What’s New in Local Search January 2011
Google announces plans to map the indoors and releases the capability in Google Maps 6.0 for Android. A person using this latest version of Maps on their mobile device can see detailed floor plans of some airports, malls, train stations, large stores and other public buildings. Building owners are encouraged to upload their own floor plans here. This is obviously an off shoot of the MapMaker projects and is yet another way to get users to create content for Google. Who know what evil ways spammers will be able to use it to harm their competitors, as being logged into a Google account seems to be the only requirement to create and submit floor plans.
Improvements to TalkBin are announced and a new tutorial on how to interact with your customers is posted. Sign Builder software is included (certainly inspired by Bing's Business Portal offerings) to create instore collateral to prompt customers to participate. I wonder if and when reviews, ratings and comments from TalkBin might start appearing on Place pages and in Google+ ?
On Air HangOuts expand to include more public figures. It is likely only a matter of time before this record and broadcast feature is available to everyone on Google+. The service is free and is completely self managed. In addition, Google turns On Air Hangouts into videos and uploads them to your YouTube account. While it's possible to make these videos private, it appears to be just another way Google can use content created by others to benefit itself.
The number of Android apps that have been downloaded topped 10 billion in December!
A smart-phone specific bot, Googlebot Mobile, is unleashed by Google. This new bot eliminates the need for a redirect to route visitors to the mobile version of a website and lands users on the smartphone-optimized pages of any site more quickly. This is yet another reason to start getting your mobile website up and running.
Vanessagene, a super-hero Googler, apologizes in the Places help forum for the persistent problem with verified sites showing the error message "We currently do not support the location" in Places. Then, she gives us clear step-by-step instructions for working around the problem. I have had to use this workaround recently and found it to be a quick and relatively painless solution to a persistent Places bug. If it doesn't work immediately, give it 10 minutes and check it again.
No new Google City Pages have appeared for quite some time and the inclusion of new categories have stalled out, as well. When will professional services appear? Who knows, but that seems to be the next logical progression.
Google rolls out Troubleshooter for Places! It's a part software and part human support system for SMB's trying to resolve problems with their listings. For some issues, the corrections are amazingly swift and accurate. For others, you can't even get into the area where you can describe the problem you're having. Any improvements in support for Places are welcomed and we can only hope Troubleshooter will grow to handle more types of problems, since the Report a problem feature is just as iffy as it has always been.
Google's Get Your Business Online promotion has now expanded to Canada, Great Britain and India. It's also experimenting with reserved, private help sessions for business owners as part of this project.
BrightLocal releases their findings on the top 50 citation sites for local businesses in the US and in the UK (2 separate lists). I must caution you that their results are based strictly on the number of times these sites showed up as citations for businesses in Google Places and do not take the quality or impact of the citation source into account. You'll probably find a few you hadn't run across before. To review and analyze them for your own purposes, download the lists here.
Philadelphia gets a Google Places Community Manager, Carrie Estok. You can keep up with her and the Google events in the Philly area by following her on Twitter @GooglePhilly
Boston also get a Places Community Manager, Adri Cowan who you'll find on Twitter @GoogleBoston . Are you getting any ideas about name squatting your city on Twitter, yet?
A new version of Google MapMaker was released aimed at making things a little easier for non-techies. As a side note, I'm seeing evidence that becoming an active editor in MapMaker may give you some very valuable clout. Unfortunately, that's true even for spammers. Do not get lured into any of these "we'll get your listing verified in an hour" deals. Google is becoming aware that MapMaker influence is being sold and will put an end to it - eventually.
Fake review services are becoming rampant and Google needs to find a way to shut them down before their reviews and ratings lose all credibility. In its enthusiastic quest to get more reviews than any other site on the web, Google could possibly be accused of enabling and/or encouraging these fake reviews. Some internet marketers are now using Report a problem to "out" competitors involved in this illegal practice.
The Places support forum reveals a change in the way we are supposed to handle listings for businesses that change locations. It is now recommended that the old location should be marked as closed within your dashboard and a new listing should be created and verified. I have not tried this yet because I fear losing all of the details, photos and reviews associated with the old location by closing it. Instead, I've continued to change the info in the existing listing and have not experienced any problems – yet. We'll see how it goes.
Yext has taken a huge step toward revolutionizing business data management! It has essentially become a major online data provider with its latest iteration of Power Listings, leap-frogging over all of the well-know big boys. Their Power Listings products update information about businesses on a multitude of websites either instantly or within a day or two. This capability leaves everyone else deep in the dust, especially Google, where it can take 6 weeks or so before you can see some of the updates to your Places listing go live. The cost of this product is $500 per business location for complete distribution. You can choose lesser packages with much more limited distribution at a lower cost. They are all annual plans billed monthly. I advise caution and testing before going whole hog with Yext. It has a rather sketchy reputation in the Local Search industry. I haven't tried it, yet, so please share any experiences you may have with Yext Power Listings here or in the pro forum.
7 tutorial videos are posted on YouTube about how to use Rich Snippets These instructions by the Webmaster Tools team "strongly encourage" the use of Schema.org microdata formats over all others. Included is a tutorial on review Rich Snippets and how to include ratings in them.
The best statistic to come out of the BIA/Kelsey west coast conference: only 13% of small businesses include their local phone number on their website's home page. That sure smells like an easy opportunity for local marketers to me!
A study was released on where people get information and news about local businesses by Pew Internet and American Life Project. The internet was the clear winner, with the Search Engines topping all other sources. Among internet sources, specialty websites like Yelp and Urban Spoon came in a distant second and strictly social sites, like Twitter accounted for only a small percentage. So, as fun and sexy as social media can be, it's still critical to make certain your SEO shines for success in Local Search.
Google's new expanded location targeting, which includes areas outside of the ones the advertiser specifies, is criticized by some PPC experts as forcing advertisers to target wider areas and causing more bad clicks. You can no longer create shapes customized to your target area, but must use preset shapes or a radius of no less than 10 miles. That can be pretty broad for a hyperlocal business, like a coffee shop, dry cleaner or a bank in an urban area! Check your location targeting in AdWords today to see how this might be effecting your advertising.