Sunday, January 23, 2011

Google Places May Be Hearing My Plea. More Changes In the Works. Attack on Spam!

Matt Cutts, the principle engineer (his title), and the spokesperson for all things Google Places, especially issues of spam, has posted on the official Google Blog regarding a major crackdown on Google Search Spam.

Meanwhile Mike Blumenthal is reporting, and it has been confirmed by others responding to his post referring to Google Places verifications that phone call verifications may be a thing of the past. 

Also reported in the same post is the reminder that there was an earlier period where phone call verifications disappeared, but then they reappeared.  Post cards are required for some of the most spammy categories like locksmiths, but this would be a major step in the right direction to eliminate spam in other areas.  It would make the SEM job harder, but ultimately more rewarding.

I had already noticed what seemed to be a realignment in the past four weeks or so, with white hat companies seeming to get their fair spots over not so white hat contenders.  We could only hope.  Maybe next Google will actually consistently reward those who claim and optimize their listings. 

Reported everywhere is that the entire Google Places review and Hotpot thing is as buggy as all new Google products are.  Agghhhh!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Google Places Reviews - Small Local Businesses At the Mercy of Amateur Reviewers and Worse

Don't take my word for it.  Read all the other pundits in the local search game as I just did.  I took a brief walk around the top guys websites and guess what?  Business Reviews and how they show up on Google Places will be the dominant issue in 2011.  I've been saying this for a very long time.  You can find my articles, videos, press releases, and earlier blog posts talking about the impact of reviews going back over a year now.  One by one my clients who were struggling to get and maintain top Google Places rankings are getting there by having enough of the right kind of reviews.

Stay tuned to this spot.  We will be announcing ShoutDog 2 in the next few days.  It will be the killer app of 2011.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Google Places Fixes in 2011 If I Were the President - Be Careful What You Ask For

In 2010, Google vastly improved the old Google Local Business Center with an upgrade in the name to Google Places, and with maybe 100 changes to the look, the rules, and more. Each change brought happiness to some and misery to others. But the reality is that the product is still as buggy as the beds in Washington DC, and the algo rewards companies who are spamming or who haven't even claimed their sites, and messes up the early adapters of Google Tags.

As a Google Places expert and consultant I rode the roller coaster last year with days of glee and days of heartache. My clients and others who called me were as confused as they could be about Google's reason and intent. One thing they all knew for sure. They needed to be highly ranked to get the phone to ring or the door to swing. Here is one pundits plea to Google for 10 ways to fix their fantastic tool.

1. Without question the number one fix would be to reconfigure the ranking system or the bot that evaluates the ranking to be far more, dare I say, fair. Ok. How about just? Currently it is common to find unclaimed sites with no website, no reviews, and no citations ranking above sites with solid optimization, multiple reviews from Google and other sites, and citations aplenty. This hurt credibility for Google, and drives businesses, SEO pros, and even consumers crazy.
2. Help the helpless. With Google being so critical to the health of its business clients, why should the rules and nuances of those rules be reminiscent of Mario Brothers. The forum is nice and all, and sometimes Google employees and unpaid consultants give some "cheats" to those who have not been able to decipher the code. Why not have serious tutorials to help companies do it right. Better Google Places Pages would be good for everyone. Facebook Fan Pages is charging for tutorials. Fine. Charge.
3. Enforce the Rules! The first lesson of making a law is that it must be enforceable. I just don't think that any business has a real name of Best Price Junk Cars Los Angeles. Why doesn't the bot kill that one before it ever goes live. If Google Places is going to know all about every place on earth, shouldn't it be a priority not to list a business at an address that doesn't exist or that is an empty building.
4. Fix the thumbnail pictures. Why is this even an issue? Squashed faces and weird shaped logos don't do anything to enhance this product. Google plans to change the energy delivery system for the entire planet. Can this be so hard?
5. Title the movies. Who wants to watch random movies? Just give us 30 characters. More would be better. A description would be fantastic. This would help the consumer immeasurably
6. Improve the look of the Google Place Page. Currently there is no serious reason for the consumer to go to the "page" other than reviews. Maybe there could be template choices for layout, more choices for pictures including products in the top section. And how about bigger or more interesting fonts for the section titles. Currently it is a bit hard for folks to find the various reviews and citations, even if they want to.
7. Put the link to leave a review on the search page. It could go right under the stars.
8. Stop penalizing those who use Tags. Using mechanical scrutiny for every possible minor rule violation on Tags users while not using the same scrutiny on those who have not chosen to use Tags. I have no experience with Boost, so don't know if this is also happening with Boost clients.
9. Certify Google Places Consultants. Provide a course or a test or some method for determining who understands the system. Allow the certification # to appear on the listing page so that unintentional errors can be sorted out, and certifications can be lost if the errors are frequent or black hat.
10. Allow businesses to move their places listing from one Google Account to another. There are hundreds of legitimate reasons for this to be done, including the fact that no one who set up Google Places listings in the last two years knew this would be an issue. Many of them are associated with personal emails or multiple businesses.

Google Places is a work in progress. While it may never be completely "finished" and allowed to be somewhat static for a while, I believe that by 2012, the site will be far less volatile and more predictable for business owners and their consultants.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Google Places Business Directory 2011 - Eight Predictions For the Very Unpredictable Local Search Engine Leader

Do you use Google Alert.  Let me be the first to recommend it.  My Google Alert is going crazy under the keyword I most care about: Google Places. There's been another spotting of possible new design changes being tested or previewed in Podunk, Iowa. The pundits are scribbling in their blogs and Twitter. The SEM experts are quaking in their boots. What will this next change do to or for their clients.
Google Tags, Google Preview, Google Instant, Google Boost, no more 7 pack, integration of regular search and Google Places, new rules, new rules thrown out with old rules back in force.  All of this in 2011, and with each change the algorithm goes crazy. The next day, companies that had enjoyed great ranking can't be found. Companies who haven't even claimed their listings are number one. One thing for sure, the changes won't stop because we hung up a new calendar. What might Google do in 2011? Here are my top eight predictions for changes in Google Places next year.

1. Google Places will not only continue to dominate as the most critical advertising engine on or off the web in 2011, but it will actually grow in influence to the point that Uncle Sam will take a look at whether this is monopolistic or not. The government may already be considering the issue, but in 2011 there will be at minimum rumblings and rumors of intervention.
2. Google knows full well that this could be the case, and will start taking more steps to avoid government action. This year it would seem clear that their decision to show third party reviews (like Yelp, Yahoo, and City Search) above reviews created by Google Account holders would seem to validate their wide open eyes about monopoly complaints. One such step will probably be to change the algorithm to give other local search engines and directories higher visibility under local SMB categories.
3. Google will crack down hard on violations of their Google Places Rules. In particular the key word stuffing of the company name and fake locations.
4. Reviews will dominate the ranking battle on Google Places. As usual it will be impossible or nearly so to determine how Google is scoring this game. But their announcement that they will potentially pick up reviews from any source that properly marks up those reviews will result in a host of review sites hoping to get scraped.
5. There will be more huge changes in Google Places structure, content, layout, and rule book in 2011. I threw this prediction in so that I can be assured of getting one of these right.
6. Coupons will get some type of boost unrelated to Google Boost. Google has great mailing lists and the potential to advertise coupons as widely as they like. Somehow in this new year the coupon element will get some big and free help. But in 2012 it will cost money to put up a coupon.
7. Google will try to do a Groupon knock off or buy one of the lesser players, but as they often do, they will do it horribly. Then they will try to buy Groupon again.
8. The Google Places Page will be completely revamped. The current look is almost unusable and unfriendly, not to mention graphically boring. Google has the capability to solve this with ease. Why they haven't to date is a major mystery.

So there are my top predictions for 2011. Will they do other things that can't even be imagined. Yep. Will they do all these things. For the most part, I hope so.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Marketing for Small Business - Recent Articles by Local SEO, SEM, SMB Expert

This blog is all about Google Places, but while Google Places is very likely to be your most important marketing resource in 2011, it Google Places should not be your only marketing tool.  Randy Kirk and Associates does far more than provide state-of-the-art optimization of Google Places.  We actively work on YouTube videos, press releases, articles, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, websites, email blasts and much much more.  Here are some recent articles that have been published by covering various aspects of SMB SEM and local SEO.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Google Places Optimization Pages Updated

I made a New Year's Resolution first thing this morning.  I decided I was going to update the Pages on this blog to fit with the current rules and punditry at Google Places.  So the following topics have been updated.

If you have thoughts or opinions about any of these pages, please let me know.

SHOULD YOU DIY or call us.  If your business is so slow that you have nothing better to do than to learn all about Google Places, then keep up with the weekly changes to how they score and what they allow or don't allow, go ahead and use all the attached information to optimize your Google Places Listing.  Keep in mind that one critical element to getting highly ranked is the citations, and those can take 30 hours or longer to research and learn to use.

But if you are not a great writer, or you don't particularly enjoy all this internet work, or your business is busy enough to keep you doing what you love instead of this, you will find that our services are really quite affordable, and that we can help you with things like YouTube videos, article submission, press releases, email blasts to client lists, blog set up and postings, Facebook Fan Pages, Twitter, Linked In, and getting reviews. 

When you call 310-910-1848 you don't get a sales person.  You get me, Randy.  I do have associates who do some of the work, but they are all located right here in the good ole USA.  Your primary contact will always be me.  We will get your phone to ring.  If we don't, fire us.   If you prefer to contact me by email, send it to