Video: LocalU Google Bulk – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Hangout
Mike Blumenthal

Google My Business Listings AKA Bulk can be a daunting environment with lots of hidden traps. It is in the process of being upgraded every so slowly but still has a few quirks. Listen in as Andrew Shotland & Dan Leibson of LocalSEOGuide, Alexis Gui of Sim Partners, Tim Grant of Gamma Partners, Rory Scherer of DAC Group, Scott Clark of BuzzMaven and Mike Blumenthal discuss the ins and out of Google Bulk Uploads.


Mike: Live. Hi. Mike Blumenthal here with LocalU and a whole host of bulk experts that are going to share with you today some of their experiences with . Good, bad, and ugly as it were. This is brought to you by LocalU, which is a cooperative of local professionals that help educate other users and professionals in local best practices.

So let me just start by allowing each of you to introduce yourself. So I’ll start with Alexis. Why don’t you give us a brief introduction?

Alexis: All right. Thanks, Mike. Hi, everyone. I am Alexis Gui. I work at SIM Partners in Chicago. And SIM Partners is a technology company that enables large enterprise companies to be successful at the local level and be found where people are searching. So I guess my experience with Google My Business is working with these large brands that have anywhere from a couple hundred locations to upwards of 10 thousands of locations. And either creating a Google My Business presence for them from scratch because they didn’t have one or taking over management of some of their old accounts and working with their data to make sure everything is consistent and updating it in such a way to get the most out of the product.

Mike: Thanks. So Andrew, on to you. The man who needs no introduction.

Andrew: Hey, guys. Andrew Shotland, the grand poohbah at Local SEO Guide. We do local search and enterprise SEO consulting for multi-location business, basically anyone with a website.

Mike: Cool. Dan, your turn.

Dan: Yeah, hey. Thanks, Mike. My name is Dan Leibson and I work with Andrew over at Local SEO Guide. I just happen to run the local side of the house over at our agency. And my experience is pretty similar to Alexis’ actually, which is working from a Top 10 retailer with multiple thousands of Google My Business locations and a bulk file, down to ones with several hundred. So a nice, wide range of experience and all the trials and tribulations that product offers.

Mike: Thanks. I’m going to skip over Ed, who is a Principle in Sixth Man Marketing and, as you can see, his mic is bad. Mary, how about a brief introduction from you? I know you’re not going to be speaking a lot today.

Mary: Mary Bowling, Glenwood Springs, Colorado. I’m part of LocalU and also part of Ignitor Digital, a little agency here in Colorado.

Mike: And Rory, we’re on to you. Rory, go ahead.

Rory: I’m Rory Scherer. I work at DAC Group as the Product Manager for what we call the Local Listings Management or Presence Management. And we have clients similar to everyone else, who have hundreds to thousands, some even more than 10,000, locations each. Some are banks. Some are retail. Some are QSR. So we do see a large variety of clients.

Mike: Scott.

Scott: I’m Scott Clark. I’m an Independent Consultant. The company is called BuzzMaven and I have law firms with multiple locations, IT services firms, gym franchises, and restoration service area franchises. So these are in the few hundred locations, not in the thousands. But I experience very similar issues. And I’ll talk today about some of those ideas of solving these pain points.

Mike: Cool. And, Tim, from Gamma Partners.

Tim: Great. Thanks, Mike. My name is Tim Grant. I’m the Director of Digital Marketing here at Gamma Partners. We’re in the Chicago area. We’re a technology marketing company and we work with multi-location and franchise businesses in web development and internet marketing. We currently manage bulk listings anywhere from 60 to organizations that have thousands of locations throughout North America.

Mike: Cool. So there is an opportunity for the audience to submit Q&A by the Q&A on the playback at YouTube so we’d appreciate those if you have them.

I’m going to start with some questions. I’m going to start with Alexis. Google has very specific formatting requirements for the bulk as well as specific guidelines how businesses should be represented. Frequently those are different than the other major data suppliers. So how do you deal with that and what do you see as best practices in repurposing that data for those other important places? Alexis.

Alexis: Thanks, Mike. Yeah, this is definitely an issue that we deal with a lot in our local partnering programs. We’re managing them holistically. So we’re submitting client data to all the aggregators as well as what you’re seeing in Google My Business. And one of the things that we really notice is that the aggregators seem to be almost ahead in some respects, especially with parent-child relationships. So we deal with a lot of medical clients that have hospitals, clinics, and then the doctors themselves. And where aggregators’ best practice is to always creating that parent-child relationship. So when you’re submitting a name change, for example, you want to put the brand out there first and then connect that to the individual. But for Google there’s really specific guidelines that they have. So if you’re the individual practitioner, they want the brand, the name. If you are multiple practitioners at a location, they only want the name. So we definitely struggle with how to keep both sides happy and how to keep that information clean and consistent throughout the ecosystem while being accepted by Google at the same time. So we . . .

Mike: Then you have the problem of dealing with Google updates to the guidelines. Like on that one, they now want the solo practitioners to be just name and not brand name.

Alexis: Yeah, exactly. So it’s definitely been an evolving process. We found so far that for non-medical, for brands, we find that it’s still best practice to keep the brand name in there and Google seems to be okay with that. But for doctors especially, we will follow Google’s guideline and just submit the doctor’s name and reference the clinic or the hospital that they belong to elsewhere in the listing. And we found that to work very well.

Mike: So one quick follow-up question on that. Do you find that that strategy generates many duplicates showing up at Google or not?

Alexis: No. We’ve not found duplicates per se. We do deal with a lot of Google updates so Google fighting back trying to change things. But no real issues with duplicates and when we do searches for a hospital, if you’re searching for the hospital, the correct listing comes up. If you’re searching for, say, a cardiologist, the practitioner listing comes up. So Google seems to understand that on the back end.

Mike: Oh good. So let me address this next question to Rory, since he was the second one on the hangout thid morning. I was having an email conversation with you and I asked you the question about what does the product do well. I know there’s going to be a lot of negatives coming up so we ought to at least put it out there with something positive to get started. Maybe you could highlight some of the new features that you think are working reasonably well.

Rory: Sure. Well, on the new dashboard, they do group all the locations by various statuses. For example, if you look and it’s missing star codes, pending reviews. So that is very convenient. But even more so, I find the metrics to be a massive improvement over years past, especially the clicked calls metric they’re providing. There was an article just a few months ago in Search Engine Land discussing how 75% of calls from stores are coming from smartphones. And those have a 30% to 50% conversion rate so being able to track all the click-to-calls from the search engine results based on Google really provides a lot of value to your client. And you’re showing them, you’re providing them high quality data. So that’s definitely . . .the reporting is a huge improvement over years past.

Mike: So just a quick follow-up on that. I see the reporting periodically just plummet to zero and then recover. My theory is that Google reporting for local is in what might be referred to as a lazy index, one that doesn’t get top priority from Google. So what is your confidence level in those numbers?

Rory: It is fairly accurate. We do have other clients who . . . For example, the RCF lines, which is a whole other discussion, but these are only a part of those phone numbers because it’s just the click-to-call from the Google search engine call feature in Google Maps as opposed to elsewhere like Bing and Yelp and everywhere else.

Mike: Right.

Rory: But it is in line in terms of trending. It is in line with other areas.

Mike: Okay, good. That’s good to know that it at least trends in the right direction. I’m going to direct this next question to Scott. So I read an article that you wrote about what your ideas on a strategy for managing the franchise or franchisee relationship, which is frequently a tense relationship.

Scott: Yeah.

Mike: There’s contradictions within in and then it gets even worse when you bring Google and their rules into it. But I read your article and I really liked the ideas in it. Could you elaborate on your thinking about how to optimize that franchisor-franchisee relationship as it relates to Google, Google Local, and local search in general, I guess.

Scott: Well, the first thing you have to make sure that franchisees know is that you’re an advocate for their improved business. You’re not there to make trouble for them. Franchisees have a wide variety of computer skills and internet skills. And there’s always going to be a few that are way out in front of the other in their ability to deploy a My Business page and others that are far behind. So the first problem is not even a technical problem. It’s just basically getting their confidence up that you are going to be able to help them with a lot of the things they’re struggling with. I believe that . . .and the most important thing in that article was that if you’re doing a franchise or franchisee service, you need to work the whole. In the agreement you need to work out how you’re going to manage the relationship as new technologies come on line. You don’t want to have 100 grandfathered in franchisees doing things one way and then refuse to move to a new system like My Business, for example, or new kind of verification. So in your franchise agreements you have to really plan for the future and make an agreement with them as a part of their brand license, they’re going to do the thing that you ask them to do when it comes to web marketing in bulk.

Mike: Cool. Tim, you said you had some follow-up on that. Let me turn it over to you.

Tim: Sure. And I really agree with everything that was said there. I think the bottom line is it’s an educational process, right? I think the challenge with franchisees and franchisors is that every business owner thinks that they know what’s best online for their business. And so, for us, it’s been about communications. We produced internal videos for franchises to explain the process that we use and why we choose the routes that we choose. And we keep it very high level so that they can focus on their business and that they feel confident that we’re doing the best job we can for them online. Also, these types of things, we always find somebody, some franchisee, claims their own business. And when we find out about this, we wind up communicating with them, they say, “Oh, I never knew you did this. ” So it’s very important in these types of franchisees or organizations that, especially for new business owners, that this is part of their orientation to the business: what is taken care of from the online marketing standpoint and what isn’t, what you should touch and what you shouldn’t, and who you should communicate with if you have questions.

Mike: Yeah. It strikes me that the most powerful thing is centralized data distribution and localized photo, content, update hours. Well, maybe not hours, but perhaps, but. So we have a question in for us from the audience. Before we get to that, Dan, I wanted to direct a specific question at you and then I have one for Andrew, too. So Google now provides support through their Support mechanism. And for better or worse, what do you perceive as best practices in that arena? How do you cope with Support people who are maybe not as well trained as you on the product? And how do you deal with that? What types of things do you take to Support, etc. ?

Dan:Yeah, so we’ve had really hit and miss experiences with the new Callback bulk Support tool. Sometimes we just honestly haven’t gotten calls back. And so working in a tight time frame with some of these large, multi-location nationals, we can’t just sit around on our hands for a new product offering from Google to work or not work. So we still generally will take that up with traditional Google My Business Support. The big problem with Google My Business Support for multi-location business is just a black box for the team that works on it, right? We can get some work done by the people talking to our team members through Support, but there’s a lot of stuff that happens on the back end that they escalate. We have no visibility in that and no ability to communicate with that team on a regular basis and make sure it works out the way it should. That’s a huge pain point because it’s just like a giant game of telephone at that point, where things can get lost and then we’re ending up following up repeatedly on the same issue, just because it gets resolved in a slightly incorrect or different way than we had all agreed on originally.

Mike: So a couple . . .let’s see. So quick question there. Rory, you were going to add something to that and then I’ll follow up with a question.

Rory: Sure. I was just going to say I agree with what was previously mentioned. Calls forward is definitely a nice feature to have but it is a challenge in that we do get inconsistent answers when we call one day, speak to one person, call another day, ask the same question, speak to a different person. The responses we get sometimes are very, very inconsistent. So it is frustrating but it is a process that we do work out on behalf of our clients to try to get them, especially with nested locations. It’s always a challenge because it’s a very new situation for clients and when we do chat with a Support rep, some will say, “Okay, this will get fixed in about four or five days’ time, ” etc. But in reality, it’s usually more than double or triple the amount of time it actually takes.

Mike: So when you say nested you mean a store within a store like the optical store . . .

Rory: Right.

Mike: . . .within Walmart. Okay. Rory: Yeah.

Mike: To both of you, I just want to give a follow-up question, which is . . .one is does anybody get a dedicated rep in this world of bulk, like 20,000, 30,000? And the other is, when you call in on a bulk line do you get people who are theoretically bulk trained or do you get the general, run of the mill people? Dan.

Dan:Yeah. So the couple of time that we’ve gotten a bulk callback, a call from the bulk Callback Support, it hasn’t been somebody on the operational team that can implement. It’s a new role within that team so there’s still a disconnect from what you’re talking to the representative on and what actually gets implemented when you’re suggesting changes to them. So I still haven’t heard of anybody having a dedicated bulk rep. The closest thing I’ve ever heard is I had a client at a previous gig. He was spending close to $2 million a month in AdWords and could sometimes escalate issues to their AdWords rep and escalate it within Mountain View to get some serious issues resolved. But that’s like migrating from Places to Plus Local or Plus Local to GMB Locations. That’s a huge technological hang-up. Not necessarily ongoing Support issues.

Mike: Right. So I found, in Support, if you limit your question to one of these . . .obviously you don’t want to deliver broad question to these folks because you’re going to get bullshit for an answer but if you limit it, they seem to have certain tools at their disposal in GMB Support. You’re saying that they don’t even have the basic tools to fix or merge or do that sort of stuff or do they?

Dan: It’s very similar to a merge with actual GMB Support, where they’ll escalate it or start the merge in their tool while you’re talking to them.

Mike: Mm-hmm.

Dan:But whether that’s just a ticketing system or they’re actually pushing the widget that makes the thing go, is anybody’s guess. And it doesn’t seem like it is, just given how there us black box stuff happening behind the scenes in Google My Business locations all the time updating data and listing, the user Support tool, the front end.

Mike: Sure. So let me address a question to Andrew, who’s been sitting very patiently on the left side of my screen. So clearly, local is always a raft of problems and so the question becomes . . . You have Google has imposed problems or the data set from the clients impose problems, and sometimes fixing these are very, very resource intensive. And I read an article, I think you wrote it by the way, at search engine just about prioritizing, problem solving in this arena. Maybe you could talk about that for a little bit and let us know . . .

Andrew: Sure.

Mike: . . .your top down strategy.

Andrew: Right, and in fact, one of the reasons why I wanted Dan to be on this with me as well, is because Dan is really the guy spearheading this stuff for our group. So, Dan, feel free to jump in. But we’ve basically developed a pretty straightforward system to triage these Google My Business problems. It’s really just like any other SEO problem.

First of all, you have to be persistent because they don’t always get fixed right away. And you have to basically have a prioritization system so we have a pretty decent prioritization system and calendaring system to make sure that things get followed up on. Because, as everyone probably here knows, is the Google end business Support does not do a particularly good job of that.

But what we’ve found is that the real . . .with all CEO problems the real . . .the way you win at this stuff is you have experience working on seeing 5,000 different problems or different versions of the same problem and getting an understanding of how Google deals with it. So as an example, Dan found a great one a couple months ago where we had a business marked as closed in Google, but when we finally reached, after the 10th time, the right person in Support they said, “Well, it’s not actually closed. ” Meaning it wasn’t closed in the back end for some reason. And there was no way anyone would ever know that unless they had called Google My Business Support like a 1,000 times and suddenly got through to the guy who could reveal that answer.

Mike: Right.

Andrew: So I don’t think there’s any magic to it.

Mike: Just waiting for one index to catch up with another index or something. Did it ever catch up?

Andrew: Dan, I don’t think so. Did it?

Dan: Yeah, so some of them did. It was an issue of the Map Maker data set being slightly different than the GMB locations data set. So when something happened on GMB it would get into conflict with Map Maker and they would fight for superiority in the listing. So this was, of course, right when Map Maker got shut down for community edits. So we were able to get a couple of them resolved through Support reps without going through the community edit and approval process, which I’m sure all of you know is very hit and miss. And then that data set got locked and there’s just been no ability to edit any of those things, even through GMB Support.

Mike: Right. So here’s a question that I got from Mary Silva. Thank you for submitting, Mary, and we would encourage the rest of you to submit questions. She says, “I’ve heard that if you use bulk claiming tool in Google My Business you can only create the listing that you can upload. It will not claim any pre-existing listings. Is this true? If so, how do you handle the pre-existing verified listings and reviews?” Alexis, why don’t you start on that and then I’ll pass it over to Dan.

Alexis: Yeah, I wanted to talk about this question because this is definitely a common, common thing that we deal with with our clients. A lot of times they don’t have a centralized account and there’s one of these rogue, pre-existing listings out there. So what we do is, before starting a new account we have to try and get an understanding of what the current situation is, what we can expect to see once we start claiming listings. And we will claim and bulk upload the whole population of locations to start out with. And the ones that don’t have pre-existing, verified locations get verified and the ones that do will get flagged by Google. And then that way we can identify which ones we need to work with Google on and go through the whole ownership conflict process, which is not great, not perfect, and very time consuming. But at least this way we have those listings in our account already and can work through them to eventually take over ownership.

Mike: And Dan, maybe you could add to that?

Dan:Yeah, so this is kind of what I was talking about earlier when I was saying that there’s a black box that’s happening behind the scenes. Because we’ve been told both by people in GMB Support as well as the community, and just seeing with our own eyes, is you’ll upload a location or series of locations through GMB Locations and then it will start matching records in the background if there are unclaimed, exact dup versions of the listing and merging them together. So that way the bulk tool, when you upload something, isn’t creating an additional listing on top of it.

But that is voodoo, right? It’s a process we don’t get any kind of insight or visibility to and so there are listings getting matched and merged, claimed and data being transferred from what you upload and what’s already in their data set that you have no control over. And things will happen without your knowledge.

So a good example of that is we have a client, AutoNation, where we do a lot of their local SEO work for them. And it’s a business that grows through acquisition but there’s almost always the auto dealers page has several versions of locations for that specific business that have been re-branded over and over throughout the years.

And all this stuff gets merged behind the scenes with the Google My Business Locations team with no input from us. And what ends up usually happening is there’s just messes of incorrect data out there as a five-year old business has parts of its record merged with a new listing that you uploaded through the bulk tool. And there’s just no visibility for either the internal marketers at the business, and very large businesses to have influence over this, or their representatives that are handling their local marketing presence. And so it’s really hard to deal with a product where you don’t have access or visibility into some of its core workings.

Mike: Yeah, yeah. Particularly a problem given Google’s search arrogance Google has. They know what their own data is, right? And they don’t trust, even though they verified you, they don’t trust your data more than any other data, even though you have it at the source.

So, Scott, you mentioned a little bit about a listing audit. Maybe you could elaborate on that. Oop, you’re muted. You’re muted, Scott.

Scott: Yeah. Okay, so in the case of franchises, they’re licensing the use of your brand and they have an agreement in place for that use of it. But some, like I heard earlier, some do try to go rogue and do things on their own. And so what you end up with is a mixed bag. A large amount of the franchisees can be updated with the bulk, but then you have these leftover and you have to actually go out and do negotiations for your own trademark against people that have licensed the use of that trademark. And you have to be careful in franchises that you don’t piss off too many of your owners or you’ll get into these class action situations. So what you have to do is adopt a sales pitch for each of them to say, “Go ahead and let us build. Let us be the owner and you be the manager. And here are the following advantages. We’re going to provide you content. We’re going to syndicate you some great stuff for your local site, ” and it becomes a bit of a negotiation. But the listing audit is something you have to do. You have to look at, basically, what’s the inventory. How are you . . . Currently how many have claimed it? How many have a good listing? How many have a consistent LBL across all kinds of directories. And that is what drives the decision making on who to call, who to talk to, and actually what your pitch is going to be to getting them to relinquish control. And it’s never easy. Every franchise seems to have this problem, especially if they grew their first 50 or so before a lot of online marketing has become sophisticated. All these people think they can do it their own way and then the next 500 have to do it a different way. And so it’s not a tech solution. It’s a management and sometimes a legal issue.

Mike: So let me deal with a couple questions that have come in. This one came in from Mary in Colorado. She wants to know how you deal with large SABs, which Google has historically not supported them in bulk because of the predilection that seems to be in that industry for spamming. So the question is what do you do when you have a large SAB client, service area business client, that has a lot of legitimate service locations that they work out of? Do I have any volunteers on that one?

Scott: I can talk a little bit to it. The service area has always been a real pain. Right now you have to verify those individually and there’s not really a way of making that easy. And then the other side of it is a lot of these locations, they have legal requirements, where like in New York they can’t work in certain parts of the city. They can in others but we really have a circular radius we’re working within, so you get into this issue of where the service area is and how you shape it. So the service area industries, they’re really hard to get set up and because of . . . They’re slightly easier now than they were but they’ve always been hard.

Mike: Right. Thanks. So here’s a question from Adam Dintz. And I’m going to direct this at Rory initially. Any chance you guys could talk a bit more about nested listings? Are you saying that you can have multiple businesses within a specific listing?

Rory: When we refer to nested listings, we’re referring to, for example, a Starbucks coffee shop that’s located within a bookstore, which is a much larger business. So the answer is yes, you can create nested locations but it is a challenge. Typically, we do follow the normal procedures for Google and business bulk upload but it just takes a little longer to get them verified. And there are times where we do have to call the Support number and speak with them to speed up that verification process.

It does work. For example, pharmacies within larger grocery stores. Those typically, I now have gotten verified a lot quicker. But that’s the type of nested locations that we’re referring to. It does work. It just takes much, much longer to get verified compared to how Google says, “Oh, it’ll only take a short amount of time to get verified. ”

Mike: Right. Yeah, just to clarify. It’s not a parent-child relationship in a social sense or the ideal sense of being able to have a corporate brand with locations. Another point I want to add is if you’ve done your work at infoUSA first on that, I think it makes it easier because Google checks that nesting against infoUSA’s database, who does the best job of tracking nested locations. Go ahead, Rory. Sorry.

Rory: Right. And just to add a little bit more about nested locations. You’re right. We do actually send to all the important data providers like Infogroup that mentioned. But it does . . .you have to make sure that, in terms of name, address, phone number. In categories, you want to have at least a unique phone number or the categories also have to be different. So the coffee shop, obviously has coffee shop as category. Where it’s at grocery store then okay, it has a different category. So you have to make sure that it has those unique details.

Mike: Right, yeah. And that’s a new requirement of the guidelines that came out end of last year. Another question. This is from Moheed Jane. Let’s say there is a business called Acme Tutoring. As we add the business to Google+ we now have multiple entries for Acme Tutoring. Does it make sense to rename them to Acme Tutoring New York, Acme Tutoring Queens, etc. ? Dan, do you want to take that one?

Dan:Yeah. So I want to answer his question in two parts. The first one is the second part of his question, which is about when they change the business name it gets flagged and unverified. That’s something that I would follow up with the Callback bulk Support on because, generally, when you have a bulk account you can get pre-approved to add listings without them having to go through the verifications. It’s one of the benefits of the bulk account. And so if you’re running into a problem where listings are getting unverified when you change the business name, you need to follow up with Google and see if there’s something on the account’s back end that doesn’t have you have the same permissions as a lot of other trusted bulk accounts. But when it comes to renaming business to add in the geo, so Acme Tutoring Dallas, Acme Tutoring New York, Mike, this was something that was very popular when they changed their guidelines in 2013 to allow geo modifiers. Then all of a sudden every business had a geo modifier in the name, which they then quickly reversed and changed their guidelines to not allow adding geo modifiers. However, what we’ve seen, especially with businesses where the . . .like in the example where it’s the same everywhere, Google doesn’t really do much if you have a geo modifier in there. And that geo modifier can help you rank for more relevant geo related search terms. Like most things SEO, this is about risk management and making sure your client understands that you may get a lot of extra mileage from this tactic, but there may be some fires that need to get put out later if Google starts cracking down on this. So just make sure that everybody is aware of the risks and rewards for doing any of these tactics that may violate Google’s guidelines, and then just go do the best you can for your client.

Mike: Thanks. Does anybody else have anything to add to that before I move on to the next question?

Tim: Yeah. I think the danger with that practice, of course, is making sure that any of your citations reflect that in the same way, right? And so we’re talking here about Google bulk isolated but we have to be cautious that anything we’re doing in Google bulk we’re also doing with any of the data aggregators online or any other sites that might be considered with citations as well. I think that’s one of the more . . .when we work with companies that are doing these things in-house, that’s one of the things we see is that they’re working so hard to get Google to recognize them in some way, in some unique fashion, that they’ve forgotten about all the other resources they should be updating as well.

Mike: Right. And that goes to even answering the phone that way. Because when Google verifies these listings against the name they’ve submitted, they want to see that it matches offline and online. So certainly it can be done but it has to be done in a cohesive way across all the resources. Let me go to this question from Mr. Chopra. When we get the ownership of the listing, which was flagged as different owner, when we change any information on that listing it goes to unverified status. So what’s the best way to prevent it from happening and get them to be live? Alexis, you want to take a crack at that?

Alexis: Yeah. I thought that this was actually part of the same question that Dan touched on earlier, right? So having an issue in bulk that any time they make a change to the present name it gets unverified.

So I personally haven’t seen that happening once we take over ownership and Google recognizes that you own that listing. It should recognize any changes that you make so I would follow up with Support and make sure that there’s not anything wonky going on in the back end of it.

Mike: Right. And I think it depends on which information gets changed, right? If you’re changing hours, you’re changing the web page URL, it’s unlikely to get flagged. If you’re changing business name or phone number it might get flagged. Isn’t that the . . .that’s what it is in GMB. Isn’t it the same in bulk?

Alexis: Yeah, yeah. I think that’s the case. And I think you can probably help that by making sure that you’re putting out consistent information for that listing elsewhere. So distributing to the aggregators prior to or at the same time that you’re making that change on GMB so that Google is more likely to recognize that as a valid change instead of flagging it.

Mike: All right. Let me just . . .

Andrew: Could I just . . .

Mike: Go ahead.

Andrew: Just to enhance what she just said. So we do a lot of these switching ownership deals and we always try to preload the data aggregator stuff first before we go to the Google My Business stuff. And we found that has the . . .it’s inevitably going to be screwed up but we found that has the best chance of the quickest bounce back.

Mike: Right. Yeah, I think with infoUSA moving to near real time with their data axel or whatever they call it, Google, I think, is taking advantage of that and I think that makes all kinds of sense, because Google wants to triangulate everything. They’re not going to trust a single source. And so if you can give them another source they really trust that’s going to make your life a whole lot easier.

So one of the issues that you see and that I experienced in bulk . . .and I don’t do a lot of bulk. I found it way too aggravating. Life isn’t long enough. But was this issue when you’re dealing with a company that has hour changes, right? So you’ve got seasonal hour changes and I was dealing with one that had weekly hour changes and bulk wasn’t able to keep up with it. Has that improved at all and is there a best practice if there’s a delay in terms of the time in bulk that a time change goes through? Rory, you want to take a crack at that?

Rory: Sure. It’s funny you mention that because when I was at the last LocalU event I specifically asked that question. So we’re finding that we have been . . .

Mike: Rory, you can plug LocalU events all you want.

Rory: Okay. We have been told by Google, “Typically send it four business days in advance of when the new hours take effect. ” However, we do submit that. We upload four days in advance but we are finding that it’s much longer than four days. So if, let’s say it’s December, by December 1st you have your new holiday hours, we’re actually recommending about two weeks in advance of it, of when your hours are to go published. And also sometimes, it’s a little helpful hint, maybe in your description you can actually put a couple words just to say, “Call us for our new holiday hours, ” or something similar to that so when people are viewing your Google My Business page they may understand the holiday hours might be a little bit different than what’s published.

Mike: Yeah, it’s interesting. Google is begging businesses to update their hours and then they can’t even get them updated either on a schedule or in a timely way. It’s frustrating. And sometimes . . . I’m dealing with a couple of amusement parks and there it’s really critical because somebody’s planning on staying until 10:00 and they’re only open until 6:00. In Local, we’re seeing hours . . .in GMB I’m seeing hours change literally within the hour now, right? They’re pushing hours in the GMB in near real time, which when it happened it also caused a problem because we were pushing them a day ahead and somebody complained at the gate to the manager that the place was closing and they had promised their son they could be there until 10:00 or something, I don’t know. So there’s a lot of problems with bulk at this point. For example, maybe you guys could just address some of the big, glaring problems you see with the product, product design, product feature set, inability to do social, photos, the lack of whatever, analytics across multiple locations. So I don’t know if you guys want to take a crack at some of those. You have a pet peeve you’d like to deal with and how you address it. For example, how do you aggregate analytics when Google only delivers them on a location by location basis?

Scott: You took mine.

Mike: Oh well. Go ahead.

Scott: It’s yours. But I think that one of the things that I really need to see on this is the ability to syndicate content better from the corporate office to the individual locations and for the local businesses to also be able to interject. And we’re looking at external ways of pulling that off with RSS feeds and things like that, but there’s so much that a corporate marketing department has to offer in terms of content that could be intertwined and comingled with the local content and really add value at the location pages. It seems like the My Business bulk should have some method of connecting, say, to some content management system of some type. But the analytics is the real one. That is . . .because we’re asked to justify all this work we’re asking them to do or this relinquishment of control they’re being asked to do. And it’s just very hard to just constantly be logging in and out trying to aggregate things for a deck or for a spreadsheet. So the more we’re able to add those as properties to analytics or some other mode, the better.

Mike: So here’s a question from the audience, which I dealt with the other day. I don’t know if this . . . How should we deal with locations that close at 12:30 a.m. ? As I am facing location show closed the following day. Do you think it is a Google system issue? I actually just dealt with this question so let me . . .unless anybody wants it, I’ll take it. What you need to do to solve this is to realize that the 12:00 to 12:30 a.m.are in the next day’s hours so you run the . . .let’s say it’s open until 12:30 Sunday morning, which is Saturday night into Sunday morning. You close your standard hours at midnight. You do a dual set of hours for Sunday. You do from 12:00 to 12:30 on Sunday and then again from, say, 9:00 the morning to 10:00 at night on Sunday. So you have to do it as a dual set on the next day is the way you deal with that. It is a Google system issue but they’ve actually designed around it and you can work your way through it. So pet peeves with bulk. Who’s got the next one?

Dan:I can go.

Mike: Sure. Go ahead.

Dan:So my biggest, and they’ve started to slightly improve this. Biggest aside from no dedicated reps, that just needs to change, is the error messaging that you get in the dashboard. And so now at least the error codes are more consistent but there’s no clear meaning behind what the error codes mean and how to resolve them. So one good example is the disabled notification. I was told by somebody, and also a GMB Support rep, that that disabled means that there is a listing that is marked as closed with the same phone number as your other listing. And it’s marked as disabled to combat spam in some way. That just does not jive with any data I can reconcile in that bulk account with that disabled listing in any way, right? There are closed listings with the same phone number that aren’t marked as disabled. It doesn’t make any sense. And so giving error notifications with no clear way of resolving them, at least in a timely and efficient manner, it just makes it useless and not something that you could use in order to manage your Google My Business Location workflow.

Mike: Thanks. We just got a question in from Edgar Estrada, who asks, “Google has a pilot program for acquiring ownership of abandoned Google verified listings. This is very common with franchisee models where there is high turnover in ownership. Has anyone ever participated in this pilot program?” And usually, like all pilot programs, it’s under NDA so if you have you can’t say you have, but does anybody know anything about this pilot program? No. It’s obviously on a very limited basis. Sorry. So I actually saw . . .a client showed that to me against their NDA so I’m not under NDA, showed it to me a couple, nine months ago. When I followed up, it wasn’t clear that it was going to become a widespread program. It was apparently very difficult for Google to implement but maybe they’ve figured out a way around it. Here’s another question from . . . Oh, there was a comment that was made amongst us, just about whether there would ever be a dedicated Support person and consensus was that since this is a free product that Google wouldn’t ever support it. I would content that, obviously, it supports all sorts of other Google income and therefore it isn’t free, but Andrew pointed out that most people would be willing to pay for it if they got legitimate and reasonable Support.

Andrew: Can I add another pet peeve, Mike? Because I love to peeve.

Mike: Yeah, sure.

Andrew: For me, the biggest pet peeve I have is that Google, despite you claiming and verifying and saying, “I am this company, ” that Google doesn’t trust you. And I think that’s 100% bullshit and we’ve worked with several brands who have thousands of listings and every month some large percentage of them get overwritten by . . .because Google doesn’t trust them or they have other sources and it’s ridiculous. And it causes real problems at scale.

Mike: Yeah, I think it’s an internal struggle as well but I think that the engineers rule and there’s a certain arrogance associated with that. So, Rory, you had a comment I think.

Rory: Yeah, just very quickly. Google My Business, the Google My Business page is really integrated well with other areas that made a lot of money. For example, AdWords. If you were, let’s say, a restaurant and you have a lot of reviews on your Google My Business page, on your AdWords, on your location extensions, those actually show up. So while Google My Business might be free, it actually incorporates into a lot of the areas where Google earns a lot of revenue. So I think they should make a significant investment into providing better phone support or email support for the bulk businesses. AdWords is just obviously the greatest example.

Mike: Right. Yeah, I had a follow-up, Scott, to your comment about syndicating content from corporate. For some reason, Google has embraced 10 companies that are allowed to use the API to do that and nobody else. And I find that to be . . .that’s a peeve of mine. It’s like, okay, if they’re going to have an API, then have an API that gets verified and used and it’s available to everybody. Otherwise, why? And roll it out in a progressive way, but don’t just let five or six or eight companies have an exclusive on that API. Because I know there are companies that do.

Here’s another question from . . .let me deal with John’s here. What’s the best way to handle locations that are temporarily closed and don’t want to be listed as permanently closed. So I assume that means something like under renovation or something. Hm, good question. I don’t know. Anybody have a suggestion?

Scott: A flower . . .we have a great big flower shop just outside of the city limits that is an empty lot a lot of the year and then full of flowers a lot of the year. Maybe something like that.

Mike: Yeah, or a Halloween place.

Scott: Yeah.

Mike: Or even a place like, again, has to be shut down from three or four weeks, like the local Dunkin’ Donuts. I don’t know. I think that one way, depending on the length of the time, is to pretend you’re open, right? If it’s a couple weeks, answer the phone. Right? And pretend you’re open. And not closed. If it’s longer, I don’t know what is best practice.

Andrew: Couldn’t you just set your hours to 9:00 9:01 a.m. ?

Mike: Well, there’s a good idea. No, that’s actually a good idea, right? If it’s temporary. Depends on how . . . Right, actually 12:00 a.m. to 12:01 a.m.

Andrew: Right. Makes more sense.

Mike: That’s right. Nothing like that. Well, that is a potential workaround. Here’s another question from Adam Dintz: I think you touched on this, but is there a more streamlined way to report on bulk location sites than having to go through each location one by one?

Dan: Build a crawler.

Mike: Have you done that?

Dan:I have not here, but I have worked at places that had a data scraper that would pull Google My Business insights data and aggregate it in an internal tool on the back end.

Mike: Right, yeah. Yeah, I’ve heard of several crawlers but because they typically are a violation of some guideline or another, they’re not publically available, unfortunately. Here’s another question from Mary Silva. Speaking of connecting CM systems, sometimes building social presence by posting for an overarching brand page is more cost effective than writing unique posts for all location pages. Is cross-posting the same + post across your locations not good?

Scott: Well, you get into duplicate content considerations in that case. However, in a location situation, Google, as far as I can tell, Google is more forgiving on the duplicate content if that content is meant for places that will not really be competing with each other. They’ll be separated by the different cities. So if you have the same content in Chicago that you have in Dallas, I’ve not seen a huge problem with duplicate content in that case because those same customers and the way Google shows the results with personalized search listings, those results are never going to show up next to each other. So the customer experience is still good and I’ve not seen, even though we’ve had pretty high duplication of that, I haven’t seen it get in the way of ranking.

Mike: And certainly you could reshare content without running afoul of any of Google’s guidelines as well. Right? Not just posting it as original. You might get tagged as a spammer there. Okay, so this one is coming in from Sarah Garrison. Have any of you had issues with the new photo recommendation of minimum 1000 x 1000 pixel images? Many of our enterprise clients do not have access to images of that size, especially not unique location images. Photos smaller are throwing off errors. This is, I assume, on the cover photo we’re talking here? Obviously, the profile photo is 250 x 250.

Scott: Don’t skimp on photography. It’s totally worth it to get photography done. Even if you just pay a shutterbug at a community college in the art program or something. Skimping on photography is one of the worst ways to cut money out of your budget. It makes all the difference in the customer’s first impression.

Mike: I agree. Absolutely. Okay, so back to some pet peeves here. Who has their favorite pet peeve beyond analytics, bulk posting, and arrogance of [data prominence?

Alexis: I’ll jump in here for the pet peeve.

Mike: Yeah, sure.

Alexis: So one of the things is, for me, not being able to delete locations in bulk, having to do it manually one by one. So if you have a batch of closings or if you’re making updates on a monthly basis rather than one off, some people do that. And then connected to that . . .

Mike: So you’re saying when you upload, and you’re uploading effectively new locations and you need to close 20 locations, you’ve got to manually use report a problem to close those?

Alexis: No, but you have to manually close them one by one in the dashboard.

Mike: In the dashboard, okay.

Alexis: Yeah. And then related to that, once you delete them in your account, they’re still not marked as closed. So it’s essentially a two-step process where you have to first delete them and then go into Maps and then do report a problem to mark them as closed. But I think . . .yeah.

Mike: What year is this in computer technology, right?

Alexis: I know. And since it’s a verified listing in your account who better to know that it’s actually closed than the account owner? So Google should just go ahead and trust you and give you the streamline option to mark it as closed when you delete it.

Mike: I don’t know, Alexis. You look like a big spammer to me.

Tim: Mike, I’d love to add onto that.

Mike: Sure.

Tim: The same is true with giving management permissions and I think this touches a little bit on what Scott mentioned before with the content. We have franchises where there may be one owner for 20 or 30 stores and they may have a social media manager. They may have somebody capable of regularly posting on their behalf, that type of thing. And to go through a list of several thousand stores and have to individually go through that management to access, to grant it, and so on is a little challenging. You can’t really group them. We can’t group them in ways that the corporate offices at Group M, say, to look at how things are performing or how things are listed. And it think that that’s something that’s missing from that ability to publish. So to get back to Scott’s comment on content earlier, I think . . . We haven’t seen any issues with content being shared, causing duplicate content issues but at the same time we think, when it’s available, you do want to localize that content for the end users, right? But we’re in a lot of organizations where they just don’t have that capability and it’s a struggle. So I think that there’s a lot of, getting back to what Alexis said, there’s a lot of issues where it would be really nice to be able to group dozens out of thousands and have a little more control out of those things.

Mike: They introduced at, I think it was the end of last year, these business accounts, sub-accounts within bulk accounts. That allows you to do that. Have any of you tried that and if not, why not? Or if you have, how has it worked? Essentially it allows you that functionality. It’s not defined that way but it can work that way.

Rory: But it’s on a per location basis.

Tim: That’s right.

Rory: Not bulk.

Mike: No, it . . .

Mike: You essentially log in as a business account within a bulk and you see a subset of your bulk.

Tim: Right. It’s the setup of getting that there where the challenge is that I see.

Mike: Oh, I see. Okay.

Tim: But we can do this. We could take your 20 stores, Mike, and we could create that as a subset and give you certain permissions to not change the map information but go in and edit others. It’s really in the having to go through the thousands to get your 20 or 30 stores to participate in the permission

Mike: Got it. There’s a question here from Adam Dintz. Thank you for all your questions, Adam. We appreciate it. Is there a good way to easily identify local path traffic in Google Analytics?

Andrew: Hey, I’ll jump in on that one. So first of all, hi, Adam. I haven’t talked to you in a while. Mike, I’m not sure how to add a URL to the chat so I put one in our group chat so you might want to pop it over. There’s this thing called Google Analytics URL Builder and you can use that to build custom URLs that you can use as your landing pages from your GMB pages and track it right in Google Analytics.

Mike: I don’t know how . . . Andrew, I don’t know how to either. This is my third Hangout.

Andrew: These new fangled contraptions.

Mike: So let’s see. Oh, here’s one from Ryan. This is a pet peeve. Let’s see. Not being able to download and export a select number of locations or ability to segment it for other purposes. GMB only allows you to download for all locations and even then the export doesn’t filter in the same order as in the feed.

Yeah, what’s amazing to me is that this practice, Google Bulk been around in one form or another for almost 10 years, right? And then Bing rolls out a product and it seems, on the surface, to be better at this sort of task. I don’t know. It’s always shocking. Let’s see here. Here’s a . . .oh, do I have any more questions here?

Andrew: I’ve got another pet peeve.

Mike: Oh, go ahead.

Andrew: So there’s a . . .this whole nested listing concept. For companies with, actually I’m going to say a lot of locations but I guess anyone, the extra expense of creating a second location, all the things you need to do to do that, it seems like you should just be able to do . . . Let’s say you’re Walmart. You should be able to add the pharmacy hours and pharmacy phone number as part of the main listing and not have to set up a whole second set of listing for it. It’s just onerous and it doesn’t . . . I guess I have no idea how hard or easy it is to do anything over there but it doesn’t seem like that would be a really hard thing to do.

Mike: Yeah. The whole transition from web results to knowledge graph, which occurred in 2012, just made me aware that they have all these data delivery requirements but they also have these underlying requirements. They shifted from every six weeks restructuring the data set in a cluster to a static ID and a fixed database. And they changed all that while simultaneously delivering current results, keeping them reasonably accurate, delivering new pipelines of data into those databases, changing the user interfaces, the front end. Good. That’s been problematic but it’s almost like driving a bus down the road and continuing to get from Point A to Point B while they’re changing out the engine and giving it a new paint job and reminding everybody keep your seatbelts on. They’re delivering 125 million business results day in and day out while they’re ripping out the guts of their system and expecting us to live with the consequences. We see it more than most people. So we have two minutes left. Let me just go left to right, right to left. Actually, I’m going to start on the right with you, Tim. Quick close, things you’d like to see, complaint, something great, whatever. Tim, you’re first.

Tim: Yeah. First of all, I think the new dashboard is a huge step in the right direction. I think we all agree there are a lot of pluses to that. I think some of the things Rory mentioned in the opening are huge pluses. To me, if there’s one thing that just really is challenging it’s that the bulk upload changes tend to come well after changes that are introduced individually verified stores. And that’s a challenge because most of our businesses are multi-location businesses, are facing mom and pop stores in their neighborhoods, and that type of thing, who may have advantages well in advance of us.

Mike: Great. Scott? Your turn.

Scott: On the pet peeve side. Is that what you’re asking?

Mike: You can address anything. You can be positive, negative, or ugly.

Scott: Yeah. So overall, I’m really happy to see the changes that they’ve made. They’re in the right direction for my situation of needing to control a brand but provide local support. I think that it’s been a long time and I always wondered if Google knew anything about the existence of franchises. That there is one brand that owns it all. It’s not just that there’s a lot of stores. It’s one legal entity. And I know that they did a test with Applebee’s a while ago. Or I guess that was Facebook. What we need to understand is the franchise infrastructure . . .the ecosystem of franchises is a legal construct and that there are restrictions in place that we need to reflect. And if they could reach out and talk to some franchises about those constructs we might get a little bit more of an improvement for that. And then not just for franchises. That would also work for corporate owned, local businesses as well. I don’t see . . .in the trenches I don’t always see tools available that reflect what we have to do day-to-day and I don’t know how to get that input back. I send tons of feedback but I’m overall quite pleased with where things are going on the bulk dashboard.

Mike: Rory, your turn.

Rory: Just biggest area of improvement, if they were to have a dedicated Support bulk staff that would actually solve a lot of problems.

Mike: If the support staff are given the tools to solve the problems.

Rory: Exactly, right. But sometimes, again, you’ll be speaking to somebody and what they tell you actually contradicts the Google My Business quality guidelines. So I think if they just had dedicated bulk staff, that would really make a significant improvement.

Mike: Yeah, my rule of thumb is never call Support if you need psychological help. Dan, it’s up to you. What’s your closing comment?

Dan:Yeah, despite a lot of the negativity about Google My Business Locations, I’m really optimistic for 2015 and despite being burned numerous times I’m really hopeful that the graphical user interface refresh earlier means that they’re going to invest more in the bulk product. Hopefully, more like you’re saying. Hopefully that more doesn’t make the engine fall out while the car, with 125 million locations, is driving 100 miles an hour down the highway. But fingers crossed.

Mike: All right, Andrew. You’re on mute so unmute and give us your final pearls of wisdom.

Andrew: Well, so I actually think everything is great. It’s great. And you know why it’s great? I think they announced yesterday they were doing something like unverifying all GMB pages that have just been sitting around for a year or two or something.

Mike: They’re not unverifying. They’re actually . . .the plan is to . . .they’ve been working on this plan for a while and you can see it. They’ve been removing links to them. Essentially, they’re going to no longer have + pages for unverified listings.

Andrew: Right. Got it, yeah.

Andrew: So all this stuff we’ve been talking about, in a perverse way, is great, because it’s great for all of us, right? It’s just causing a huge amount of pain for anybody with a local business and so people who are strange enough to be obsessed with this stuff and care about it and figure out workarounds are going to be fine financially.

Mike: Just bill by the hour, not on a flat rate.

Andrew: That’s the biggest challenge.

Mike: All right, Alexis. We opened with you. We’re going to close with you and it’s up to you.

Alexis: Awesome. I would also give a thumbs up to the way the interface is moving. I think it’s a lot more user friendly so I’m really happy to see all that. Also a huge thumbs up to the business account move. I thought that was a huge win for bulk users. It’s good to know that Google knows that we’re here. And then in terms of what I’d love to see in the future, is Google do a better job of making it easy and transparent to manage listings that are related. So there’s a lot of talk about parent-child relationships, practice versus practitioners. I’d love to see Google be more transparent about surfacing those relationships in the dashboard. Whether it’s making it possible to nest departments within a parent business location or being able to connect to those listings and make it easier for the user to know that Google wants them to do. I think that’s a good next step to go in.

Mike: Great summary. That’s a wonderful job. Well, with that, our time’s up. I just wanted to thank everybody for joining us. I really appreciate you spending an hour with us and divulging the inner workings of your days. So anyways, thanks for coming along. I appreciate it. And with that I will say goodbye.

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