Tag Archive for google places

Google Ratings for Places just too Confusing!

 

Google has started to aggressively roll out it’s Zagat scoring for local places listings.  But it seems confusing as it mixes score and zagat as the point of reference and the first 21 results scores are shown in red despite #3 having a betting score and more reviews.  So far this looks to be a bit of a failure if it’s this confusing that even marketers can’t understand it’s new Google Local listings.

Google Testing 3 Organic Results?

In a move that might result in marketers having kittens and jumping from Rooftops has Google gone too far? In a sample query run today in a Chome “incognito” window I noticed that the results were a little different. There was 3 organic results and 7 Google places results. That’s right only 10 results with 30% being organic…

Update: I’ve seen it happen again this time with 6 places and 6 organic results.

6 Google Places and 6 Organic Results

6 Google Places and 6 Organic Results

 

Google Places Evolving

Google Places will be the battle ground for both business and SEO consultants and agencies in 2011 with an increasing preference for showing and sometimes total dominance of the organic results. It seems that every week there is a new expansion of Google Places into universal results but it seems that the expansion of their Local business product is not truly consistent, which makes it nearly impossible for business to understand the trust the quality of the results.  A few of these changes I thought I would comment on in this post to signal to you how Google Places is evolving and how you might have to reconsider your local SEO campaigns in 2011.

Google Places showing URLS

You can see in the screenshot below that Google Places is starting to show individual pages that match to the search query. It’s interesting that the Google places first result “A” shows an individual page that is an exact match to the search query and the third result “C” shows a URL that is a match to the geographic location.  This was the first time that I have seen this showing as Google typically has taken preference to show just the domain in the Google places results but it seems to be now electing to pick a URL that it feels is a better match as it does in organic results.

Lasik Results Showing Deeper URLS

Lasik Results Showing Deeper URLS

Google Places showing Breadcrumbs

Google Places is also continuing to mirror Google Organic with its Places results with “B” showing breadcrumbs in the expanded Google Places result for Rydges SouthBank. You can see that Google is slowing messing up the previously clean and clear Google Places results be starting to treat them like organic results and showing deep URLs like you can see for the Clarion Collection Rendezvous Hotel.

Hotels Places Results Showing Breadcrumbs

Hotels Places Results Showing Breadcrumbs

Google Places Super Results

Google Places is a very visually attractive and their new super result for #1 listings really dominate the competition with almost a double listing but includes a bonus attention grabbing image.  The result for Magistic Cruises includes the standard title link and meta description but also features 4 sitelinks, a link to its Place page, links to 4 reviews about the company and company contact details.  While the 2nd result also features 4 sitelinks you will see later in this article that is not enough to attract the visitor’s attention span before it moves to focus on the 4th result Sydney Princess Cruises.

Google Places Super #1 Results

Google Places Super #1 Results

Places gaining too much attention?

You can see below the older Google results that are not showing the additional results for #1 are much less appealing and eye-catching to consumers.  You can assume that the first result will receive slightly less attention when it is not showing the enhanced Google Places results but what is the actual impact in terms of visitor attention/analysis?

Google Standard Results (No Places)

Google Standard Results (No Places)

Google SERPS Attention & Attraction Analysis

The following test was done using Feng-GUI analysis products, that allow you to realise where the consumers eyes are looking when viewing a webpage, advertisement or photograph, it is simulated eye tracking. You can see the impact of the visitor’s attention span when Google Places results are shown in the first image, but it also shows that the amount of attention the Google AdWords results receive is also significantly reduced when Google Places are shown.

Google Places enhanced result heatmap tracking

Google Places enhanced result heat map tracking

Google non-enhanced result heatmap tracking

Google non-enhanced result heat map tracking

So while it seems that you risk violation of Google Places guidelines by using landing pages or trying to game their algorithm by listing unique URLs, Google can and will alter the mix to suit its own results.  So do you think that Google Places has morphed and evolved beyond being just Local Business listings into the new and possibly improved Google Organic results?

Why Google needs to Buy Groupon

Groupon LogoGoogle made a very smart move when it bought YouTube for $1.65 billion back in 2006, while it has taken a while to monetise the platform it offers Google a unique position of complete dominance of online video. The addition of YouTube allowed Google to expand its universal search platform to include video in the results shown below, but Google has expanded the universal results as a platform as a place for self promotion of other Google properties such as Google Maps, Google Places & next Google Coupons?

Google is a marketing company that fully understands the benefit of owning and controlling the platform such as Google Maps or Google Local Places and does likely not want to miss buying Groupon before it get’s too big to be simple cash purchase.  Google must see the potential success of local platforms such as Yelp or location services like FourSquare which they missed out on as painful but it’s unlikely they will miss another opportunity again.  Google has the traffic to rapidly expand the Groupon market globally by careful integration with its Google Places platform, but while it may not be Groupon that Google eventually purchases this article focuses on why it should be considering Groupon.

YouTube Results

So let’s look at the web interest in coupons within the USA since 2004 and where Google forecasts it to continue, you can see in the screenshot below that with the crash of the economy there has been a strong growth in coupon search traffic on Google. It is interesting to notice that the top 3 terms are: printable coupons, free coupons, online coupons.  The search volume for the keyword coupons just within the USA is over 21,000,000 per month and that doesn’t include the top 3 terms listed above, any specific business coupons or location-based coupons. There is a massive potential audience that Google could easily capture and Groupon has proved that there is revenue in their model so it won’t be the same as YouTube, as the business model is already there it just needs to be scaled.  Currently a lot of what Groupon is doing is manual and with some smart Google engineers and resources that could be easily automated and optimise to further increase profits.

Coupon Growth

Groupon Growth is insane

Google is potentially missing another train as they did with Facebook which is getting close to 600,000,000 users and even twitter approaching close to 200,000,000 accounts can they really miss Groupon? According to Compete.com site analytics the monthly growth is around 12.62% month on month over the last 12 months with Groupon.com now ranked in the top 150 websites in the world.  But large amounts of that growth is attained through buying traffic from Google AdWords, so if owned by Google the potential growth and budget would be limitless.

Groupon's Growth

So let’s look at the current Google Places coupon/offers platform which is currently powered by their Google Places product which is so far mostly unchanged since it was launched back in August 2006. The problem is that while the product might have been ahead of its time they failed to capitalise on it and they also limited the platform by restricting it to the US market.  How can the product be taken seriously if it is only available in the US market after 4 years, are they waiting for some developments or do they think people don’t look for offers/discounts outside the US?

Google Places Coupons

The Google Places offers got a slight boost with Google Tags which allowed business to get a paid promoted listing but their platform still lacks the scalability and usability that competing platforms like Groupon have focused on.  Google has the ability to link the data together from search query to click to coupon to sale and pass all that data back into their Google Places dashboard, which should scare other businesses focused on local or location-based marketing services.It’s actually fairly hard to find a business these days that is actually using Google Places offers which shows that their platform is broken as it is too complicated to use by consumers or business.

Compare Google Places Offers to Groupon Deals

You can see below that visual coupon offering with a call to action only 21 seconds left, what is the discount how much you save and what is the discount you get with Groupon, they are very much focused on the what’s in it for me idea.  You can quickly click to share the deal via Twitter, Facebook or Email which expands the potential reach of any offer to your social network which is something that you can’t quickly do with Google Places results.

pizza groupon

Groupon offers Mobile Coupons

Google needs to consider buying Groupon because it offers it’s platform outside of Google Maps via an iPhone application, not everyone wants or likes to use Google Maps for everything so specific applications are a perfect way to expand the audience. While Google is slowly rolling out mobile platforms they need to follow the footsteps of Groupon who is very aggressive and proactive ensuring their audience can access their discounts where ever they are. Since Facebook Places is offering deals Google Places also needs to improve its offering and Groupon is a great platform.

Groupon wins hearts & minds

It’s recent nation promotion which allows a 40% discount on donations to Kiva.org provides great PR and exposure for Groupon but also offers an insight into how their platform can expand beyond physical products into virtual products such as online donations.  It’s easy to see the Groupon platform expanding to cover Travel & Tourism products which currently account for around 40% of Google AdWords revenue which should be a wakeup call of their potential for those considering buying them.

Kiva Groupon

If Google is serious about capturing the entire local marketing budgets they need to consider the purchase of Groupon or be left behind with a substandard coupon platform.  But also for Groupon to succeed they need to continue to purchase international competitors and focus on taking their platform globally, but they do need significant resources to reduce their reliance in buying traffic from Google AdWords and start looking to viral marketing, social media and even better SEO.

Facebook Places fails

Facebook Places Logo

Facebook has finally rolled out its location feature today, in what seems to be a stamp down on FourSquare and Gowalla’s growing dominance of locational based badges and social networking, but are they going to ruin it for everyone? Facebook is a global platform so today’s announcement that going just allow the product to their US members is more of a slap in the Face of their growing international audience, which according to official Facebook statistics, they are only concerned with offering their product to 30% of their users.  Once again Facebook is trying to set the rules in social media and well there is a good chance that you or your business is not invited!

How can Facebook with over 70% of its audience outside of the USA, launch a new product that is just usable for their US members, and that’s not counting the international audience that is currently visiting, working or living in the US.  It seems that the Facebook Places functionality is not just geographically limited to those who have created an account in the US and not those who have a current location as being in the USA.  Its not clear if this is a move by the company to segment user data via the initial settings, but doesn’t make sense that accounts might be treated different based on their initial settings.  People change and move but it seems Facebook hasn’t yet worked that concept into its platform… people share but don’t ever move country….

Facebook Places So What?

So Facebook has started marketing the service as the ability to share where you are, what you are doing and the friends that are with you right now, but several other platforms already offer that functionality and don’t violate your privacy on a daily basis.  The other idea of connecting to friends nearby is not a ground breaking option and is also very limited to those who are using an iPhone and can once again already be done by a number of platforms such as FourSquare, Google Latitude or Gowalla, so do we really need another me too app?

Facebook App

Facebook Geolocation limited to iPhones

It seems that a few other people were having some issues with Facebook places already even the US audience and has been intentionally held back as Facebook is trying to test to see if their severs can handle the service. Another aspect of failure around launching a product that clearly was not ready was a new version of the Facebook iPhone app was required if you wanted to use the service, it’s not ready and its a concern that Facebook continues to be cutting out the testing stage before launching new products.  This seems to bring a level of concern that the platform might be a stable enough.  My early testing shows that might be a bit problem with the user adoption of its Facebook places product as its fairly slow to locate you running on Wifi, imagine how slow that will be on older iPhone models running on EDGE or 2G. But maybe Facebook doesn’t really want to develop its platform so Google Android users can use it but a good question will be if it is available for the Windows7 Phone from day 1?

Facebook has a perfect mobile audience

Being that more than 150,000,000 active users are currently accessing Facebook via their mobile devices it shows a huge audience but the launch of this platform shows that it’s not yet ready for market as its only available to iPhone users.  A larger number of mobile users are not using devices as advanced as iPhones that support W3 geolocation that limit its potential audience, it is also unclear with a larger number of Facebook users using SMS to update their status can be integrated into the Facebook Places platform. So even when they have 150 million mobile users its a struggle to understand how they could have failed to build a platform that allowed all their mobile users to utilise their places platform.

Facebook just copied Google

As for naming a product after a competitor is not really a smart move from marketing perspective and its likely to confuse less technical users as the difference between Facebook Places & Google Places, and why the hell can’t they just work together? By creating a new place for business to register and claim their online presence may lead the a low acceptance of businesses and defeat any future commercialisation plans that Facebook might have in the pipeline around local advertising.  The big difference is that Google Places receives a massive traffic exposure via Google Local results as shown below which is of massive commercial value to businesses but it doesn’t appear that Facebook has matched what a competitor already offers.  If you are going to copy a competitor seek to at least improve on its product…

Google Local Places

The search results for a known place on Facebook that has already recorded 2 checkins, doesn’t actually show when you do a search for its business name, so is Facebook keeping 2 separate locational datasets?  This one of many early failure if they are trying to build a local business product if Facebook lists it as a local location I can checkin but I can’t find the location at a later stage unless it’s in your news feed. You can see on the side menu that its not possible to find or search for places you just have to find them via your iPhone/iTouch or if one of your friends checkins and it shows up in their news feed.  The failure to allow places to be easily found via the main interface is very strange as there is limits as to what you can do via your iPhone and most business owners would likely prefer if they make the effort to claim their Facebook place that it would at least show up in internal searches.

Friend Chicken Locations

Facebook Places Stalks your Friends

Facebook has developed a new tool that allows you to select between mayhem and stalking your friends online, one of the first and only one of my friends who has tested the platform checked in last night.  By moving your mouse over the location you view the pop-up window that features a Bing map, a list of friends who have been to that location, the ability to like that business or get directors.

Facebook Checkin

Clicking the local business link brings up far more information than any of their competitors such as FourSquare and brings concern around zero privacy features of Facebook places.  I can see who is at a particular location currently, who of my friends has been there and even exactly when my friend checked-in.  The problem is as the service grows the ability to understand friends movements is a little creepy this was highlighted in a blog post I did in June Finding Location, Losing Privacy, do you really want the ability for your movements to be profiled? Some of the early responses from twitter show those who understand the value of privacy understand the concept but see it as a problem. “Thinking #facebook places – good concept but not liking the privacy issues. Go original. Foursquare.com All the fun. None of the worry.

Facebook Checkin Places

Using Facebook Places

You can see below that the way that Facebook provides a list of nearby locations is fairly useless compared to FourSquare, as it doesn’t show useful icons of what the place is “food,art,drinks,deli,pizza,pharmacy”.  To roll out a product that once again fails to match what the competitors having been doing for a while will likely lead the product to failure.  Also unlike Foursquare or Gowalla there is no real benefit to checkin, no badges, no discounts, no prizes, no points… its not offering the users a perceived advantage such as Facebook Credits for checking into a business.

Facebook Places Locations List

Facebook Places allows Tagging

I was alerted to an early privacy issue by @schachin, as the Facebook Places platform allows you to out friends with you via the status tagging feature even if they are not there “With #facebook places checking in is subject to YOUR Privacy settings TAGGING is based on your FRIENDS!“.  The Huffington Post also did a detailed write-up on how you can avoid the embarrassment of being tagged by a friend as being somewhere you are not supposed to be and show everyone in an instant. You now have to worry about friends tagging you in photos, status updates and now via Facebook Places and you don’t even need to be there to have your privacy violated. FourSquare got it right when it automatically associates your checkin with existing friends if you both checkin to the same venue, you should have to manually tag them as being with you at the same location.

Facebook Places Checkin

Share Facebook Checkin

You don’t actually have much of a choice if you want to checkin to a location and not reveal this to all your friends, unlike FourSquare which has a always visible setting on your update to not share this checkin with your friends.  This continuing failure to accept users privacy rights seems to be a constant theme with Facebook with its share all and everything mentality, but why don’t look to other services like FourSquare which are trying to build a wall around their users privacy and protect their users if selected. Unlike FourSquare which allows you to checkin and just not tell your friends it seems that Facebook doesn’t allow this option, and really if they are looking to bring in FourSquare and Gowalla users via API, its going to produce some issues and complications for their users who are used to having control of their privacy.  Facebook only allows you to share your location or not checkin there is no halfway option which makes most people not inclined to use it.

Share Location with FacebookLooking at the Places checkin screen shown above, the use of the language also implies that you enter into a long-term contract which is a little more worrying, and the language used to advise about the check-in functionality is a little scary “wherever you go”.  So think clearly about if you want to be Facebook’s guinea pig for its latest product test, my advice is to sit this feature out.

How to Disable Facebook Places

LifeHacker has posted a good article on how to disable Facebook Places, but you can also do it easily through your privacy settings as shown below, it is important that you consider at least checking the places feature to ensure its set that you just show your friends immediately, then I advised that you can goto your privacy settings and ensure its disabled.  An important not that if you are under the age of 18 or have changed your date of birth to make you under 18, you have an increased level of privacy settings enabled automatically that will limit updates to just your friends.

Facebook Privacy Settings

The privacy setting you are looking for to disable Facebook Places updates is hidden under “applications, games and websites”.  You will see 5 Facebook privacy settings that you can select to refine your privacy settings:

  1. What applications you’re using (Tweetdeck/Eventbrite)
  2. Games and application activity
  3. Information accessible through your friends (Places)
  4. Instant personalisation (Facebook connect)
  5. Public search (Bing/Google)

Facebook Privacy Settings Options

Once you have selected option 3 highlighted with the red arrow you are shown a pop-up window with the privacy settings.  All your Facebook information available is available to any applications, games and websites when friends choose to use them, so its important to limit what information Facebook obviously advises you to share more information to make the experience more social, but that’s not always advised.  Consider if you really need to share all the following information with everyone, but you will want to ensure that the “Places I check into” setting is unchecked and then click to save changes.

Facebook Privacy Settings

That’s done you now know more about how Facebook Places works, how it might affect you and how to disable it so you reduce the risks exposed with sharing too much information online, and go back to using FourSquare or Gowalla. Think twice before electing to share your every step and visit even if there is a slight benefit for your social circles and not everyone cares to know what you are doing at every moment of the day!

Google Maps adds place markers

Just a few weeks ago Google announced it was sunsetting its Google Local Business center and replacing it with the more consumer friendly Google Places, but it also appears to be rolling out a number of updates to its Streetview interface that rely on the previous patent that allowed for virtual placement of markers. This also seems to be a response to Everyscape who offer a similar virtual placement combined with Google Maps free service to businesses to have upto date photos of their store and interior.

The initial results seem to be focused around the free Google Places listings but its possible that some of these might be tied to Google AdWords as it expands. The listings make use a Google generated clickable icons that that enable the viewer to quickly get the businesses contact details, but it is not yet defined in Google Places business listings what portion of your impressions or clicks related to Streetview so it is too early to judge the direct benefit of this feature.

Google Maps local AdsGoogle Maps Ads "School of the Future"The two examples do show how the markers can be useful when looking for a business location and not having to scan sideways to see the name of the business and you don’t have to go back to the Google Maps view to confirm thats the right business address you found.  The only issue that can be flagged is now the importance of correct business details and Google Maps updating its map index more than once every 3-4 weeks as it can actually affect the user experience if the data is outdated and never corrected.   The next example shows how big business and franchise can benefit with store locations no longer hidden by parked cars or passing trucks such as the USPS truck covering the Barnes & Nobel storefront.

Google Maps Listing

A side benefit for consumers, tourists and visitors is that the transport options such as Subway lines were previously hidden can now be accurately displayed in relation to the business location.  The feedback point is that as shown below there is no ability currently to apply more layers as you can with Google Maps or Google Earth such as transit layers in Google StreetView so the numbers of listings added maybe limited.

Show Google Map Layers

The new Google streetview place markers don’t seem to be tied to any particular set of criteria as they show for the following types of listings:

  • Public transport
  • Big business (Best Buy/Barns & Nobel)
  • Owner verified businesses
  • Not yet verified by owner businesses

To show that this is not yet a feature that business may have any control over, it appears that  a number of the results that we found were for business listings that were still unverified by the business owner, so likely less susceptible to spam.  The first result for Restoration Hardware shows that the business has not yet been claimed by the business owner, as with the second result School of the Future High School so are likely sourced direct from Yellowpages listings. But other results such as Gramercy Park Hotel did have a Streetview placemarker but had an owner verified listing so its not just for unverified business locations or big business such as BestBuy or Barnes & Nobel who can get a virtual marker. This types of points we noted in our article around how SEO for Hotels is getting harder with some of the new features that Google is rolling out in the form of paid placement and preferred Google properties showing in the search results.

School of the Future High School

To see if this was a relevance listing such only those who were listed as the #1 in Google Maps local listings or those who showed up #1 in organic or paid results, we have included the local listing result for a geographic query for each in the screenshots shown below. It would be local from an search optimisation perspective to reward those who are able to rank highly for local or generic queries but this would encourage local seo to likely take advantage of the Google Streetview listings for their clients.

Google Maps Listing Restoration Hardware

Google Maps Listing School of the Future

So while the first result showed that Restoration Hardware was #1 in the search results, School of the Future was #7 in the second results but in a test conducted today was no longer a featured in the local business results.  So this could indicate that the StreetView may not even be based on an algorithm yet and might just be using Google Map data.

So this seems to be a very strange test that doesn’t seem to depend on any measurable or known selection criteria which makes it harder for agencies and marketers to assist their clients with achieving a virtual page marker in Google Streetview outside having a placemarker on Google Maps as shown above. Have you found any issues getting listed or traffic benefits for your clients with these Streetview placemarkers?