Google Maps Training By Mike Blumenthal – A Review

Mike Blumenthal As you already know, working in search marketing, change happens at light speed (byte speed for the punster) and continuing education and training is critical.

When it came time to redefine our local seo procedure for all the recent changes, I wanted to create it with all known information available. Good luck, right?

Since, I am an avid reader of Understanding Google Maps, I decided to take a chance and see if its author, Mike Blumenthal, would be interested in providing training.

As it turned out he was and so we negotiated a price. Which went something like him telling me his rate is $300/hour and me saying ok.

The training was done as a series of 5 1-hour conference calls with Mike sharing his screen. The first 4 calls were done in a classic instructor-student format and the fifth call was Q & A.

Mike asked us questions to make sure the manner in which he presented the information was suitable for everyone in the ‘class’. He did a nice job with this and was quite patient, our student body consisted of a small business owner, advanced local seos, and a yellow pages rep. In the end, the information was presented at a level suitable for the advanced search marketer, which was appropriate.

The topics were organized in a way that made sense. First, he covered Theory and data sources. The second session was competitive analysis, and setting client expectations. The third session covered best practices for ranking in Google Maps. The fourth session covered what to do when there is a problem with a listing, a client moves or a ranking disappears or drops. The last session, as I said was Q & A, for which we prepared dozens of complex questions. He answered each one casually, often bringing up examples online. (I was thinking about posting the questions we asked in a sort of ‘Are you smarter than Mike Blumenthal about Google Maps? format but you wouldn’t want to play that game for keeps).

Mike has an astounding knowledge of Google Maps and it seems like he genuinely enjoys talking about the subject. That combination creates an interesting and comfortable learning environment.

In the end, I would have to say, I won the negotiation. :) Seriously though, I felt fortunate that I was able to provide my team with such good training and I would recommend Mike’s training to anyone who wanted to learn more about local search.

Posted in Google Maps | 20 Comments

Google Adwords Contact Form Extension Now Autofilled? Wow!

Google Adwords Contact Form Extension with Autofill

Email address is autofilled

There have obviously some been some changes to Adwords contact form extensions since PPC Hero first wrote about them almost 2 years ago.

For the first time, I saw one in the wild that autofilled my email address. I am surprised that google would take this step given the climate for increased privacy. Based on the privacy link (I hovered to get the screenshot) and the appeal for me to read their new privacy policy in the top right, we can infer that Google is aware that people might react badly to this. The defense to this would likely be the cloak of transparency combined with the fact that I probably gave them permission. My default answer to Google’s privacy questions is yes, often without reading. Like a teenager in the backseat of a car, just trying to see to see how far they’ll go.

Posted in Internet Advertising | 2 Comments

There’s A Yellow Pages In My Facebook… And Yours

For the second time in my life, I found something in a Google search result that made me sure my professional life was about to change forever. The first was almost a decade ago when a simple search revealed the listings of 3 local businesses at the top of the results. I was a sales manager in the yellow page industry at the time. I knew instantly, these results foreshadowed the demise of the industry from which I was earning a living. That day I started preparing for the career I enjoy today.
2 days ago I had a similar experience. The writing was, quite literally, on the Wall. My Wall and yours. Let’s start with a screenshot of the search result in Google: >

Google search result with Facebook link
When I initially came across the result pictured above, I didn’t think much of it, Facebook pages often show up in search results. The thing that made me curious was the familiar way with which the title and url structure appeared to be optimized for search. ‘Click’ oh my… Here’s what I found:

Facebook Category Page
The screenshot above reveals a facebook category/town page. This is clearly yellow-pages-centric. 4 business listings organized by geography and buiness type, that’s the yellow page recipe. Clicking on any of these listings brings you to an unclaimed facebook page. Here’s the screenshot when I click on the first one:
facebook place page
It’s like the love child of a Google Place page and a Facebook business info page- Placebook :) (Interestingly, a whois look-up for reveals the owner of the domain as E-bay).

To navigate to your facebook yellow pages, go to your Wall and click on the link to your hometown in the top right. If you can’t find the link, update the hometown field in your facebook settings. After you click the link, you’ll notice the business listings and a box from which you can change the business category.

There are two things that make me think Facebook can be a real contender in Local Search. The first is the sheer awesomeness of the results. The algorithm that will generate the results will be built around your network of Friends (presumably) and will include photos of your friends along with the results, as you saw when you clicked on the link to your hometown. That is the epitome of local/social.

The second thing is content. I recently read that more small business owners have created facebook pages than websites.

It will take a while for Facebook to catch up with Google. They still have to build out the infrastructure of a product that is clearly in its infancy. And they have to get people in the habit of “searching” for things on Facebook.

They could begin by optimizing for Google like everyone else. Which appears to be exactly what they did.

Posted in Local Search | 3 Comments

Likely Result Of San Francisco’s Yellow Page Law

The Mayor of San Francisco acknowledged that many people “use yellow pages” but signed into law a bill that will require residents to opt-in to receive the phone book.

The logic being that those folks who still use it can opt-in and receive it. This is one of those weird logic things that makes you wonder if the world has gotten too complicated for politicians.

Where they will go to opt-in? How will they be informed of this?

And here is the big question? Is the City of San Francisco going to take on the expense of publishing the book? Certainly, creating this law will remove the profit from creating and distributing a phone book. So, if not the city, who? I genuinely believe, many people believe there will be a phone book to opt into following this law. Obviously, you can’t pass a law that sucks the profit out of a business and expect the business to continue to operate. There are likely many who have that expectation, probably even the mayor.

It’s ok for you and me to fail to recognize things like that, but not for elected officials. Again, it makes me wonder if the world is too complicated for politicians.

I am an interested party. I am a partner in an agency that sells internet advertising and yellow pages. Our yellow page business is in decline and will continue to decline, likely to Zero. The only question is when. Our internet marketing business is growing rapidly. As our clients spend less on yellow pages they will likely spend more on internet. It’s heads my client wins, and tails my client wins. As long as, and here is the major point, the decline happens naturally. If it doesn’t happen at a pace dictated by the free market system, there will be consequences for the local economy.

Let’s Look at it from the point of view of a small business that I am familiar with in the the bay area. This business has a sophisticated internet marketing program and a 6 figure yellow page spend. The yellow page spend represents hundreds of calls from new customers each month and the largest portion of the advertising budget.

If this law takes effect, he will have to cancel his yellow pages. Although, yellow pages provides a high volume of calls, the cost per call is much higher than on the internet and I can’t see how it could remain profitable with the drop in usage an opt-in program would cause.

With the volume of new customers reduced so much, he would be forced to lay workers off. I guess he would see a bump in internet calls but not nearly enough to offset the loss in call volume. My guess would 5-7 guys would be laid off.

I think most other small businesses in the area that advertise in those books would make similar decisions. Which means more layoffs from small business.

Now I’m going to guess and say yellow pages in the bay area is a 20 million dollar industry, give or take 10 million. Does it make sense to just take this money out of the economy. What does it mean to the people who sell the ads?, deliver the books?, recycle the paper?, sell recycled paper? and on and on. It means lost jobs, lost revenue etc.

All of this will happen eventually, as progress slowly and steadily advances. There is no need for government to interfere. They’re not selling crack, their selling ads that contribute millions to the local economy. I understand why the casual observer thinks this is a good idea. They don’t have access to the data one would need to make an informed decision. Elected officials do have access to the numbers and should be able to make better decisions.

In a post related to the Seattle law, asks “Whether Yellow Pages are a right?.”

And the answer is of course! Do I not have the right to sell a legal product and earn a living? Do my clients have the right to advertise their business in a medium that is effective and helps them grow? Do people have the right to access local business information in way they find most convenient?

I think this decision is being made a group of people who think they are smarter than other people and either have never looked at the numbers or have chosen to ignore them.

The yellow page industry filed a lawsuit last month. Scary how quickly a government decision can force a business to start paying big money to lawyers.

The likely result of San Francisco’s Yellow Page Law? Everyone loses but the lawyers. What else is new? (For those wondering, being relieved of the burden of having to recycle your yellow pages doesn’t qualify as a win. Not when the stakes are this high. )

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The Sum of All Small Business Owners Fears

One possible future:

Joe looked up from his paperwork and thought out loud that the phone hadn’t been ringing much in the last few days. He finished the estimate he had been working on and emailed it to the old couple he met with last week.

Still thinking it had been unusually slow, Joe logged into his Google Analytics account. The Dashboard indicated that traffic had slowed in the last 5 days or so. He clicked on ‘Traffic Sources’ and found the decline in traffic was pretty evenly distributed throughout his organic and paid advertising. The beginnings of a frustration that can only be caused by internet advertising began as Joe started wading through the links in GA’s main navigation one at a time.

Joe Highley is a roofing contractor. A former bond trader, he had grown tired of building a book of business that lasted only as long as the economic cycle. Owning his own business would not make him immune to the economy but it would put him in control of his own fate. That difficult decision proved to be a good one and Joe is proud of the ‘Since 1994′ that appears in all his ads.

Joe relied on his courage and salesmanship when he started out. He mortgaged his home, hired 2 guys, and purchased $43,575 in yellow pages advertising. He spread it across multiple counties so the monthly payment would be staggered. His phone bill would not bear the full weight of the $4,000 plus until October. The first book would drop in March, the beginning of the season.

Joe focused the ad copy on repair, thinking that would get him busy faster and make the sales a little easier. Maybe convenience and service would be more important than price and experience on the repair end of the business. Luck struck in the form of a wicked storm in early April, Joe’s phone started to ring and it kept on ringing as Joe’s yellow page budget swelled to 6 figures over the next 10 years.

That’s when it started to fall apart. As the advertising bills swelled competition from multiple publishers and the internet made the spend less effective. Combined with a soft economy, Joe was in real trouble for the first time since starting the business.

Staring at bills that had no chance of getting paid out of cash flow, Joe started to work out a plan. Over the next 2 years, he became a sophisticated internet marketer. His cost per lead on the net was far lower than yellow pages and the volume of calls was good enough to get him back to profitability. The stress level was, well, manageable. The best a small business owner could hope for.

Ultimately, Joe’s sophistication on the internet allowed him to cut his yellow pages spending in half. That was now providing a significant chunk of what Joe was able to bring home each month.

Getting impatient going through the links in Google Analytics and finding no answers to his problem, he skipped ‘Browser Capabilities’ and clicked on Mobile devices. There it was. His mobile traffic had gone down by half at the end of last week and was now nearly flatlined.

Android, Iphone, Ipad each one looked dead. As if all at once, everyone decided to throw their handhelds in a river. 8 Years after the first Iphone, mobile traffic to Joe’s site had swelled to 65% of the total volume.

A sophisticated internet advertiser, he realized a lot of that was due to tablet sales and that ‘mobile’ referred more to the operating system than it did the user’s place on earth. In reality, the searcher had only moved from the desk chair to the couch. However, after he bought an Ipad, switched on the w-fi and sat in a more comfortable spot, the world started calling the traffic mobile and Google Analytics was no different. The change seemed semantic.

Joe pulled out his own phone, touched the screen so the image would display on the flat panel hanging in his office and spoke the name of his business to Google’s search box, the list loaded and speaking to Google once more he said “one” and waited for the top result to load.

The normal pride Joe felt when his mobile site loaded quickly, was replaced by a combination of fear and anger that can only happen when know you something bad is about to happen and there is nothing you can do about it. Rather than seeing his own site, Joe was presented with a page containing the Verizon logo and a headline that read “Stay Informed And Empowered.”

Following that was a paragraph that started like a history lesson, detailing how the network had began charging subscribers for downloading more than 5 gigabytes of data back in December 2010 and now it was time the owners of that content being downloaded shared the burden of the cost.

They made it sound more than just palatable, they made you feel like you should be asking, How did those darn content providers get away without paying for so long?

Touching the number on the screen led to a conversation with a Verizon sales rep that filled in the remaining answers to the original traffic problem. According to Verizon, there is no charge for your website to be on the internet. Only if someone downloads it while on their network. It started a couple of weeks ago but didn’t cause a problem until the 100 free downloads were used up.

The Verizon rep walked Joe through all the available plans. He asked Joe about his Analytics data and in the end recommended a plan that would provide Joe with the best opportunity “to be available” on Verizon’s network 100% of the time. Next, Joe had these conversations with At&t, Sprint and several cable companies who had all started similar plans when Net Neutrality rules were officially vacated for mobile devices.

The cable companies surprised Joe, after all, these weren’t “mobile networks”, how come up he had to pay them. Turns out mobility is determined by the device, the operating system, not the network. Not just semantic anymore, Joe thought as he pictured some guy leaning back back on his sofa and pecking away at his tablet as the wi-fi delivered the same signal to his wife paying bills on the laptop on the dining room table.

Joe stared at the 7 contracts lined up side by side filling the entirety of the panel on his wall and decided whether or not to sign an annual contract in order to get the discount. It had been nearly 2 decades since he faced a decision like this one. Then the yellow page contracts had been printed out and lined up on his desk but ironically the logos on many of the contracts had not changed.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Pay For Email And Google? The FCC Votes Today

Whether you have to write a check to your internet provider when you search on Google, connect on Facebook or send an email will be decided today when the FCC votes on Free-Internet.

Verizon, At&t and other internet providers insist they should have the ability to block internet content. Many believe they want this ability so they can charge you to view websites that have always been available for free.

Strong evidence for this was provided to wired magazine this week when a presentation delivered by a 3rd party to Vodaphone was leaked to wire by a “trusted source.” The presentation was about a product that will meter your internet use like the gas company meters your electricity; complete with sample prices for popular websites such as Google, Facebook, Youtube and many others.

The FCC has defended Free-Internet in the past and maintained a policy of net-neutrality. However, todays vote could lead to the FCC giving the ok for pricing models based on usage and give wireless networks the ability to block content.

Here are some of the potential implications of the vote for consumers and publishers, especially as it applies to wireless.

  • Verizon and At&t will decide what email providers are available to you, how many emails you can send and how much each will cost.
  • They will decide how many searches you can do on Google each month and how much each search will cost.
  • They will decide on which website you can connect with your friends, how long you may remain on that website, how many pictures you can view and/or upload and how much it will cost.
  • For web based businesses these companies could in theory deny access to your website unless you paid them. Just like a business has to pay to have an ad in the yellow pages.
  • In terms of tiered pricing, Verizon has already begun charging this way on their new 4g network released earlier this month. $50 for the first 5gb of usage and $10 for each additional gigabyte. Unless you don’t happen to use the entire 5gb in a month, in which case you will be charged $50 because the calender changed. It is murky whether this represents a monthly plan or a data usage plan. It’s basically heads I win, tails you lose.

    This is like the second line for rides at Disney World for people who pay more. In stark contrast to past policy which guaranteed equal access.

    Wireless companies would have you believe that charging this way is no different from how a utility company charges for electricity or water.

    But water companies do not have pricing plans for high quality and low quality water supplies. They do not provide 2 lines, where those who pay more are delivered water faster. They do not block access to water supplies.

    Also, it is expected that the discrimination and content blocking rules applied to wired networks will not be applied to wireless carriers. This will allow Verizon, At&t and others to block access to Google or Facebook or any other site. Or more likely to charge for it.

    The ability to block content and block access to content will allow wireless providers to control how information is shared over the internet on a wireless network. When you consider that Verizon 4g is already as fast as standard wired connection, it is easy to imagine that this is the way most of us will access the internet in the not to distant future. Just like we went from Dial-up to Broadband. Only this time our access will be carefully monitored, metered and in some cases denied.

    Whether information wants to be free or wants to be expensive will be decided today.

    Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

    Dominating Google Maps- The Most Effective Spam Ever And What You Can Learn From It

    Google Maps 7-Pack Result
    If you take a look at the image above at a Google Maps result you will find listings for 4 companies that don’t really exist, at least not with that name or at the address listed. I called and asked if they were licensed, they said no. All 4 phone numbers were answered by a person whose voice sounded remarkably similar to the others. The address doesn’t exist; And they dominate the search result for Garage Doors Danbury CT.

    What’s amazing is that similar listings dominate the Maps’ search results for this query in the cities that surround Danbury as well; Plus hundreds of cities in Connecticut, New Jersey, California and their now moving into Pennsylvania.

    With location being such an important factor how could a company rank in the Local 7-pack in so many cities across the country. Here’s how it works.

    1. Set up a listing in Google Maps at an address that does not currently exist. For example, where there is a 60 Main St., Anytown and a 64 Main St, Anytown and these represent real addresses. Set up your listing at 62 Main St.

    2. Name your business USKeyword-City, or Keyword-Pro-city or Ficticious name of person plus keyword for the personal touch.

    3. Build citations to your listing. These listings contain citations from Yahoo Local, Hotfrog, Guidespot,

    4. Create a blog on one of the sites for the purpose of creating a perfect citation for thousands of listings.

    5. Link build

    6. Give your new listing a sparkling review

    7. Now find an adjacent town and repeat. Again and again and again again.

    A search in Hotfrog for Overhead Garage Door CT turned up 88 separate listings belonging to this ring.

    A search in Yahoo local for garage doors in Danbury returns their listings 16 times out of the first 30 results.

    In Google Maps they take 4 spots in the Lucky 7-pack, and in the Other Places You Might Like on their Places Page their other listings show up as your only choices. Dominant.

    Why Does It Work?

    Because location is such a big part of the ranking algorithm in Maps the key to their success is the fact that they have a “location” in each of the cities.

    They are obviously creating new listings which Google will allow you to verify by phone most of the time. Theoretically, they could be using the bulk upload system. I don’t use the bulk upload system so I’m not sure whether that’s possible or not. If you are… please let us know in the comments.

    Once established, these “locations” need only trust to start ranking in Google Maps. This trust is established with citations and backlinks. As mentioned earlier they have only a few citations on each listing, so it got me wondering… Does it help that they use made up addresses?

    Addresses that have never pointed at any other listing or place on the web? Is that why they chose a non-existent address, rather than a business park or an office building like many spammers of the past? Is their a sort of “citation-certainty” in the algorithm that takes into account not only the volume of citations but the percentage that point at a single listing.

    Perhaps an 11th extreme local search optimization technique: New Construction.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 51 Comments

    How Much Google Traffic Comes From Mobile Devices – A Quick Study

    Most studies I’ve read regarding mobile seem to focus on statistics that may lead to conclusions that overstate the importance of mobile. I wanted to put together a study that would show the actual traffic from mobile devices to a local website in an industry that was traditionally driven by yellow page advertising. My goal is to create a resource that a small business owner making the transition from yellow pages advertising could use to put mobile search in perspective. A change to Google Adwords platform helped.

    Back in February, Google added a feature that allows you to segment Adwords traffic by “device.”
    It’s an option on the segment drop down menu… here’s a screenshot:

    I decided to study this to determine how important mobile was to my clients. I wanted to find the answer to 2 questions:

    1. What percentage of traffic came from mobile?
    2. Does the percentage of traffic from Mobile vary in different parts of the country?
    3. All of the companies in the study are of the same type, garage door companies, which provides an almost unique opportunity to study mobile patterns across different parts of the country without having to factor in for the type of company.

      Here is a map that shows the traffic from Adwords on a smart phone as a percentage of all Adwords traffic to each of 7 garage door companies from around the Country.

      Mobile Traffic By City For Garage Door Companies

      This data was taken from February 16, 2010 – April 16, 2010. Impressions, rather than clicks were used, to eliminate click thru rate as a variable. I felt like this made a better comparison and each of these businesses had at least 3,000 impressions during this time interval.

      San Jose 3.27%
      Chicago 2.63%
      Denver 2.38%
      Pittsburgh 2.13%
      Nashville 1.84%
      Akron 1.43%
      Westchester 1.10%

      Conclusions And Areas For Further Study

      • Not a big surprise that San Jose, which falls in Silicon Valley is number 1
      • The small data set follows the general pattern that people in bigger cities (more population) are going to use mobile devices a higher percentage of the time
      • Westchester County NY surprised me. This is a high income area which I would thought would lead to higher mobile usage. Interestingly, Westchester County is the oldest population in this set. Could be that age trumps income when it comes to selecting a small business on a mobile handset.
      • For different types of businesses Mobile is going to be more or less important but overall it’s likely to be less than 5% of overall traffic. Again, this is a small study but Adwords and Google Analytics both provide easy segmentation of mobile traffic. Look in your analytics or call your PPC provider to see what percentage of your traffic is mobile.
      • Tip: Ask your PPC provider what your average position is when segmented for Mobile. I shoot for top 3 in computer devices and top 2 in Mobile (Google shows 2 ads on top on Mobil devices)
    Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

    Pay Per Call – The Conversation

    Pay Per Call brings about a conversation like no other in local advertising. Small business owners, who normally deal in broad strokes, all of sudden are fighting tooth and nail each time their phone rings. And Yext, a technology that was created to alleviate this, by using transcription technology, may have amplified it judging by the comment section of Local Seo Guide’s old post on Yext which has spontaneously transformed into a Yext Review portal.

    I would suggest heading over there and reading this if you have considered buying or selling advertising on a pay per call basis. It could save you lots of time and aggravation later on.

    Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

    Yodle’s Strategy Part 2 – A Retraction

    Yodle was kind enough to reach out to me after my most recent post regarding their link building strategy. It turns out I had some things not quite right so I appreciate them letting me know so I could correct it.

    The process that I described in that post was not the link building for their new organic product but rather a pilot program called the “Expert Authors Program.”

    The Expert Authors program is free and intended to bring in additional leads at no additional cost to the advertiser. Interestingly, the articles are ghost written by Yodle’s internet marketers and not by the business owner. Interesting because Bryan Phelps of Orange Soda and Nick of Brick Marketing commented on the last post that leaving this up to the customer would be a bad idea. Turns out Yodle agrees.

    Yodle was careful to point out that the client I cited was not part of their new organic product and “they would not block robots on a Yodle Organic client’s site nor set up duplicate Web sites for Organic clients.”

    One of the questions I was anxious to ask was whether the new organic strategy would be applied to the client’s site or the .net site they often create for sem customers and I was shocked by their answer. They told me that on and off-page optimization would be done to the client’s domain and NOT the .net site. And here is the part that shocked me. I then asked what happens when the client exits the program and they told me the client keeps his or her site.

    I’m surprised by this because it removes rather than puts up a blockade to quitting the program. Like cutting the wheel in the direction of a fishtailing rear-end to come out of a slide this seems a counter-intuitive way to reduce churn – actually creating a better product. Who knew they’d come up with that? :)

    Posted in Local Search | 3 Comments