Is Google Opinion Rewards Fueling Local Reviews? My Findings

February 1st, 2016 by

I’ve been using the Google Opinion Rewards app for a couple of years now.  The app, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, sends you surveys a few times a week via your mobile device and you can earn Google Play credits for answering questions.  The questions vary, but I’ve found that Google is most interested in my location behavior.  Every few days Google will ask me if I’ve been to any of the locations on a list.  Sometimes they don’t make any sense, but more often than not there is a store or restaurant I’ve visited in the last few days in the list.  They then ask me when I was there, and to rate my experience from one to four stars.  I often wondered if Google was leveraging this data to fuel its local reviews and star ratings, but after a trip to Knott’s Halloween Haunt last October I’m convinced Google is in fact leveraging this data.

Last October my wife and I attended Knotts’ annual Halloween Haunt and since it was for our Anniversary I surprised her with the dinner and hotel package with it.  The day after our stay I received a notification from Google Opinion Rewards that looked like every other survey I receive when Google so kindly stalks my movement, asking me if I recently had been to any of the places in a list of local hotels.  Normally, after my response it simply asks me to rate my experience at the location, but this time, things took a bit of a turn.  On the following screen, Google advised that responses to my survey may be posted on Google and associated with my Google profile.

Google Opinion rewards questions 1 and 2

Since this was a prompt I hadn’t seen before, I opted to go ahead and let Google use my responses in an effort to see what the final result would be.  The final two questions were similar to what I am used to seeing; it first asked to rate my experience and then asked me to review the location.

Google Opinion Rewards questions 2 and 3

I submitted my review and when I first checked the listing I didn’t see where the review had been posted to the local listing for the Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel.

I haven’t seen a survey like this sense, but randomly thought the other day to check back and see if by chance Google was using my response as a review on the local listing for the Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel.  Sure enough, the review I placed back in October via Google Opinion Rewards is actually live on the hotel’s listing.

Knott's Berry Farm Hotel Google Review

Needless to say, if Google tells you that your Google Opinion Rewards survey may be leveraged online, it likely will be integrated into their reviews system and ultimately impact that business.  As I mentioned previosuly, most location survey like this don’t include this disclaimer, however you almost always provide a star rating for the business.  I did some poking around to see if any of the businesses I have given star ratings to as part of Google Opinion Rewards appear as “reviews,” but that does not appear to be the case, at least not publicly.  I did discover however that the star ratings I have entered via Google Opinion Rewards show up under the “Contribute” section of my profile in Google Maps, which leads me to believe these are somehow being leveraged or at least weighted as part of the overall local review landscape in Google.  As a local business, this is something you should be aware of as it has the potential to tap into users who may have otherwise not reviewed your business online, regardless of the sentiment of that review.

Google Maps Contribute

The one thing I find amusing about this entire process is that Google’s guidelines say that businesses shouldn’t offer money for people to write reviews because it impacts the authenticity of the review, yet Google Opinion Rewards is based completly on a model that reards you Google Play Credits for doing just that.


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Why I’ve (Mostly) Stopped Reading SEO Blogs, and What I’m Reading Now

January 29th, 2016 by

If this is your first visit to my blog, you probably noticed its been nearly a year since my last blog post.  There are a couple of reasons for that. 1) I simply haven’t had time between agency life, family and other ventures I’m involved in and 2) I was starting to realize how big of an echo chamber the SEO industry and its blogsophere had become.  It felt like everyone was talking, but no one was saying anything new and the only way to make it new was to sensationalize even the smallest industry updates.  If you don’t believe me you should have seen my inbox after Jennifer Slegg released her Google Panda Guide and all the emails promoting posts, webinars, and the like that were going to school me on the “new” Panda algorithm.   It’s this kind of behavior that changed not only my blogging habits, but the kinds of blogs I would read.

You see, prior to the change I was spending upwards of two hours a day on industry blog reading.  I would skim some of it, ignore most of it, but ultimately wouldn’t get much out of it.  Since the release of Panda and Penguin, I believe the SEO world has hit a bit of a plateau.  People aren’t sharing their little gimmicks and tricks to game the system, but instead are sharing their believed methods on how to survive/recover from these algorithms.  When they’re not blogging about Google’s algorithm zoo, they’re rehashing best practices, peppering in some new tools and how to use them, and when they’re really lucky they see a change from Google and sensationalize the hell out of it.  Most of it isn’t useful and when it comes down to it is just the same thing rewritten with someone’s personal spin.  I was so tired of industry content I wiped out most of my SEO feed and took a step back and asked, “What else could you be reading that can make you a better SEO?”

You won’t find the answer in the SEO blogosphere.  It’s found in the places that inspire you.  The places that generate new ideas, encourage self development, and open your mind to new approaches to what you do.  To find these I looked to parallel disciplines, I looked at creative outlets, and what I found was enlightening, educational, inspiring and best of all didn’t feel like I was reading the same blog post on 50 different sites.  Here are just some of the places that I’ve started finding content that has really made me a better, more creative SEO.


Co.Create is a Fast Company blog that features content around creativity in advertising, entertainment, and technology.  If you follow me on Twitter, this is likely a site you see me tweet from quite a bit.  While much of their content is curated from around the web, they also feature a number of original pieces and interviews that as a digital marketer or SEO you’ll find inspiring.  What I like most about their posts is that they are quick and easy to digest, but are always on fun and engaging topics.  Some of my recent favorites include:

Crew Blog

If you’re not familiar with Crew, they are a company that connects people who have a website, app or design idea with professional freelancers that can help them get the job done.  I’ve never used the service, but from time to time I had come across their content online and started following their blog.  What I love about their blog is that they aren’t pushing their service or their industry, instead they share practical tips and information that can apply to any business professional or marketer.  To get a feel for their content, I would highly recommend checking out their recap of their most read articles of 2015.


Digiday is a daily publication that explores all things digital marketing and media.  The publication explores trends in the industry and looks at different channels and mediums brands are using online to market to their customers.  What I like about Digiday is that it gives you a pulse of what’s happening in the digital marketing world.  It can generate inspiration, or just keep you in the know in regards to what other brands and agencies are doing.  Recently I enjoyed:


I don’t remember how I stumbled upon PSFK, but the site is designed for creative professionals to help them better understand the future of pretty much everything.  Topics range from advertising and design to food, travel, and culture.  What I enjoy about PSFK is that they often feature or discuss things that are up and coming, oftentimes it’s a Kickstarter item or a new technology that hasn’t been fully adapted yet.  It really gets you thinking about what could be and where things are headed.  I don’t necessarily have any recent favorites from PSFK, but this is definitely a site I am checking daily.  The only downside is that they appear to have implemented a bit of a paywall, so you can only view so many articles a month without subscribing.


Another digital marketing focused publication, Momentology is a strategy focused publication aimed at more advanced digital marketers.  Another great resource for inspiration and trends, Momentology features original content aimed at helping seasoned marketers “be visible and persuasive in the moments that really matter.”  Some of my recent favorites are:

Don’t let the listicle style titles deter you, I promise the content is more engaging than the titles may lead you to believe.

My Morning Routine

Clearly inspired by my Day in the Life of an SEO series that ended after just one post, featuring Portent’s Ian Lurie, My Mourning Routine explores the morning habits of various personalities in an effort to inspire others to have more productive enjoyable days.  The people featured each week run the gamut from CEO’s and entrepreneur’s to writers and artists, and while I can rarely relate to these self employed movers and shakers I always find their routines fascinating.  This site is more about personal inspiration and how I can better myself as a person, which I hope can carry over into my marketing career.  SEO’s will appreciate that the site recently featured Moz’s Rand Fishkin

The Content Strategist

A digital magazine published by the makers of Contently, The Content Strategist focuses on all things content and content marketing.  What I like most about The Content Strategist is that they feature a lot of diverse content ranging from content marketing trends and best practices to examples and insights from around the industry.  Again, this is a publication where I don’t necesarily have any recent favorites, but it’s a site a read and watch for new content from regularly.

Convince and Convert

Though focused primarily on social media and content marketing, the Convince and Convert blog features a wide array of content that can be leveraged both for education as well as inspiration.  The blog features a lot of ideas and concepts that can be explored by content marketers or organizations thinking of creating content while providing examples and insights into some of the latest industry trends.

Buffer Blog

I put Buffer last because I felt it was one that most people were already familiar with, though it happens to be one of my favorites on this list.  Buffer, for those who may not know, is a tool that allows you to schedule out your social media content over time.  It’s a great tool for curating and sharing content that may be of interest to your readers and one I highly recommend.  That said, the tool isn’t why I love the Buffer blog.  The Buffer blog is a great place for getting new insights and ideas related to social media.  The blog will feature information on the latest trends in social, but they also feature examples of how businesses are leveraging social media.  Buffer is also good at curating lists that will be of use to your business when it comes to social media.  A post I still return to on a regular basis is their extensive list of free image sources. Some other, more recent posts I enjoyed include:

While SEO blogs are still important to keep up on industry trends and happenings, I am reading fewer and fewer these days.  You see I believe that once you’ve mastered the basic concepts of SEO and have built a strong foundation for your SEO efforts, the thing that is going to propel you even further is your creativity and your ability to think beyond just the realm of SEO.  That’s not to say there aren’t new skills that will come along; schema continues to see new applications, and mobile and app indexation continues to evolve, but these are foundational concepts.  Once in place they are only going to take you so far.  Once these are mastered or in place your creativity is what will take you to the next level.  Creative content or ideas can drive visitors, links, social visibility, brand awareness and much more.  Hopefully some of you found something new to inspire you in this post.
What inspires you to be a better SEO?  Share your ideas in the comments!

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Google’s At A Glance Snippets Now Show the Ugly Truth About Your Business

February 27th, 2014 by

Last week Google announced the global rollout of the new Google Maps layout.  The new layout, which many of us began using as a preview last May is much different than the traditional maps view many local businesses were used to.  Unlike the previous maps layout the emphasis is on the locations on the map and not the business listings that used to appear on the left.  For many local businesses that were less visible in the past this is a blessing, but what many businesses are learning is its also a curse.

Along with the new maps layout is the now more prominent at a glance snippets.  In the past these snippets would merely list words associated with your business, and in most cases these were pretty focused to what your business offered.  However, as Google’s methods for harvesting data get better and dive deeper many businesses are starting to see something more than their services.  They are seeing things that reflect their quality of service as well.

Last week while talking about the rollout of the new maps, a colleague of mine sent me the following result.  You’ll notice that Google not only associates MacMall with the macbook, but more prominently “horible customer service.”  Pretty painful to have on the map next to your business name if someone is doing research on where to buy their next Apple product.

Macmall Maps Listing with at a glance snippet

However MacMall isn’t the only victim of this.  Just today David Oremland posted the below image on Google+.  As you can see, not only is this particular BART station centrally located, but it’s known for its homeless people.

BART maps listing featuring homeless people as an at a glance snippet

When it comes to Google Maps and local in general, I have talked a lot over the years about just how crucial reputation management is.  The only way Google’s algorithm is going to pick up on stuff like this, is if there are enough people talking about these things in regards to your business.

Looking at this as an outsider, these can be a bit amusing.  But as a business owner this is terrifying.  No longer does a person need to click through and see your reviews to understand the sentiment people have about your business.  If it’s bad enough, it will be right there below your business name for all to see.

This is a short post, but I wanted to illustrate just how important reputation management can be, especially in the new Google Maps.  If you’re still not taking your online reputation seriously, and aren’t doing your part to make changes to improve these concerns within your business, let this be an eye opener for you.  These are just a couple of examples, but there are hundreds, if not thousands out there.  If you want to have some real fun, head over to the new maps and type in Walmart and then just browse the U.S. fun little snippets like “horrible service,” “white trash,” and other choice words pepper the map.

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How a Recent Change In Google Made Wikipedia A Crucial Part of Brand SEO

January 28th, 2014 by

The Knowledge Graph, it’s been all the rage with Google over the last couple of years, but a minor change made last week by the search giant might make businesses take the Knowledge Graph a bit more seriously, and more importantly their Wikipedia listings.

Last week Google announced a new feature in it’s search results to help searchers better identify if a search result is really what they are looking for.  If it’s available, Google uses data from the Knowledge Graph to add a small dropdown with the name of the entity associated with the page in the search results, giving the searcher more details about that particular website.  I’ve seen it in the wild for a number of queries and if you have a strong, accurate Wikipedia presence it’s a nice little addition to your ranking listing.  But what happens if you don’t have an accurate article, or no Wikipedia article at all for your business?  Yesterday, I found out.

Google search results featuring incorrect Knowledge Graph information

What you see above is an actual search result for an agency client I work with.  You’ll notice that instead of having information about the brand that controls the website, it is about a particular product the company makes.  If this were appearing on a page that features this particular product type I might be a bit more ok with this result, but what I uncovered was that this particular entity is associated with every page of the website that appears in Google’s search results.

After doing some digging I discovered that the company I am working with has somehow never had their company and brand information established on Wikipedia, despite being a major cosmetics brand.  Instead, Google was displaying this data based on a mention of the brand in an article about makeup primer on Wikipedia.

St. Louis Cardinals Knowledge Graph result featuring a gay slurThe cool thing about this is that it shows how powerful Google is at associating websites with brand names even when a link isn’t involved.  But sadly, it also shows that Google still hasn’t perfected the art of connecting entities using the knowledge graph.  As Google rolls this feature out to more websites, it is going to be increasingly important for businesses big and small to ensure that they have established themselves on Wikipedia and more importantly, that they are being properly represented on Wikipedia.  After all, Wikipedia and the Knowledge Graph have inappropriately represented a brand before in Google’s search results before.

Last October a Knowledge Graph incident featuring the St. Louis Cardinals showed just how vulnerable the Knowledge Graph can be.  During their World Series appearance against the Boston Red Sox pranksters rewrote the team’s description using gay slurs on their Wikipedia entry.  Despite being live on Wikipedia for only minutes, the slurs appeared in Google’s Knoweledge Graph results for days.  Needless to say, there are worse words that could appear next to your search results listing than “Primer.”  Regardless, now is a better time than ever to ensure that what Wikipedia and the Knowledge Graph say about your business are as accurate as possible,

Posted in Reputation Management, SEO having 2 comments »

How a Recent Yelp App Update May Impact Your Business

August 22nd, 2013 by

Yelp Mobile ReviewsYelp; most local businesses have a love/hate relationship with it.  On one hand it’s a great site for getting your business found and assisting in building up your sites local citations.  On the other hand, one bad review could have a significant impact on the reputation of your business.  Until recently, business owners who were afraid of negative reviews being posted felt some comfort in the fact that reviews could be written via the Yelp mobile app, but not posted.  Oftentimes this would result in a negative review being delayed, or perhaps never posted at all.  But a recent change to the app has removed that roadblock.

Last week Yelp announced an update allowing users to post reviews straight from their mobile device.  Recognizing the evolution of its user base and its dependence on mobile devices, Yelp decided it was time to allow users the ability to write and publish reviews directly from their mobile device.  Previously, users could write a draft of their review from their phone, but would have to wait until they logged in on a desktop computer to publish the review.

Why This Matters To Businesses

While this may seem like a minor change, it has the potential to have a major impact on local businesses and how customers interact with them on Yelp.

A Change In User Behavior

This app update has the opportunity to change the behavior of Yelps user base.  Even Yelp admits most users don’t post reviews, but with this change many users who were turned off by the two step posting process may start using the review feature more.  I know a number of people I have talked to over the years have complained about the two step process and have stated that its the number one reason they don’t post reviews.  With the second step removed, there’s a strong chance those users will begin freely posting reviews.

Fullfilling the Need To Be Heard

If there’s one thing social media has taught us, its that we as a society love to be heard.  We tell you where we are, what we’re eating, what we’re doing, and sometimes we even snap a picture of it.  With the ability to post a review on the fly, your customers now have the opportunity to share with their friends and the public how much they love your business or how much they hate your business during the exact moment they are feeling that emotion the most.  This means that if you’re a doctor’s office and a member of your stuff goes out of their way to make me, as a patient, fee more comfortable or cared for I might post an amazing review about how much I love your practice and your staff.  On the flipside, if your staff is uncaring and treats me like an inconvenience more than a patient chances are I am going to spend that few minutes in the exam room before you come in ripping apart your practice and its miserable batch of employees.

Because this is written and published in the moment, chances are it is going to reflect the extremes I am feeling in that moment.  So if I love you in that moment I am really going to love you, and if I hate you in that moment…well chances are I’ll use a few choice four letter words to describe my experience.

A Need For Quality Service

Unless you’re this moron, chances are you recognize the importance of treating your customers well and providing quality service.  That said, business owners are often so disconnected from the day-to-day of their business they don’t really see what’s going on at the point of contact with their customers.

I personally worked with a client who thought his office staff was exceptional.  It wasn’t until he began recording incoming phone calls that he discovered his staff was often rude and would leave callers on hold for unreasonable amounts of time.  In the end we were able to tie poor phone conversions back to how the staff handled phone calls.

Now more than ever business owners need to be checking the pulse of their business and really understand how their customers are being treated.  While Yelp has been around for years, and people have used it for years, this new feature enables its users to be more in the moment and depending on how they feel about your business that could be good or bad.

I don’t believe that this change will generate a sweeping change in how users navigate reviews on Yelp, but I do believe that for a certain percentage of users this is going to enable them to post a number of reviews they may not have posted prior to the update.  As a business owner, now is the time to make sure you have all your ducks in a line when it comes to managing your reputation and making sure that the quality of service you provide your customers is truly meeting their needs.

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