Google Sued for Errors in Google Maps

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What percentage of your business comes from Internet inquiries? What if online listings with your business’ address, phone number or hours of operation suddenly changed? Would business drop off? Could a notation of “Closed Saturday, Sunday and Monday” result in a 75% drop in sales? According to one business owner it did.

Rene Bertagna, owner of the Serbian Crown, closed his Washington DC-area restaurant after he claims a change to his Google Maps listing resulted in significant and long lasting declines in business. A 75% drop in customers in one weekend was the start his business’ decline. Within 18 months, his business closed for good.

After a customer called to find out why the 40-year old business was suddenly closed on the weekends, Bertagna hired an internet consultant to try to fix the problem. It was too late. With the Google Places listing showing incorrect business hours, the Serbian Crown was fated for closure. Now he’s suing Google claiming they turned a blind eye to his problem and others like it.

Google Maps is a crowd-source project. While Google populates Maps with reliable information from sources including infoUSA and Axciom, listings can be changed by anyone on the web. If your business listing goes unclaimed, anyone using Google Maps can modify phone numbers, addresses, hours of operation, and other critical information. In a well-documented event, a whistle blower set up fake listings for the FBI and Secret Service. While he routed phone calls to the correct number, he was still easily able to set up fake listings that could have been detrimental to a small business.

While the lawsuit filed by Bertagna against Google is not expected to progress through the court system due to immunity given to crowd-source websites, it highlights the need for business owners to be aware of and to continuously monitor their online presence.

If you are concerned about your brand’s reputation and online business listings, call Qiigo today. Our Local Listing Management and Reputation Management offerings make it possible for you to ensure your business name, address, phone number and business hours are accurate across hundreds of online business directories.

Call Qiigo at (404) 496-6841 to learn more about Local Listing Management.

Skybox Imaging Joins Google

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Skybox Imaging builds satellites and provides imagery and video, analytics and applications related to their launched satellites. Google announced an agreement to acquire Skybox Imaging in June 2014 for $500 million.

Google is expected to use the satellites and data provided by Skybox Imaging to enhance the already dominate Google mapping system. There is speculation that Google will utilize Skybox technology to drive improvements in other internet offerings in the near future.

According to a Google spokesman, “Their satellites will help keep our maps accurate with up-to-date imagery. Over time, we also hope that Skybox’s team and technology will be able to help improve Internet access and disaster relief — areas Google has long been interested in.”

Skybox Imaging has launched two satellites since their founding in 2009.

Google Maps Riddled with Errors

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When a consumer searches Google for a business they assume they are getting real and accurate data. Unfortunately, that may not be the case. The instances of blatantly inaccurate and misleading listings on Google Maps are difficult to control.

It’s ridiculously easy to create a false Google Maps listing. By creating a listing in Map Maker and then creating and verifying a Google Places page for the fake listing, you can turn an ATM machine into a hospital, McDonalds, or any other business or office…just for fun. (Not that we would recommend this.)

Google has stated that they “work hard to remove listings that are reported to violate our policies as quickly as possible, and to check bad actors that try to game the system by altering business descriptions once they are live on Google Maps. We encourage users to let us know when they see something that might violate our guidelines by using our ‘Report a Problem’ tool, found at the bottom right corner of the map.”

However, it can still be challenging to get fake listings removed. Many users complain the ‘Report a Problem’ tool is ineffective and Google’s listings editors are often called out for being reluctant to take down fake listings.

So what’s the problem with fake listings? It can cost you money! A recent Google Maps search for ‘locksmith Denver Co’ provided in excess of 600 listings. Few of the reported locations are actually licensed locksmiths diverting customers from legitimate businesses.

How can you ensure your local listings are accurate? Qiigo Local Listings Management claims, creates, edits, and monitors your online business listings on directory, review and social media sites across the web. When your brand’s online business listings are claimed and accurate, your Google+ value increases boosting your position on search engine results pages.

Learn more about how Local Listings Management can help your business thrive, by calling Qiigo today at (404) 496-6841.

Google Launches Google+ City Experts Program

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Looking to encourage more quality reviews for Google+, Google has launched its City Experts program. Available in selected cities in the United States, the U.K, Australia, and Japan, the City Experts program is available only to those individuals who have written 50 or more reviews and who can continue to contribute at least five (5) additional reviews each month.

Those who are eligible to participate in the program will enjoy a few perks including Google swag and access to an “exclusive” community where members can “discuss new tips and tricks for using Google+ Local and Google Maps.” City Experts will also receive a monthly newsletter with offers, contests and invitations to exclusive City Expert events.

To join the City Experts program, Google Maps and Google+ Local users must sign up via the registration page. Once they have written 50 high quality reviews, they will receive a welcome letter into the City Experts program. A high quality review is defined as “three to four sentences long and contains specific, helpful and balanced information about a particular business.” City Experts must then continue to post at least 5 high quality reviews each month to maintain their active status in the program. The focus on quality reviews is meant to discourage spammers and others from flooding the program just to get free stuff.

Cities in the U.S. participating in the City Experts program include Austin, Chicago, New York, Phoenix, Portland, Raleigh-Durham, and San Francisco. Those who do not live in participating cities are encouraged to sign up for the program as Google hopes to expand the City Experts program to additional cities in the future.

Meet Waze – Google’s Newest Acquisition

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Waze. Who? Waze. They may be new on the scene, but you’re going to be hearing a lot about them from here on out. Waze is an iOS map and navigation app that was just purchased by Google for an estimated, and whopping, $1.1 to $1.3 billion.

Who or What is Waze?

As we stated, Waze is an interactive navigation and mapping app with approximately 50 million users. Based in Israel and Palo Alto, CA, the app was launched in 2008. This free app offers turn-by-turn navigation for both iOS and Android systems. Since its launch, it has raised approximately $67 million in outside funding from such prominent sources as Kleiner Perkins and Horizons Ventures.

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Waze separates itself from other mapping and navigation apps with its crowdsourcing formula. Instead of trying to map out each and every street around the world, Waze relies on its users to provide detailed information as they drive. Users provide information on accidents, traffic jams, construction, speed, locations, best routes, and other travel information building out the app’s maps in real time. This crowdsourcing formula creates an addictive experience for users who are able to report back a wide variety of information ranging from gas prices to speed traps to points of interest. As more users come on board, the app becomes more robust, more reliable and more effective.

Who Wanted Waze?

Google wasn’t the only one who wanted to add Waze to their empire. Other big tech companies courted Waze before Google swept in and won the prize. With all the major tech companies in need of reliable and effective mapping programs, it seemed Waze was ripe for a buyout. Waze offered what all tech companies need – a reliable, easy to use navigation and mapping program with a nice base of 50 million followers to boot.

Apple was the first to come knocking on Waze’s door. Apple reportedly came in with a $500 million bid. This was a logical match. Apple struggled with the roll out of their own proprietary mapping system. Waze would have helped Apple to recover from this somewhat embarrassing misstep. For whatever reasons, this match didn’t work out.

Then Facebook came to the table. Facebook was reportedly in talks with Waze when Google came knocking. The Facebook offer reportedly came in at a very respectable $1 billion. The Facebook-Waze partnership would also have made sense given Facebook’s recent push to enter the mobile game. But Google came in with the big offer and closed the deal.

Why Google?

So why Google? Waze offers Google’s current mapping system some upgrades they don’t currently have including real time updates and additional routes to avoid traffic. The Waze experience is more interactive and fun. It offers something to users that Google’s current mapping system simply can’t and, while that doesn’t seem like much, over the long term it offers value to Google.

Then there’s the social aspect that Waze offers. Waze has a social networking side that Google can tap into to boost up Google+. Currently Waze offers a single sign on with Facebook, which would make sense for Google to replace with Google+. Waze also offers users the ability to see which friends are on the same route to events, the ability to share drives, to communicate from the road, and to choose meet up spots. All of these social aspects offer value to Google.

Google’s acquisition of Waze also brings an advertising component into the equation. While Waze hasn’t been focused on monetizing its product, it can now turn its attention to building out this portion of its brand. Late in 2012, Waze was already looking at ways to build out ads within the app by allowing businesses to claim their spot on the map and send out targeted messages to people driving nearby. This jives nicely with Google’s ad strategies.

It does seem as though the acquisition of Waze was a good deal for Google. It took a potentially valuable app out of the hands of the competition and added some valuable technology and intellectual property to Google’s already overflowing toolbox. It remains to be seen how the other major tech companies will respond.

Strategies for Ranking Higher on Google+

Optimizing your Google+ profile is important to your business’ ranking and can answer the ever popular question, “Why is XYZ Business ranking above me on Google maps?” The answer lies in Google’s local search algorithm. Google relies on many different sources of information verification to determine which businesses are the most relevant and locally prominent related to the given search. The tips below will help you get the most out of your Google+ profile.

The first and most important thing you can do to increase rankings is to ensure your Google+ Account profile is complete. Ensure your NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) is consistent between Google+ and any other location it is posted on the web. Your NAP will be the base upon which other citations across the web are matched and built. Add person details, photos, an email address, social connections, and YouTube videos to your profile. It is also valuable to post messages on your page “from the owner”; this helps to keep your page updated and unique.

You also want to concentrate of the relevance and prominence of your business on the web. Relevance is determined by matching content about your business throughout the web to your Google+ business categorization and location listed in your NAP profile. Prominence concerns the frequency and quality of mentions about your business on the web. In essence, you want to be popular among local consumers and have many mentions about your business.

Customer reviews can help your Google+ ranking. Start a campaign to encourage your customers to review you online. Get as many reviews as possible, but aim for at least ten. It’s ok to ask for reviews, and even to offer incentives for customer reviews, just try to keep them from all posting at the same time.

You can also increase your Google+ ranking by building citations. Citations are mentions of your business name and address on other websites. Some of the best sites to get citations on are Yelp, Yahoo Local, SuperPages, CitySearch, Facebook, and DexKnows.

If you are worried about your Google Maps ranking, it could be related to the location of the search. If you are located more than 10-15 miles from the city searched, you probably won’t see a positive ranking in Google Maps. Rankings are based on the distance from the center of the city searched. The closer to the center your business is located the higher your ranking will be.

Additional ranking factors for Google+ include:

  • The physical address in city of search on Google+ Local page
  • Proper business category listed
  • Number of structured citations
  • City and state in the page title of home page
  • Local area code on Google+ Local page

Put these helpful hints to work and you should see positive results in your ranking.

If you’re wondering what all the fuss about Google+ is about? Check out this information on consumer trends related to local and mobile searches.

  • 86% of consumers use the internet to find local businesses.
  • Nearly 60% of consumers will begin a purchase on search engines.
  • Nearly 90% consumers view online reviews before buying and 78% say those reviews are an important factor in deciding what to purchase.
  • One in three mobile searches has local intent.
  • 61% of smartphone users called a business after looking them up online.

Perhaps most importantly, as few as 15% of business listings are claimed on Google. It is vital that your business claim their listing and start building relevance, prominence and citations. Establish your company on the rankings list before others get a strong foothold.

If you need help establishing your Google+ profile or embarking on an internet advertising campaign, call Qiigo today at (404) 496-6841.

Google Directions Increase Interaction with Ads

Google Directions is a feature of local extensions that allows customers of Pay Per Click advertisers to “map the quickest route from where they are located to a business they want to visit.” Directions has shown to increase interactions with ads and be beneficial to users. When a Pay Per Click advertiser enables the location extensions feature, they can also activate the Directions option. A typical ad with the Directions feature engaged looks like this:

When the consumer clicks on the Directions link it automatically maps the quickest route to the store from the consumer’s location. Consumers can use the Directions link from their desktop, mobile search ads, and Google Maps for Mobile on Android or iPhone.

Google has recently announced that they will be adding new performance metrics for the Directions link. These metrics will appear alongside those for clicks and phone calls.  Clicks on the Directions link will also be charged as a click on all Pay Per Click campaigns moving forward.

So how will this impact your Pay Per Click campaign?

We already know from experience that any customer who is ready to click on the Directions link and immediately head to your location is an actively engaged customer. This is a customer who is ready to spend and has passed the research stage of the buying cycle. So clicks on the Directions link should generate a sale.

Additionally, clicks on the Directions link will filter out those people who are investigating how far away your location is from them.  It eliminates the need for your staff to spend time on the phone qualifying the customer as they have already pre-qualified themselves.

Clicks on the Directions link will be counted the same as a click on the headline of the ad, so you still get the benefit of seeing the results of your clicks without having to spend valuable time on the phone. Instead those customers who are motivated can get their directions automatically and then head to your store to engage your services.

Check In, Raise Your Status, Get Discounts! Google Enters the Location Based Deals Market

Going head to head with Groupon, Foursquare and Facebook, Google has entered the location based deals market with its new check-in deals service called Google Latitude. Initially rolled out in March with promotions targeting local businesses in Austin, Texas, Google Latitude now has national offerings available from prominent retailers such as Macy’s, Radio Shack, American Eagle Outfitters, Arby’s and more.

Google Latitude works like this. After joining Latitude, consumers can invite friends and family to join their network. Consumers then “check-in” using Google Latitude each time they visit their favorite places.  This lets their friends and family know where they are when they check their own Latitude account.  (There are privacy settings built in. Click here for more information.)

With the new Check-In feature, the more times you check-in to restaurants, retailers and other locations using Latitude the more status you gain with those participating retailers.  As your status level increases, you will see greater benefits. Offers range from a free bag of chips to percentage discounts depending on the retailer you are visiting and the status level you have achieved. Check-in offers are available in three status levels and you can redeem your check-in offer right from your mobile phone.

Consumers with iPhones need to install the Latitude app for iPhone. Those on Android can start unlocking offers by updating to the latest version of Google Maps for Android.

You’re Really Going Places…Google Places

Local search is the name of the game, and in this very important game, Google Places is the only name you really need to know. So how do you make Google Places work harder for your business? Getting comfortable with Google Places is all about maximizing your Places page and then using the new Google upgrades, Tags, Boost and HotPot, to increase your exposure and rankings.

Let’s start with a quick refresher course on claiming your Google Places page. If you haven’t already done this, here is what you need to do.

  • Go to http://www.google.com/ and find your business, if you get to the places page and see this message, you know you still have to claim your page.

 

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  • Once you have gone through the steps to claim your listing, you will be able to add any basic information that is missing, including hours of operation, address and phone numbers. List your name, address and exact phone numbers as Google doesn’t take kindly to geographic or keyword stuffing. If you have a toll free number, you can add more than one phone number, but list your local phone number first as this will help to localize your listing.
  • You next step will be to choose your keywords, categories and description information. You can choose up to 5 categories to describe your business, if possible use all five, but choose only those that accurately describe your business and avoid location words as Google doesn’t like them here. Your description, on the other hand, can and should include geographic or location keywords, while still being easy to read.
  • After this step is completed, it is time to add photos and video to your profile. Add at least one photo, even if it is only a logo or photo of the outside of your location. Also consider adding geotagged images to Google Picasa or Flickr. By adding geotagged images to these sites and linking them back to your Places page, you are providing Google with additional geographic data. You can also add up to five YouTube video URLs and since YouTube is now a Google company, it certainly won’t hurt to do so. Video is an engaging medium and adds a compelling image to consumers who visit your Places page.
  • Ratings and reviews are important to your rankings, so ask frequent customers to rate you online. It’s not advised to post your own reviews, but if you can get a few positive reviews online it will certainly help the cause.

All of these factors go into helping improve your ranking because Google takes several things into account when providing search results.  The three primary factors are:

  • Relevance – Google only shows you those listings that are relevant to your search. For example, if you search for sporting goods stores, they won’t show you listings for car dealerships and fast food chains.
  • Prominence – Prominence is determined by how well known those stores are based on sources across the web.
  • Distance – Distance is calculated based on how far the stores are from the locatiaon you typed in your search or from your general location.

Now that you have claimed and optimized your Google Places page, let’s take a look at what’s going on with the newest additions to the Google arsenal…Tags, Boost and HotPot.

Google Tags help your organic listings to stand out on a Google results page or a Google Maps search results page.  Google Tags are the bright yellow marker that highlight when business have videos, photos or special offers on their page. They look like this.

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Google Boost is an online advertising solution that enables you to create an online search ad from your Google Places account.  A Google Boost ad appears in the Pay Per Click listing area with a special blue marker and looks like this.

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Google Tags is a flat rate, online advertising product.  While Google Boost is a per click advertising product. Neither affect the ranking of your business on Google or Google Maps.

Google HotPot on the other hand can affect the ranking of your business’ local search result.  It is Google’s new local recommendation engine that allows users to rate and review stores, restaurants, and businesses, and then share these reviews with friends.  When logged in, Google HotPot will also send you personalized recommendations based on the ratings you and your friends provide with the goal of providing you with exposure to new places you might otherwise not have visited.

As Google continues to evolve and add new products to its local search toolkit, it is vital that you have a firm foundation to stand on. Now is the time to ensure that your Google Places listing is claimed and that all information is correct. Firm up your Google Places listing now and start exploring the options available with Google Tags, Boost and HotPot.  Then see what happens to your local search rankings!