Just this last week I joined the ranks of Google’s local reviewers. Google has quietly put the word out that it wants to enlist its own approved writers to start building reviews on local businesses. Google calls their program “Local Guides”.
You too can apply to be a writer. I am not sure what their criteria is to be approved, but as I am already reviewing local businesses and write regularly for many venues, I was approved the same day.
That being said, what is interesting is to identify is that Google considers reviews done by real people to be important. So important that it is enticing a wide variety of individuals to beef up the number of business reviews in the Google Places arena by creating a special program complete with enticements for 5, 50, and 200 review levels.
If you need help with reviews for your own business and you are not getting the action you need from Google’s Local Guides I invite you to review our Brand Booster program to help build online reviews and web visibility.
If you have been using Google Places or Google+, Google has a new property call Google My Business that you need to be looking at and migrating to.
First notice that even if you have been posting on Google+ pages you may not have a Google My Business site. For that matter if you’ve had a Google Places or Google Maps page, you may still need to re-verify to migrate that page to Google My Business.
Here’s what I’ve found out. I have a number of Google+ pages that I routinely post to as well as a personal Google+ page. I even had one Google Places page. When I set up my own Google My Business page, it was a different URL than any of them. Sigh… that means I had to start all over in building a fan base as any of my existing pages did not migrate into the new Google My Business page.
The Google My Business pages even look different. You’ll know you have one if over the cover image you see things like your office hours, your address, and website URL. You can see the cover image of my own in this post and view my site online.
Google is really pushing the Google My Business pages. My Google AdWords account rep even told me this past week that Google AdWords will be doing away with the ability to add business addresses manually in AdWords and using only the Google My Business page for locations in the near future. This means that it is time to get going on embracing this new Google product.
Personally I hate that the migration did not allow me to pick up one of my existing pages about my business that had a nice number of followers, but this is Google, it is their way all the way.
So, better get prepared for the future, as it is clear that Google will want to only deliver Google Maps and Google organic results pointing to a verified Google My Business page in the very near future.
Very quietly Google has changed Google Places to remove the ability to manipulate a listing for organic performance. This action has very quietly slipped under the radar, but the changes are big for businesses.
First, this last month, Google sent out notices to all Google+ Local businesses that duplicate listings of the same business would not be allowed. Google immediately disable access to all Google+ Local pages (also known as Google Maps pages and Google Places accounts) to email addresses that did not carry the business domain or were not recognized by Google as clearly being the account owner by email, or having the business phone number or carrying the registered address. This effectively locked out all third party account managers and update services.
Google then advised all account access users that the main account owner – not even the originator of the account, would have to allow access to any users from the parent account. Additionally that any approved users would then have to manage the account for two full weeks before transfer of the account could be done.
By making the linking and transfer process so complicated Google has effectively locked our all parties except the one account owner. Of additional important note is that Google has been removing one by one the items a business owner could actually change on their account.
Over time, Google has removed the ability to add keywords and to craft a message that helped the business place locally. Google even removed the ability for a monthly promotion as well as comments from the page owner.
With this most recent update Google has now forced all Places pages now into the format of a true Google+ page. No longer is the look and feel different of a Places page from a postable Google+ Business page but identical and one that you can now post to with a third party app like HootSuite.
These huge changes to who can own and update the page, what the page looks like, and how you interact with the local page have now made Google+ Local pages unable to really be optimized for organic placement. This bad for businesses, but great for Google. Google gets more people forced into Google+ and now nets out manipulation of local results.
2. You must link to a specific address – no post office boxes.
3. Google wants a local phone number not your vanity number or a 1-800 number.
4. Select one category at the minimum from Google’s own list of categories. Even if you provide permanent makeup not tattoos, the correct category for you according to Google is tattoos. Provide other choices using the custom category option.
5. Here’s a big one: “Only businesses that make in-person contact with customers qualify for a Google Places listing.” So if you don’t ever meet your customer face to face, you will not be able to get Google+ Local placement and should not expect to rise in the rankings or placement.
6. Be aware that Google is cracking down right now on duplicate listings for Google+ Local Places; trying to weed out fictitious accounts or those that have previously gamed the system trying to get better location specific placement by using fake or bogus addresses. You can no longer use your mother-in-laws address as a store location just to get placement in that city.
With Google Local providing an excellent avenue to drive traffic to local stores, but with Google’s improved understanding of your real business location, it is getting nearly impossible to “game” the system as many were previously able to do.
I knew that eventually Google would address the growing problem of SEO firms selling services to create fictitious Google+ Local reviews, and finally they have. Here is a quote from Google:
“For business owners:
Be wary of an SEO or reputation management service that promises to generate reviews for your business. We’ve seen companies make up fake glowing testimonies — and we’ll take them down.
We don’t take down negative reviews for simply being negative for anyone, regardless of any other relationships with Google. Instead, we encourage you to utilize the owner response functionality to respond to the review and address the user’s concerns.
If a third party claims that they know how to remove reviews from Google, don’t believe them. Google does not work with any third party reputation management companies and we certainly don’t remove reviews unless they violate our guidelines.
Don’t set up a computer or tablet device in your place of business for customers to leave reviews on site. Consider sending a reminder e-mail so customers can review on their own time.
Based on what I see, it appears that Google is not only scanning for fake reviews, but actively and aggressively targeting Local Pages that use them, but interesting enough appears to be tracking the IP address. Take a careful look at the section that says don’t put a tablet or computer in your place of business – that means IP tracking.
Additionally Google has turned to crowd sourcing to catch the offenders. If you know a competitor is doing this or suddenly has tons of reviews magically you can report them to Google for review.
“If you see a review that violates our policy guidelines, you can report the review to us by clicking on the gray flag icon next to the review in question. You’ll be taken to a form where you can tell us why you’re flagging that review. Please note that we won’t follow up with you individually, but we do review every piece of content that is flagged.”
This information is very important for website owners. I know of several who have been approached by firms selling these exact review services. They are stating that they set up individual Google email and Yahoo accounts just for your review creation, work to mask the IP address and then create a glowing supposedly untraceable review. Be wary of these types of services, is it worth being banned from Google+ Local pages to try to scam Google?
Finally Google+ Local has listened to businesses that have multiple people in an office building or location and is now allowing more than one Google+ Local page per address.
Previously if you were a real estate agent located in an office the first person who grabbed that location in Google+ Local owned it and you could not set up an account to show your business. What was worse was if someone other than the legal business owner grabbed the location, you were stuck!
Now Google has allowed multiple businesses who may be in different suites, cubicles or floors to now verify an address. That’s great news for many small businesses and consultants.
Here’s what Google says specifically that is a nice new change:
“Individual practitioners may be listed individually as long as those practitioners are public-facing within their parent organization. Common examples of such practitioners are doctors, dentists, lawyers, and real estate agents. The practitioner should be directly contactable at the verified location during stated hours. A practitioner should not have multiple listings to cover all of his or her specializations.”
“Departments within businesses, universities, hospitals, and government buildings may be listed separately. These departments must be publicly distinct as entities or groups within their parent organization, and ideally will have separate phone numbers and/or customer entrances.”