You Just Can’t Trust Google Maps, At This Point, To Produce Either Relevant Or Accurate Results When Much Of It Is Just Pure Spam.

April 15th, 2014

Fantastic interview by Nyagaslov Zhekov with Dan Austin on Google’s ineffectual response to map SPAM, including Bryan Seely’s spoofing of Secret Service listings earlier this year. Money quote:

“The “newest” ploy, which has been in development for several years now, is to use real estate listings on sites like Trulia, and have the PIN card sent to homes for sale or rent, and then go to the post office and have the PIN cards diverted in transit, through a change of address card to a central location, which the Post Office is more than happy to oblige. There’s nothing on Google’s PIN cards to indicate that it should only go to the address in question. Mail fraud, incidentally, is a federal crime punishable with up to 20 years in prison. Since the spammers are inputting the PIN code into Google’s system, they’re also engaging in wire fraud, another federal crime. This doesn’t get Google off the hook, either, since they’re facilitating this system, knowingly or not, and have made almost no effort to verify whether a business is legitimate or not, even though it takes all of 30 seconds or less to do so, using existing public government and trade group databases on the web.”

and this:

“I think there’s another reason that Google should care: they’re facilitating a highly organized criminal enterprise. PIN card verification is mail and wire fraud; bait and switch PPC and click-to-call are wire and consumer fraud. This is a multibillion business, and that’s just the illegal aspect of it. Google is profiting from it by taking their AdWords tax from the spammers, and since Google is the primary means of marketing for service businesses, spammers are doing everything they can to get at the top of the search results, and naturally, Google is positioning their own Maps products for Local searches at the top. They have not only a legal responsibility to ensure the integrity of their products, but an ethical one as well.” 

Let me repeat: Google is facilitating a highly organized criminal enterprise. If John Gotti had been a programmer, this is the kind of thing he would have built.

Read the whole piece here. It’s really great. And by “great” I mean “depressing”.


→ 2 CommentsTags: Google Maps
Posted by Andrew Shotland

Yext Launches Store Locator Pages

April 14th, 2014

Yext Pages

Today Yext announced the launch of Yext Pages – a store location finder service that complements its Powerlistings local listings management service. Pretty cool stuff if you are local brand manager who can’t seem to get your IT department to get around to updating/building location pages.  And automatically keeping your onsite location pages in sync with your business listings data on the Powerlistings network is a nice bonus.

Yext asked me to put together a white paper on location landing page optimization which you can get here.


Disclosure: I do consulting for Yext and I think they are doing some cool stuff.

→ 6 CommentsTags: Yext.com
Posted by Andrew Shotland

Who Owns Customer Reviews of Your Business?

April 10th, 2014

Mike Blumenthal just posed a question about this on G+ and I thought it was worthy of posting here.  The TL;DR answer is:

1. On G+, Yelp and most other review sites, the reviewer typically owns the content of the review (this is to shield the review sites from liability) while the review sites own the right to do whatever they want with the content.

2. Third parties typically cannot use the reviews on their own services without consent from either the service or the content owner (aka the reviewer). Yelp has an exception for non-commercial use, whatever that is.

3. So if you have a business you should probably include in your TOS something like “You agree to give us a perpetual, royalty-free license to use any content, such as a review, that you create related to our business, however and wherever we want.” or something legalistic like that.

→ No CommentsTags: Google · Online Reviews · Yelp
Posted by Andrew Shotland

SMBs Have Got Google Maps’ Number…

April 8th, 2014

Google Maps Phone Number

Just found a classic thread on one of those “did you get a call from this phone number” sites. Some samples for your local SEO reading pleasure:

Calls our business several times per day (not interested in their services). If you hang up, they call right back. They repeat this throughout the day and when we come to work have voice mails left on our machine soliciting their services. I want them to stop calling period!


Called me several times, early morning/evening. Pretending to represent google map. He is from outside the country, very heavy accent. Do not give information to this person.


I got a call from this number. the girl has a very heavy india accent..after I talked to her our website is gone from google place. It is really sucks.


Asked for Nurse next door


The guy called and said he was looking at my website and wanted to verify my address which he read to me. Do you think that Sergy and Brin (Google’s founders and biggest shareholders) hire and pay people from India to find my little company on the web and have them call me to verify my address?????? (Actually Google sent a postcard to verify the listing when I signed up for Analytics.) The telemarker scammer said he was with “google maps” an often used ruse. I asked him where “google maps” was and he stammered for a while then I asked him where he was located. He said India. I told him I get about 10 of these calls a day and if he called again I would transfer him to the FBI because he was a scammer. He stammered and said “Yes sir Yes Sir”

Don’t ring me please, I am fed up.

I could go on and on. You can find plenty of these sites on this SERP. Enjoy


→ 8 CommentsTags: Google · Google Maps
Posted by Andrew Shotland


April 8th, 2014


p.s. if anyone from Hubspot would like to respond that they did not just tell one of my clients that, I’d be happy to discuss.

p.p.s. honestly I was surprised that you guys used the word “SEO”. Aren’t we all like “inbound” now?

p.p.p.s rebranding tomorrow as “Local Inbound Guide”

→ 6 CommentsTags: Uncategorized
Posted by Andrew Shotland

Redfin Needs To Get Real About Zillow & Real Estate SEO

April 3rd, 2014

Today online real estate brokerage Redfin sent real estate portal Zillow an open letter basically calling Zillow out for not playing nice SEO-wise and demanding that Zillow change its ways to benefit Redfin’s and other brokerages’ websites’ SEO.

Redfin’s SEO complaints boil down to:

  • Zillow takes Redfin’s real estate listings and puts the links back to the listing on Redfin.com in javascript so Google doesn’t see the link and give Redfin any SEO benefit
  • As a “portal”, Zillow is under some kind of obligation to provide users with a clear link back to Redfin and other sources. Here’s the exact quote:
    “We’re asking Zillow.com to render the listing attribution in the same simple way as the rest of the listing, so consumers can find the full source listing via search engines.”
  • They also compare Zillow/Redfin to Google/Amazon with the following statement:
    “We see a portal like Zillow as just that: a portal to data on other sites — a broad starting point for a consumer seeking general real estate information — not the only point, not an ending point. This model is well-established on the Internet. Google, for example, displays only a small snippet of information about a product being sold by Amazon, with a very prominent link to Amazon. Imagine if Google redisplayed most of Amazon’s product page, kept it up when Amazon took it down, and didn’t show the link to the original Amazon listing in an easy-to-find spot?”

Couple of thoughts:

  • If Redfin thinks that consumers are searching for the “full source listing via search engines” v. just the first version of the listing that comes up, methinks they are smoking crack. Real estate listings are generic data that many real estate sites carry. If people don’t care enough to go directly to Redfin or to search for listings via Google on Redfin, I don’t think pulling the link out of javascript is going to make much of a difference.
  • Redfin’s only recourse I can see is to play a game of chicken and withhold its listings from Zillow. Or delay the publishing of the listing on Zillow until Google has indexed the Redfin.com listing. But that assumes that Redfin’s SEO gain will outweigh the loss of leads from Zillow.
  • Redfin’s Google/Amazon argument is flawed. In this case I see Zillow acting more like Amazon than Google. They post products (listings) from vendors and try to sell them (send leads to agents). And you’ll notice that Amazon doesn’t link out to its vendors.

I’m not saying that Redfin doesn’t have a point. Zillow is being a bit dickish with their links. And some of the other non-SEO arguments may be legitimate industry issues. But in my experience SEO issues between companies are no different than any other business issue: the guy with more leverage tends to win the argument.

→ 8 CommentsTags: Linkbuilding
Posted by Andrew Shotland

2014 Local Directory SEO Content Strategy

April 3rd, 2014

This post was originally published on Search Engine Land, but I didn’t like how they rewrote the title so here’s the director’s cut:

To:           Local Directories

From:      Google

Re:           Local Search Rankings

Hey guys… You may have noticed that over the past year, a lot of the organic traffic to your sites has been… well, we guess the right word is “tanking.”

As you know, it is our stated goal to organize the world’s information while simultaneously doing no evil. And, while you certainly have helped us manage the world’s information (thanks for adding schema to all your business listings and reviews so we could figure out how to beef up our Google+ Local listings!), we are starting to think that showing most of your sites in our SERPs just might be a tad evil.

We have told you over and over again that if your site is “good for users,” then you’ll show up in SERPs. But, if your site’s just a collection of a few million generic business records slapped on a state > city > category architecture — well, at least you have figured out your 2003 SEO strategy.

We know. You are busy selling digital marketing to SMBs and optimizing for AdSense (Larry says “thanks!” BTW) and haven’t had time to figure out the “good for users” thing. Since no one is using your site anymore, perhaps now you might have a bit more time?

You may have noticed we haven’t dinged all local directories. There are some out there that are thriving and in fact have increased their organic traffic, thanks to some clever algorithm updates — who doesn’t like four Yelp results in a row, right?

Click for a less crappy image


Perhaps you can learn from some examples what makes for a good user experience. After all, using other people’s content is what we do best, right?
Be Great At Telling Local Stories (Airbnb Infographics)
If you want to see a great example of using data to tell your story and attract links that have local rankings impact, look no further than Airbnb’sEconomic Impact infographic which illustrates the impact the service has had on nine cities around the world. The piece leads readers (and Googlebot) via text links to neighborhood pages like this one. This is not rocket science. Tell an interesting story in an interesting way, promote it, get links, and chances are you’ll start ranking on page one.
Know How To Write Quality And Quantity (Angie’s List Articles)
While Angie’s List has customer reviews like Yelp, Angie started out producing a monthly magazine to provide its members with home maintenance tips and profiles of local advertisers. After doing this for a few years, Angie and her crew were sitting on a gold mine of professionally produced editorial and started publishing it on their website. According to this search, they may have as many as 11,000 articles on their site by now, most of which are how-to and homeowner-tips type stuff relevant to their target customers.

While no single article is going to make or break a link building campaign, having a veritable library of content can both attract links and provide relevant info for anyone who clicks over to the site. So, your links help your rankings while your content helps engagement.

Angie’s List employs two different styles of content: meat-and-potatoes posts that target common, valuable queries (like this one that ranks high on page one for “new roof cost“) and posts that act as link magnets (like this awesome Do-It -Yourself Lego Wallpost).

Foursquare Logo
Get People To Phone It In (Foursquare Check-Ins & Tips)
After Marissa blew the Yelp deal, we have found ourselves using Foursquare more and more. Foursquare is a great example of how a mobile-first strategy can benefit desktop SEO.  Every time a user checks in or adds a tip, that content gets added to the business profile on Foursquare.com. There is almost nothing better than regularly updated profile pages to get these URLs ranking well. Do you have a good mobile app that people use to do stuff?

MerchantCircle Logo
Get Businesses To Do Your Work For You (Merchant Circle)
When Yelp, Insider Pages and Judy’s Book were starting out chasing customer reviews, MerchantCircle took a different path and started chasing local businesses to add content and connect with each other on the site. While it became a bit of a spam magnet, it also became a powerful content generator as local marketers saw the benefit ofpublishing as much content as they could and reaping the Barnacle SEO benefits. What’s your strategy to engage your customers to contribute to your platform?

Thumbtack Logo
Create Your Own Annual Survey (Thumbtack Small Business Friendliness Survey)
We like to call Thumbtack the little directory that could. During the 2012 presidential election, Thumbtack partnered with the Kaufman Foundation to conduct a poll of local businesses, asking them how they felt about the economy.

They published the results for each major city and state in the country and then did some old-fashioned smiling and dialing to let business journalists covering the election know about it. This resulted in both national and local press coverage. The local press coverage was particularly effective in driving links to the city pages that contained the local survey results. They repeated the survey last year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they do it again in 2014.

Yelp logo
Be Yelp
An obvious one, but let’s face it, Yelp won round one of the local business reviews battle and all of the SEO spoils that come with it. What battle are you fighting, and what’s the SEO benefit of winning it?

At Least Start A Damn Blog Or Something!
Check out Mike Blumenthal’s Blog or Linda Buquet’s forum or Phil Rozek’s blog or anyone who has had to publish or perish. But those don’t scale, you say? Well then, how about The Dish or Daring Fireball — personal blogs that have exploded to thousands if not millions of users? These sites have single posts that get more organic traffic than most of the pages on your sites put together. We often see you guys starting blogs but never really committing to them. If you’re committed to SEO, you need to be committed to content.

Look, we know you got in this business because… well, we’re not sure why you got in this business, but to succeed in the local directory SEO game these days, the more you start to think like a content publisher first and a lead generator second, the better off you’ll be.

Disclosure: I did some SEO consulting for AngiesList and Thumbtack back in the day and I own a few shares of Airbnb stock. Go Airbnb!

→ 4 CommentsTags: AngiesList · Foursquare · Google · Linkbuilding · Local Search · Merchant Circle · Yellow Pages · Yelp
Posted by Andrew Shotland

How To Do a Local Infographic Right Airbnb Style

March 25th, 2014

Airbnb just released a beautiful interactive infographic on the local economic impact the company has had on nine cities. If you are considering using content to attract links, for both national and local SEO, this would be a good piece to study.

Airbnb Local Economic Impact

The design is beautiful, but the interaction and “scrollability” is what sets this apart from your typical everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to infographics. It’s also responsive and the different elements work nicely on a mobile browser:

Airbnb Responsive Screenshot

Calling this an “infographic” really doesn’t do it justice. It’s more like a work of art that also has information.

They took an interesting approach with the geo information. With local linkbuilding, you want to drive inbound links to a page that targets the specific geo. The idea is that you get anchor text with the city name (e.g. “economic impact in New York”) which should help all the “New York” pages connected to that page. Airbnb took a slightly different approach. At the bottom of the page, there are links to info about the different cities they studied:
Airbnb Cities Economic Impact

But these link to a single page with anchors for each city like http://blog.airbnb.com/airbnb-economic-impact/#new-york.

This allows linkers to link to New York specific content with New York specific anchor text, while links from others to other cities on the same page do the same for those cities, and combined, it all adds up to a lot of links to one page that they then funnel down to different neighborhood pages in those cities via internal links:

Airbnb New York Economic Impact

My only quibble is that the anchored URLs might not be so obvious for some linkers. But all in all a really nice job that is already paying off in high quality links.

Hats off to Dennis Goedegebuure, Airbnb’s SEO master. He is on a content/story-telling roll these days.

Disclosure: I own a small amount of Airbnb stock from my role as an advisor to Nabewise, which Airbnb acquired. Go Airbnb!



→ 2 CommentsTags: Linkbuilding · Local Data
Posted by Andrew Shotland

The Moz Local Tool 1.0 Review

March 18th, 2014

Moz Local

A year and a half after Moz’s acquisition of GetListed, David Mihm’s local listings baby has finally burst out of the womb. Business listings management is one of the trickiest aspects of local SEO and David has long been focused on trying to simplify the process for SMBs. So let’s see what Moz Local can do for you out of the gate:

Price: $49 per year per location ($84/location starting Oct. 1, 2014)

The heart of the service is business listings data submission to the main local business listing data aggregators (these guys definitely need an acronym):

  • Acxiom
  • Factual
  • Infogroup
  • Neustar Localeze

It’s interesting that in his announcement post David lists Foursquare as a data aggregator, which I suppose it is in some way, but, well that’s for another post.

Moz Local also allows you to claim/update a listing on the following local directory sites:

  • Foursquare
  • SuperPages
  • Best of the Web Local
  • eLocal

Where they don’t have a relationship with the publisher (e.g. YP.com, Yelp or Facebook), Moz Local crawls the site and provides links to those sites to update out of whack profiles. According to David, they will be rolling out more publishers in the Spring and Summer.

The site has very simple interface. Here’s how it works:

  1. Search for your business using the name and zip:
    Moz Local Biz Search
  2. Select the most accurate listing in the results:
    Moz Local Results
  3. Check for “Completeness”, Inconsistencies and Duplicates
    Moz Local Completeness Score
    The system basically looks for things like whether or not you have a photo on a specific profile, the wrong phone #, different business name, etc. You can easily scroll over the bar for each site and see what the issue is, or you can click on the different tabs to get a list view.From this interface, you can then purchase a “listing” and submit the updated data along with various enhanced content such as hours of operation, categories, etc.The tool also provides a csv template to upload multiple locations. The csv is formatted to match the Google+ Local data format. I particularly like the “category override” option where you can specify a category that is not offered by Google to override the standard categories. And the tool has a nice UI to allow you to search Google’s categories. Alas, you can’t use “SEO consultant” as an override :(

    Some random thoughts/answers to questions:Can Moz Local Really Fix Duplicates? Not Really Yet
    I was psyched to see the “Duplicates” tab. Squashing dupes is one of the tougher tasks in local SEO.  While it’s great that Moz Local helps you identify the dupes at the different publishers and aggregators, it still doesn’t actually allow you to squash them. It merely offers links to the publishers’ sites to ask them to squash them. The industry still needs a more automated way to do this across publishers and aggregators.  David tells me this is “coming very soon”. In my trials I found Moz Local’s dupe-matching algo missed a fair amount of dupes, but David assured me they are working “with a number of local experts” on improving that system. IT IS CRITICAL THAT YOU KNOW ABOUT YOUR DUPE LISTINGS AT THE DATA AGGREGATORS BEFORE YOU USE THIS TOOL ELSE IT COULD CREATE NEW DUPES.Photos & ReviewsMoz Local Photos & ReviewsThe tool displays photos and reviews associated with a business.  It also allows you to connect images from your website with your listings.  I didn’t see the ability to upload photos. This feature feels a bit tacked on at the moment, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this morphs into a more robust tool for managing this data.

    Real Time Updates
    According to David, the only real-time or near real-time updates occur on Factual and Foursquare. Real time does not appear to be a focus for Moz Local at this point.

    In order to update a listing, the NAP data must match a business’ Google+ Local page or its Facebook page.  While this won’t prevent spammers from hijacking listings via ML, it does mean they have to hijack your G+L or Facebook pages first. A potential downside of this system is that you can’t implement tracking numbers through the service unless they match your G+L or Facebook phone numbers.

    Do Listings Get Overwritten Upon Cancellation?
    Based on my discussions with David, it sounds like the listing data will stick at the publisher site level as long as the publisher doesn’t do anything to overwrite it, which as you may know from experience is very likely to happen. While it’s good that ML helps you get the data right at the aggregator level, that’s still not insurance that the data will stick at the publisher level. Of more concern is the following statement from the FAQ about what happens when you cancel a listing :

    “Moz Local will simply report to the sites in our network that the listing is no longer under management by one of our customers. In this event, Acxiom and Neustar Localeze will revert your listings to their status prior to your Moz Local subscription.

    This means if you had bad data before you used Moz Local, you’ll have bad data when you cancel, and you’ll potentially have different data coming out of the different aggregators, which could be a big issue for you Google Local rankings. I guess this is no different than the problem you had before you used Moz Local, and you could argue that getting the data right at InfoGroup and Factual could be better than what you started with, but seems like there’s no need to “revert” back at the aggregator level. I am guessing this is driven by Neustar Localeze and Acxiom rules, but it is not ideal. I hope that Moz and the aggregators figure this out. If Google is looking at your business data at a meta-level, this has the potential to take your rankings back to square one upon cancellation. Moz’s assumption appears to be that Google trusts InfoGroup more than the other aggregators.

    What Happens If You Have Already Claimed A Profile At a Publisher Site?
    You will not be able to update your profile on SuperPages via ML if you have already claimed it on SuperPages.

    Final Thoughts…For Now
    Moz Local appears to have the makings of a great tool for managing your core business listings data at the aggregator level.  While the tool is still in its early days, it’s functionality, simple UI and compelling price point make it easy to recommend for basic updating of NAP data at the data aggregator level. It still needs some fine-tuning in its dupe and inconsistencies detection, but I would expect this to be solved in Moz Local 1.1 or 1.2.

    The tool also provides another handy free citation research tool to help detect dupes and other issues. I can see this quickly becoming one of the more useful Moz tools out there and it should be interesting to watch it develop.

    Congrats to David Mihm and his team at Moz! Check out Moz Local here.

→ 75 CommentsTags: Local Data
Posted by Andrew Shotland

Google’s “Organic” Algorithm Is A Lot Faster Than Google’s Local Algo

March 18th, 2014

On March 15th, the WP Total Cache plugin on this site for some reason started serving Googlebot 403 response codes (aka “Access Denied”):
403 Access Denied Errors

As you can see organic entrances to my site via the home page have tanked over the past couple of days:

Local SEO Guide home page organic traffic

While traffic to other pages was down about 20% on Monday, it hasn’t totally cratered probably because Googlebot hasn’t crawled most of the other pages yet and hit the 403s.

One of the more interesting results of this psycho plug-in issue is that it clearly shows the relative speed of Google’s “organic” or “non-local” algo v. it’s “local” algo. On any given day, this site typically ranks #1 or #2 for “local seo” in the “organic” results. And over the past year or so, Google has decided that “local seo” queries should trigger a local pack. When I search from Pleasanton, CA, I am usually #1 in the local pack as well. Now when you search, you can see I am still #1 in the local pack, but I am nowhere to be seen in the organic results:

Google Local Results for local seo

(click to enlarge)

So if you ever wonder why sometimes it takes a long time to dislodge the #1 listing in the local pack, one likely reason is that Google’s local algo just takes its own damn time.

PostScript: About 9 hours ago I fixed the problem on my site and resubmitted the home page to Google via GWT. I am now seeing it rank #1 for “local seo” again. That organic algo is pretty damn fast.

→ 5 CommentsTags: Google+ Local · Local Search
Posted by Andrew Shotland