the web 6. Offers
7. Reviews by Google users

3) Disappearing of features:

– Business E-mail information

What could be the meaning of each of these?

The links to the top 3 third-party review websites for the business near the top of the listing mean that when a potential customer clicks on the Place page, they could immediately see not only the overall count of reviews for the business (as it was up to now), but also which external (non-Google Places) websites do these reviews come from. This is coming up after a tension in the relations between Google and Yelp, regarding the Yelp reviews showing up on the Google Places pages of the businesses that are actually not reviewed on a Google platform. This seems to be the most probable reason for the inclusion.

The “Upcoming events” section could be most useful for large businesses such as hotels and restaurants, which have enough space to hold them. This is coming as an addition to the “Book now” section added in April and the other changes targeting the accommodation industry as a whole.

The positioning of the “Photos & Videos” section over all the others secondary sections comes together with the official presentation of Business Photos. Is that a coincidence? I doubt it. The reason could also be partly the fact that Google realized that people would rather notice the images of the business they would buy from/dine at/overnight at/visit, than the full with badly scraped content and often spammed “Details” section. Furthermore, it seems like the business e-mails start disappearing from this section, but only for some businesses (mostly for the newly created listings). It is not sure if this is a glitch or a trend that is going to be applied for all the Place pages, but some opinions were heard that this is caused by the unprecedented number of programs scraping the Google Places listings for the e-mails of the business owners.

And finally, the “Offers” section, which was previously almost completely hidden under all the others, now appears OVER the review sections, and this coincides with Google making an “Offers” marketing push.

Have you noticed some other changes on the interface of the Google Places listings and what do you think the ones I have outlined?

May 5, 2011 at 11:34 pm 1 comment

Google Places Business Photos Officially Presented


Today, at the Social Loco conference in San Francisco, CA, Google’s Vice President of Location and Local Services Marissa Mayer revealed the launch of Business Photos for local businesses’ Google Places pages.

Currently the Google photographers are available for only a few of the major cities targeted by the Google Places promotion campaigns, but any business could apply for the shooting and the rise in the demand would help Google decide which places to include further. At present the list with the selected cities consists of:

United States: Orange County, CA; Phoenix, AZ; Bay Area, CA; San Antonio, TX; St Petersburg, FL

Australia: Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, Darwin

New Zealand: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Invercargill, Blenheim, Nelson

Japan: Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Kobe, Fukuoka, Hyogo, Okinawa

Korea: Seoul

United Kingdom: London

France: Paris

However, not every business that applies for it would get it as the demand would definitely be large. Only chosen ones would have the privilege to be attended by a Google photographer. The pictures they would take would be panoramic of the interior and exterior of the business place. They will be then uploaded by Google on the business’ Place Page, but the business owner would still be able to post their own pictures via the Google Places Dashboard. Google says that they are most interested into shooting the following types of businesses: restaurants, hotels, retail shops, and other storefront businesses; but they “are always open to new ideas”. Unfortunately for some, they are currently not shooting legal, medical, or chain establishments. For more information, you could check the FAQ page for Business Photos.

Businesses could apply for a photo shooting session via the Application form.

If you have already had any experience with Google Places Business Photos, feel free to share in the comments section.

May 5, 2011 at 8:37 pm 1 comment

Great Local Search Articles From the Last Week


The past week brought a few interesting articles related to local search and Google Places that I think would bring value if you once read them. I would like to share some of them here and hope that would become a regular practice.

Beyond Claiming Your Place Page (Google Places Blog)

Quite a Month in Local Search (David Mihm Blog)

Small Business SEO: 46 Experts on the Biggest Mistakes SMBs Make with SEO and Internet Marketing (DIY SEO Blog)

Google Places Turns 1: What’s Working, What’s Not (Matt McGee Blog)

Google Places Citations: 5 More Tactics to Earn Links for Your Local Business (SEOmoz)

Google Expands Offers with Groupon Like Features (Mike Blumenthal Blog)

What Does FB “Social Deals” Mean for SMBs? (Greg Sterling Blog)

Google: 50 Percent Of Those Exposed to Mobile Ads Took Action (Search Engine Land)

Yext Pitches Google Places Tags Customers to Buy PowerListings (Linda Buquet Blog)

If there is something else I’ve missed, I would be more than happy if you could point it out.

May 1, 2011 at 2:39 am 2 comments

Google Tags Discontinued


During the last couple of weeks there were many news around the Google Places world and probably a small, but important change left unnoticed – Google Tags were discontinued.

Google Tags were a trial advertising feature of Google and are still appearing as small yellow triangular signs under the listing information for the business during Google Search, as well as on the Map next to the balloon for the particular business.The advertising cost US$25 per month with 30 days free trial.

The official statement of Google for the change is:

Tags is being retired on April 29, 2011. We’ve halted new signups for Tags as of April 15, 2011, and we’ll be working with existing participating businesses to help them meet their marketing needs with other Google products where possible.

We will automatically remove any active tags at the end of April 2011. No action is required from you.

The last issued bill covered spend for Tags through the end of March. We will be providing Google Tags free for the month of April to all existing Tags advertisers.

Google gives the following reason for the change:

Since we introduced our Google Tags trial last year, many businesses have used Tags to help potential customers make easier, more informed decisions when searching. Throughout this period, we said we’d be monitoring Tags closely and would make changes as we learned more about how users and businesses used the product.

We’ve made a decision to discontinue the Tags trial and shift our efforts toward other present and future advertising options for local businesses. We’ve learned a lot from our Tags trial, and we will take that knowledge into account as we continue to provide ways to connect users and local businesses.

There are many great options for small businesses to reach more customers online, including a free Google Places listing, Boost, and AdWords location extensions. We encourage you to explore options that work best for your business.

If anyone has concerns that are not answered by these statements, they could refer to the information in the Tags Troubleshooter.

Let’s hope Google will bring new, more creative and better advertising solutions for the small business, which do not provide all the troubles that Google Tags did along with themselves.

Update: Google just posted an official statement: An Update on Tags

April 15, 2011 at 9:44 pm Leave a comment

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