Stingray Social Media Services Thoughts - Blog
 
by David Foertsch 
Quite a few service or home-based small business owners have come to me and questioned whether their Google Places listing should display their address.  Up until recently it wasn't clear how Google treated these listings - but that has changed.

An updated "Google Places quality guideline" has been posted, and it very clearly states Google's position: 
"If you don't receive customers at your location, you must select the "Do not show my business address on my Maps listing" option within your dashboard. If you don't hide your address, your listing may be removed from Google Maps." (emphasis mine).

This appears to be a quality assurance initiative for Google Maps results.  Google wants to draw a bright line between storefront or "brick & mortar" locations and service businesses that travel to a client's place of business to perform work.  The clarification is welcomed - the local SMB community has received mixed messages on this in the past.  What's odd about the clarification is the action Google has started to take - though it's unclear how widespread their enforcement efforts have gone.  Read here for an interesting case from Local SEO Guide's Andrew Shotland, where a phone call from Google staff resulted in his business being dumped from local listings. 

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Andrew's case first came to my attention when Mike Blumenthal addressed the issue on his influential blog, Understanding Google Places & Local Search – Developing Knowledge about Local Search.  The March 22 blog entry from Mike carries the ominous title "Don’t Serve Clients at Your Business? Hide Your Location – Or else".  The title speaks to the heavy-handed nature of Google's attempt to standardize Places listings.  Though there's grey area still, it's become clear that Google wants to avoid sending potential customers to a home address, when a storefront would be more appropriate.  

Say you're looking for a good cup of coffee, and all you can see is grimy gas stations.  But low & behold - Google Maps locates a potential "gourmet coffee" roaster tucked into a residential neighborhood. You drive by, and are disappointed to realize it's a home, with someone roasting beans in their garage.  They might roast great beans, but they can't satisfy your immediate need for a decent Cup of Joe.  This is the poor experience Google is trying to avoid.

Some home-based businesses do invite clients/customers into their home. If this is an important feature of your business, then you may want to dismiss the rule.  Be aware however of Google's new policy - and take Andrew's experience as fair warning.  If Google contacts you about your Places listing, be clear that you do serve customers and/or conduct significant vendor relations at the address.  For even more on the topic, see Blumenthal's most recent entry, "Is Google’s New Requirement to Hide a Home Business Appropriate?"

Does anyone have any recent experiences to report on this topic?  I'd love to hear from you - if your case is noteworthy I'd be interested in conducting a short interview on the topic.

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Dave Foertsch is author of the Stingray Social Media Services blog.
Connect with Dave on Google+ 


 
 
by David Foertsch 
According to citybizlist Baltimore, Google has launched their Google Offers product in Baltimore as of 10/25/11.  Baltimore has numerous entrants in the daily deals space, with established competitors such as Groupon & Living Social battling it out on a daily basis inside of Baltimorean’s inboxes.

From a marketer’s perspective, I’m going to examine Baltimore’s first Google Offer, a $30 for $15 deal at Conkling Street’s Blue Hill Tavern.  First, let’s flashback to Google’s failed bid to purchase Groupon.  Google was rebuffed in their attempt to purchase Groupon in late 2010, which made the rumors of a Google Offers launch much more interesting.  Google Offers launched in January 2011, and has been opening up new cities in a controlled manner since.

The offer, found here, is your standard 50% off coupon that many restaurants offer to help fill up empty tables, in hopes of attracting new customers that will become return patrons (hopefully at full price).  What Google seems to bring to the table is integration with their other products such as Maps, and the related Places page.  In the snapshot below, you’ll recognize the basic building blocks of a Google location search – Map, Address, Phone Number, Website link.
Aside from the obvious info required to inform the viewer of location, Google Offers also provides two additional links.  The first is a “View Place Page” link that connects the user to Blue Hill Tavern’s Google Place Page.  I suspect that Google would encourage (maybe even require) that an attractive Places page be constructed as part of the Offers process.  More businesses are taking the time to build Places pages for their locations – it’s a no-brainer for restaurants, retail shops, salons, spas, or any business that might benefit from some Google love.  If you have questions about Google Places for your business, please contact me (that’s the end of my pitch).

The other slightly more interesting link is simply labeled “Look inside”.  Clicking on this link takes you to a panoramic view of the inside of Blue Hill Tavern, providing a virtual “tour” of the tavern (click link here & select "Look Inside" in bottom right corner.
Google announced earlier this year that their “Street View” product would start going inside selected businesses.  That product is officially titled Business Photos from Google, and a business owner must apply for the program.  Note to Baltimore-area business owners – you can apply here!

It’s not a huge logical leap to see how this could be of use to business owners – we’re a visual species, and the Business Photos product feeds that curiosity, ultimately deepening the experience of the user.  I do have one comment about Blue Hill Tavern’s panoramic photo – I’m surprised they chose that vantage point.  I’ve dined there before, and the views from the 2nd level & the outside deck are far superior compared to the bar view chosen here.  However that’s just my own preference – this is an attractive restaurant nonetheless. 

Last but not least, let's remember Google also recently acquired Zagat to beef up their restaurant review content.  Restaurants would be wise to squeeze all the usefulness out of Google's offerings, including links to existing Zagat reviews of their business.  Blue Hill's Zagat reviews did not display on the offer itself, but a link is provided from the Google Places page to Zagat's full profile of Blue Hill Tavern.  No doubt Google will find new, useful ways to integrate Zagat's massive stockpile of dining preference data into their offerings to help inform potential customers.

I'm interested to hear whether any other Baltimore business owners have been approached yet by Google.  Curious to see if they focus on food here in Baltimore, or if there are any creative uses being tossed about.  A quick scan of today's offers from other cities reveals mostly food offers, with some spa deals & a bike repair offer in the mix.  

Many types of businesses are not able to offer the deep discounts required of the daily deal model.  I'll be interested to see if Google Offers evolves to assist businesses outside of the stereotypical daily deals model, or if it stays with the well-worn track of offering deals on the same-old same-old.  There are some indications that consumers are already saturated with similar offers - Google may do well to find ways to differentiate itself in this space.  One way they seem to be doing that is in the quick payment turnaround they receive after an offer has completed.  Their payment plan compares favorably to that of it's competitor Groupon, which is certainly a plus for cash-strapped businesses.  
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Dave Foertsch is author of the Stingray Social Media Services blog.
Connect with Dave on Google+