Archive for the ‘Local Search’ Category

Is Google Opinion Rewards Fueling Local Reviews? My Findings

Monday, February 1st, 2016

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.


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

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

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.

How a Recent Yelp App Update May Impact Your Business

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

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.

How Google’s Local Carousel Made Local Reputation Management More Important Than Ever

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Back in June Google launched the local carousel.  It had the internet marketing industry and local SEO’s all abuzz for a few weeks, but then the hype more or less died down.  During that time people were talking a lot about changes to local layout, changes to reviews, and the possible decline in clickthroughs to a company’s local page.  That said, one of the things I haven’t seen a lot of talk about is the impact of the local carousel on reputation management.

The Two Click Query

One of the biggest changes with the local carousel, is the new two click query.  Previously when you searched for a local business and clicked on their listing you would either wind up on the business website or their local Google listing.  Now, clicking on a local listing will trigger a second query using the business name and the location (e.g. “Yummy Chinese Food Your Town, USA.)  So now, rather than seeing your business information and website for a query like “Chinese Restaurant,” viewers are taken to a page of search results all about your specific business.

A query for Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant triggered by Google's local carousel

As you can see in the example above, these sorts of queries generate not only information from your local listing, but also information from a myriad of other sites like Yelp, Facebook, and various other local portals and review sites.  In the past many businesses only worried about how they appeared for their top local search queries, but now more businesses are going to have to focus on how they appear for localized branded queries as well.

Local Reputation Management

Reputation management has always been important when it comes to running a business, you need to be able to control and respond to what is being said about your business and brand whenever possible, but with the introduction of the two click query, users using the local carousel to interact with your business are going to see not only your Google listing reputation but the overall reputation of your business online.

This means that even if you’ve managed to rack up a decent number of positive reviews in Google they are still going to be exposed to the various other websites that feature or talk about your business.  Have your Yelp customers given you scathing reviews? Chances are they are going to show up on the second query.  Has someone dedicated an entire website to how much your business sucks and how much you wronged them? Chances are if they did enough to use your brand and location in the content it’s going to show up in that second query.

Own Your Local Search Presence

If you’re not already now is the time to ensure that you are owning and monitoring your local search presence.  That means you need to make sure your business is claimed and optimized in some, if not all, of the local business and review sites that are pertinent to your niche.

If you’re not sure where to start, run a query like in the example above and see what websites show up for your business. Claim and complete any of the listings out there for your business that you’re currently not managing.  If you want to take it a step further and do some deep diving into local citation building, take a look at my Ultimate List of Local Citation Sites I did for Search News Central, though its a couple of years old, most of the websites are still in operation and are vital to a local search presence.  If you can’t tackle something that huge, then at least go after the sites that make up the local search ecosystem, as those sites will most likely be the most common sites found with a branded query.'s Local Search Ecosystem


If you’re not already monitoring your reputation online now is a good time to start.  Engage with reviewers where you can, and do your best to try and make the situation right if someone has a complaint.  Oftentimes people post a complaint online simply because they want to be heard.  If you take the time to hear them out and try and make the situation right you may be able to turn an angry customer into a lifelong customer.  Best of all, if you can make things right and regain the customer’s confidence you can always ask them to update to the review.

How has your business weathered since the recent local carousel update? Does your branded local search results page look decent, or do you have some work to do?

The Biggest Change Surrounding Google’s Local Carousel That No One’s Talking About

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Yesterday I shared some insight regarding what you need to know about Google’s local carousel.  Over the last 24 hours or so I have been observing various results I come across, looking for differences, changes, etc.  And then earlier this morning something major stood out.  A change that came with the local carousel that no one seems to be talking about, yet it has a major impact on local businesses.  Look closely at the image below. Do you see anything missing?

Google Local Carousel results for sushi in Los Angeles

If you said ads, you’re right.  Strangely, with the launch of the local carousel Google appears to have cut out a chunk of revenue for itself as well as some prime paid real estate for local restaurants.

What’s interesting about the change however, is that this only appears to be impacting restaurants and night life.  Searches for hotels still display ads from the big players both below the carousel and on the right hand side, as you can see below.

Google Local Carousel results for hotels in Los Angeles

When I first ran some test queries they were in Corona and Costa Mesa.  Since I wasn’t very familiar with the restaurant search space I initially thought that maybe there just wasn’t enough PPC competition in the area.  So I decided to take a stab at Los Angeles, after all someone in L.A. has to be dumping some cash into showing up at the top of the search results for sushi.  Again, no ads.  So I head over to AOL and ran the same query.  Thankfully it doesn’t appear that all the sushi restaurants in Los Angeles have pulled out of paid advertising, Google just isn’t giving them any love in their search results. But why the change?

I have a few theories about this.  The first, Google slipped up.  Perhaps this is just glitch and the feature is so new that nobody is going to notice until the payments from local restaurants stop rolling in to Google at the end of June.  The second, Google’s got something big and paid planned for local businesses.

The reason I suspect something big and paid is in the cards is that this is the second product in the last few months with local flavor that has been unusually ad free.  First, the new Google Maps rolled out sans the search listings and ads.  Now, certain queries in the local carousel remove ads completely.  This creates a prime opportunity for Google to release a new paid advertising product aimed at local businesses that integrates with the new systems.

Ultimately only time will tell what Google’s end game is, but if you’re in the restaurant or nightlift space and you were throwing money into paid advertising, chances are your bill is going to be a bit smaller this month.

What do you think of the change? What do you suppose Google has up its sleeve for the restaurant and nightlife market?