All posts by Michelle Dalpont

Hallelujah! I am agnostic, but the fact that Google has rolled out the new Google + Local dashboard is worthy of enthusiastic praise, maybe even worship. At least in the local world. Ok, maybe not worship, but there may be some type of opening-in-the-sky association.

sky's the limit with the new Google + Local dashboard

Although the updates have not been rolled out to all accounts, there is a significant list of items that will be changing, and in some cases improved.

Let’s start with talking about the new widget style dashboard. This new dashboard manages all of the different features of your local listing: G+ Local listing, Adwords Express, and Offers. Click on one of the widgets and a page opens up to manage that particular element. Simple, intuitive and easy to use. Even the rounded corner design of the widgets speaks to the metaphorical sharp edges Google is sloughing off with the introduction of this new Google+ Local dashboard. We have yet to replicate this widget style dashboard, but Mike Blumenthal has kindly provided visual aids in his post yesterday:

rounded corner widget style G+ Local dashboard

Here is a cleaner visual example:

new G+ Local dashboard

Multiple listings can now be managed through one account.

Do I hear cheering?

captain planet cheers for G+ local dashboard

Previously, this feature was not allowed–you were most likely penalized if you added more than one listing per GPlaces account. The different listings are managed on another widget-styled dashboard, to view all your listings in an at-a-glance fashion. The individual listings have their own drop down menus to quickly manage things like linked Google APIs, adding/organizing multiple managers, and notifications of on-going social activity.

multiple listings can be managed through one account int he G+ local dashboard

Another notable change with the new dashboard is the category set-up and limit. Categories are limited to Google approved categories going forward. Custom categories are no longer allowed. A fixed list of category options has some people worried, yet according to Mr. Blumenthal, Google has taken this into consideration by adding more categories, coming to a total of 2295 categories to choose from. There are also more fields to input categories with the new dashboard. The new limit allows for up to ten categories to be added to the G+ local page. This is double the number of categories we were previously able to add.

expanded caetgories in new G+ Local dashboard

Rich text in the description field is now allowed. Although this is a great new feature, including rich text in the description field will slow the processes of setting up a page because the description must be reviewed before going live.

new description field in G+ Local dashboard

A listing can only be owned/managed by one account. No longer are the days where listings are claimed over or split in between different accounts. Good for managing, bad for people who can’t remember their log-in credentials. This will pose a challenge to agencies trying to take ownership over G+ Local page’s that customer’s have set-up on their own.

If trying to claim a listing that has already been verified in another account, you will receive an error message, asking you to request admin rights from the owner.

already claimed listing cannot be claimed twice G+ Local

A preemptive approach, prior to claiming, is to ask the customer to transfer ownership of their page or make you an authorized manager.

transfer ownership in new G+ Local dashboard

Both of these options are available within the G+ Local Dashboard, under the Pages tab

different managers allowed in the new G+ Local dashboard

G+ Local social features like creating circles, adding friends, commenting, re-sharing posts and blocking people can be done in the new dashboard.  The privacy settings and control over who and how friends/ the public view your local G+ page is pretty cool. You can even hide different tabs on your page: like photos, videos, and/or reviews. For example, below I have unchecked the review box, so no reviews should be available for public display. There is also the option to remove your page from search engines. The box that represents this is “Help others discover my profile in search results.” By unchecking that box, your G+ page should not display in search results. I am not sure why any business would do this, yet it’s a very nifty option for for any business with privacy concerns.

privacy options for G+ Local dashboardd

Privacy settings had me at hello, until I tried creating a brand new listing on G+ Local that I was unable to hide the address for. I was prompted to go to the old Google Places for Business dashboard.

hide your address feature in new G+ Local dashboard

NOT COOL.


Mike claims this will be remedied in the full roll-out of the new dashboard:

This upgrade DOES allow for service area businesses to hide their address and if they so choose to get a G+ Page with their address hidden. The verbiage also makes the clear whether the business accepts walk ins or not AND provides contextual help. This is a huge improvement.

Here is the visual of said statement:

hide address service area feature G+ Local dash

What more can really be said, except let’s wait a bit longer to truly appreciate the magnitude of the new G+ Local dashboard. Despite my complaint, I realize it has ONLY been about two days since the release of the product–and it is scheduled to roll out in stages to small numbers at a time. I will try to be patient while I wait for my turn. Patience is a virtue after all (my mom would be proud).

In the local search ecosystem graphic published by David Mihm, Google+ Local is at the center of an enormous web of local search resources. This is significant and should not to be taken lightly. With core data providers and countless types of directories to leverage local efforts, the strength of Google+ Local is vital to the outcome of a successful online marketing strategy. However, due to the confusing and problematic product that is Google+ Local, most of us are grasping in the dark on how to leverage Google+ Local to serve us best. Honestly, we are in the dark about some of the listing set-up basics. This is frightening.

the google places guidelines are so frightening that my little ponies are scared

How can we leverage a product that has uncertain value, while grappling with vague guidelines and an inscrutable profile creation process?

Let’s look at Google’s Guidelines about Places/+ Local together.

google places guidelines ownership and authorized representatives

Who is allowed to be an “authorized representative”? Google makes it increasingly difficult for non-owners to fully manage the ins and outs of Google Places listings. For example, SEO agencies have limited access to manage a customer’s GPlaces listing. Let’s say there is an issue with PIN verification for a listing or some other problem that requires phone communication with a Google rep—the phone agent always wants to talk directly to the customer. If the agency wants to field this inquiry on behalf of a customer the process is a lengthy and involved one that usually requires direct communication with a customer anyway. Point being: “authorized representatives” are at a major disadvantage when it comes to local listings.

google places guidelines representing your business online
Citations across the web, including address formatting is important. Consistency in the online world is important, too. You don’t want to write your business name multiple different ways. An example of this is: Mindy’s Flowers vs. Mindy’s Flowers Inc.

google places guidelines business location physical address

All local listings should have a physical address. At one time, post office (P.O.) boxes were accepted, then they were not—so many businesses tried using private mailboxes (PMB) to circumvent this requirement. Then Google banned the use of private mail boxes, too. Point: Google is increasingly smarter and their policies are stricter, thus eliminating the workarounds and grey hat tricks that once worked for businesses without a physical address to be listed on Google Places.

google places guidelines address line PO box

Regardless of which address line used, a listing is often flagged, and usually rejected for any usage of a P.O. box. Google has been flip-flopping on P.O.box use for quite some time:

See frustration in Comment 3

google places guidelines flipp flopping like charlie sheen can't make up his mind

Doesn’t Google have Lawyers on Staff?

google places guidelines illegal activities

Interestingly, businesses that are not illegal or fraudulent may still be banned from Google. Medical marijuana dispensaries, which are legal in 18 states, are not supported. These legitimate businesses get rejected if any mention of marijuana is found on the listing. Locksmiths also encounter difficulties being listed, because of the negative history that industry has with spam and fraudulent online activities.

google places guidelines disclaimer

google places guidelines train wreck, just like lindsay lohanWhat Google doesn’t tell you is that sometimes there is no clear reason why a listing is suspended. Sometimes all guidelines are observed and a listing will still be flagged. The only option is to recreate the listing. Although this is not a common occurrence,  their vague guidelines strike a chord also with their vague time frames surrounding updates to the product . It has been almost a year since Google announced the shift from Google Places to Google+ Local. Anyone remember this article by Greg Sterling? After a year you’d think Google would have migrated everything to one user interface, but we still must contend with a messy “Train Wreck Junction” of both products.

Help?!?!?!

Tgoogle places guidelines rate this article formhis screenshot of the form I submitted as feedback, at the end of the Google Guidelines. What they really need is a text field box, so I can properly rate their guidelines, and not have to choose from six predefined answers.

Any evaluation of the Google+ Local product in terms of usability, clear guidelines, or functionality would end the same way: with a failing grade. Unfortunately the fact remains; this product plays a critical role in the local search ecosystem. As such, we have little option but to do our best to keep up with the changes and do our best with the little information we are given. We must continue adapting and hope that with time this product improves, it is made easier to use, and its functionality is seamless. In addition to the product improvements we hope to see clearly defined guidelines. After all, a girl can dream!

 

 

 

 

 

According to Amit Singhal, head of Google’s search efforts, the secret (or not-so-secret) way to rank on Google is good content and in his words: “you don’t need to worry about anything else.” These words of wisdom came from Singhal’s presentation at SXSW a few days ago as he covered the topics of mobile search and his love for Star Trek. (Both of which are equally epic in scope).

Using good content to rank well for SEO is a no-brainer, but not worrying about “anything else” is a bit disconcerting. A multidimensional approach always trumps a singular one. Strength in numbers, right? Would you ignore your sites’ architecture to create one page of brilliant content? Probably not. As valuable as good, unique content is for improving SEO results we must keep these details in perspective.

Be mindful of the power and value of community building, both for readership value and link building. In other words, show some TLC to your content and work on maximizing quality links to support your body of work. Creating a community in which your content exists helps readers and Google validate the legitimacy of what you are saying. For readers, your presence in a community of thought leaders indicates that you are a respected source of reputable knowledge (depending on the quality of your links) within a larger community. For Google bots, associating your content within a network of interrelated information ultimately provides a higher value of data for indexing SERP results. When you have both readers and Google validating your work, you cannot be wrong. This can be further complemented by the use of social media like Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. Social media provides venues in which to engage a wider audience that might not otherwise be searching for your content, but might be friends/colleagues/acquaintances of your readers. Opening, inviting, and cultivating relationships with a broader group of people can only bring more and more visibility to your insights.