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Google Places Bulk Upload Revamp: Banishing Custom Attributes

Google has rolled out some improvements to the Places bulk upload tool. From Google’s Blog:

“We’ve made many improvements and now enable the following actions:

  • Edit one or more of your listings’ data at once
  • Search through your listings, filtering by specific information or for listings with errors
  • Upload new listings using a data file or by adding them individually within the interface
  • Tell us how we can improve this new interface by clicking the “Give Feedback” link”

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Your Brand and Reputation Are First Page on Google

Google is rolling out some changes to the OneBox display for local results that continue to the push the integration of local listing with the main search results.  While this may just be another Google UI test, it is certainly consistent with their push to make local an integrated part of the main search experience.  For brands and small businesses, this just reiterates the importance of having a local listing and reputation strategy.  See a few examples below.

Photo from Places Now Included in the OneBox

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Store With Optimized Places Listing vs Store Without

In the example below, you can see how the Sephora results compares to the Mac Cosmetics result.  Competing brands in the same city but Sephora is taking advantage of the Google push to bring local content to the forefront by getting their storefront, hours and reputation front and center.

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Implicit Local Queries Impacted

Even in cases where the user is not including a local modifier in their query, Google is pushing local content if they think they know your location and their is a local store.  See the example below for Pottery Barn Kids.

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These changes continue to demonstrate the importance of local content to Google and continue to demonstrate the opportunity both national brands and small businesses have to deliver a branded, rich and actionable experience directly on the Google.com first page.

Google Local Search Stats for Black Friday

As promised in our post about the impacts of the October 27th Google update, we have put together a quick look at the traffic trends we saw for retails outlets on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

About The Data

  • Sample (hundreds) of retail chain locations across the United States (other verticals responded differently and this analysis focuses only on retail stores)
  • Click and ‘click action’ data from Google Places for November 12th through December 12th
  • All locations have clean, complete and verified listings in Google Places

Our first step was to take a look at the number of clicks generated per day across the sample locations.  We took this data and indexed the performance to the click totals on November 12th:

bf-vs-cm1

Few things standout on this graph:

  • Not all that surprisingly, Black Friday was the best day in terms of the number of clicks generated
  • Local traffic popped on Cyber Monday as well
  • Big slowdown going into the Thanksgiving holiday
  • Black Friday is just a launching pad for the season with local traffic accelerating strongly starting in early December

Now we wanted to understand a bit more about the Black Friday burst versus the Cyber Monday burst – specifically if Black Friday is truly a ‘physical’ and in-store event while Cyber Monday is an online event.  To do this, we simply looked at the click actions (as reported by Google) for clicks to the location’s website versus clicks for directions to the location.  We used this data as a metric to help understand what people’s intent was once they found the local listing:

bf-vs-cm-type

The data showed a material difference in the click behavior with a full 10% of user clicks shifting from directions to website on Cyber Monday.  While this data is not perfect (for example, many people going to the website just ended up using the on-site functionality to get directions) is does provide a reasonable proxy for the behavior of shoppers on these two days.

In early 2011 we will be posting an analysis of the entire 2010 holiday shopping season.  Follow us on Twitter or Facebook to get the latest updates as they become available.  Thanks!

Google Local Updates: Performance Impact Analysis

Right around October 27th Google rolled out an update to both how they rank their local listings and how they integrate those local listings into the main search result pages.  While the 3-pack and 7-pack still exist, this layout is starting to become the norm for local listings on the main Google results page:

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To help understand what these changes mean to local businesses listed on Google, we have put together an analytical summary of what we saw during and after this update.

About The Data

  • Sample of retail chain locations across the United States (other verticals responded differently to the change and these number apply only to retail stores)
  • Click and Impression data for October 18th through November 14th, as reported in Google Places
  • Removed outliers based on total number of clicks and/or impressions
  • All the locations have clean, complete and verified listings in Google Places

Summary of Results

  • Significant CTR improvements
  • Some of the CTR improvement is driven by increased impressions for branded traffic
  • The number of reviews for a location seems to have impacted overall traffic growth for the location
  • The average review rating does not seem to be connected to overall traffic

Details and Graphs

The impact of the change is clear when looking at the clicks and impressions:

blog-avg-perf1

Clicks grew over 50% in the ~2 weeks following the update while impressions grew only ~15% — implying that a majority of the click benefit came from increased CTR.  This leads to the question of “did the query stream change?”.  To help answer that, we took a look at the growth in clicks and the growth in the percentage of branded traffic:

blog-perf-branded

While the update did drive a noticeable and material change in the percentage of branded traffic (up over 10%), that change alone did not account for a majority of the increase in overall traffic to the locations.

So, good clean listings seem to have benefited from the update…but how do reviews play into the performance equation?  To help answer this we took a look at the click growth for locations that had received 3 or more reviews in the last 6 months versus those that have received 2 or less:

blog-perf-num-reviews

The locations with 3 or more reviews performed better after the update.  Now, this does not mean more reviews = better ranking.  It could simply be that more reviews is just a good proxy for the overall number of citations a location has.  That said, this data does provide additional evidence that the more times Google can find matching information about your business location on the web the better it is for your ranking.

With the recent discussions around how rating could/should/does impact ranking, we also took a look at the click growth based on the average rating for the sample locations.  We split the locations into two buckets, one for those with a rating over 3.5 and the other for those with rating of 3.5 or lower.  Each bucket had an average right around 5.5 reviews per locations (to help deal with the impacts that total number of reviews could have on the analysis).  Here is what we saw:

blog-perf-rating

Based on this data, the poorly rated locations actually saw better click growth than the strongly rated locations.  While not definitive, it certainly points to the average rating being ignored by Google at this point (but not by your potential customers!).  And this actually makes a lot of sense given the issues we have seen with Google importing 3rd party reviews correctly (which we will take a look at another time) and the lack of credibility of the ratings/reviews on many 3rd party sites.  However, as Google (tries) to gather it’s own rating data via Hotpot they will be able to build a data set that they can trust — and can then start to use more actively in the ranking process.

If you are still reading…thanks and we will be posting an update on the holiday shopping traffic in the near future.

The Google Brand Will Never be Social

All the talk about how Google ‘must’ buy Twitter just does not make sense to me, at least not for the reasons that are being discussed. Twitter is a fine business and may mint money some day, and that alone may be a reason to buy it.  However, Twitter will not solve Google’s so called ‘social problem’.

(1) Google’s ‘social problem’ was created by Facebook, but Twitter does not help Google compete with Facebook.  The social graph created by Facebook is completely different than the social graph created by Twitter.  The reasons people use these two applications are completely different and the types and amount of information shared is not comparable

(2) Google cannot be a social brand.  I entered a relationship with Google long ago with an expectation that they would provide me with search results and  email.  The relationship I entered into with Facebook was based on me sharing information with others.   These are two very different relationships and I don’t want Google changing the nature of our relationship, especially when they use the data I shared when I was operating under our ‘search and email only’ relationship.   This is the fundamental challenge for Google.  Our relationship with them is not a social one

(3) User’s do not want to mix search and social.  Many of the searches we do are private in nature.  We ask Google the most private and embarrassing questions we have.  A social aspect to Google removes the (real or perceived) privacy users feel when they share this information with Google.  Based on this, you could also argue that Facebook will never be the primary search destination for users

In my opinion, if Google wants to be successful in social they need to make a clean break with their existing services (specifically search and email).  Create a new brand that uses all the powerful Google technology and brains, but is not based on an integration with existing Google tools and data…which are based on my current Google relationship.  Establish a new relationship with me and then let me decide if and how I want to bring my old Google relationship into the mix.

Google Places Update Pushes Bulk Verification

Last week, Google Places got some minor UI and functional tweaks.  The changes were focused on the ‘business summary’ page that lists all of the locations managed within the account and are summarized here. The most interesting change though, was the push to verify bulk listings.  When you login to an account that has locations added via the bulk feed and they have not been verified, you now get a very prominent message that you should consider doing so:

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The Local Business Center is now Google Places

Google announced today that the Google Local Business Center is being renamed to Google Places.  Nothing has changed in the UI as of yet, but as part of the announcement on their blog they did rehash some recently added features and announced a few new ones:

  • Service areas (previously available)
  • Expansion of the paid ‘Tags’ service into new regions
  • Business photo shoots are a cool (and free service) that they have been testing and is now more widely available
  • 50K more ‘Favorite Places’
  • New Google Places help center

The Google Places announcement also included some interesting stats on the local search space:

  • Four million businesses have claimed their Place Page globally and two million in the US
  • 20% of searches on Google are related to location

More Local Searches Coming Your Way

Google announced a ‘Nearby’ search option today.  Just another way to drive searchers into localized search results and even more opportunity for businesses that are ranking well in the local listings.  Quick example below:

A search for ‘snow blower’ does not give me any local results:

not-local

Selecting the ‘nearby’ option brings in local results (a single listing in this case):

now-local