Bing’s New Marketing Approach to Their Local Business Portal

Bing, in an effort to gain small business mindshare has rolled out a number of upgrades to their Business Portal. In addition to their mixed model approach to deals, they have added very interesting collateral generation capabilities, a loyalty program and a school fund raising program to help promote the effort.

The deals product offers a simple interface that allows a merchant to easily create their own deal from withn the portal in one of their 12 supported cities(currently Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Honoluly, LA, NYC, San Diego, SF, Seattle & Medford, OR).  Within 72 hours a local community manager will get in touch with the merchant to refine the deal to the market. The deals program currently offers that standard 50/50 merchant split (a mold waiting to be broken for sure). The flow allows for scalability AND individual counseling on deal creation in an effort to achieve both efficiencies and quality. It is an interesting mixed approach in an already crowded landscape.

In an effort to try to increase the % of folks that return to an establishment after the deal (reportedly a lowly 19%), they have implemented  digital loyalty card program. Bing sees this feature as a significant differentiator and is included free as part of the deal creation. The consumer opts into the loyalty program at the time of the deal purchase. At the establishment the end user can scan a QR Code or visit their own deals page to initiate the loyalty card. The merchant enters a previously established PIN (or multiple PINS if it is desired to track by salesperson) on the customer’s smartphone at the time of purchase as verification. Obviously this feature raises visions of future marketing possibilities that Bing is considering.

Apparently Medford OR was included because there Bing tested using the school PTA to promote the deals program as a school fundraiser. The school can either recruit new businesses into the program or just promote existing deals and will receive a percentage cut of both types of transactions. The specifics of the actual percentages are still being worked on but the idea of using local school fund raising efforts to promote deals is an interesting twist in the marketing of deals that leverages the very real and active social networks of the school fund raising environment to both create more deals and have a motivation to spread them.

Historically local business dashboards have been used to capture data from the merchant in the form of basic listing information, events, promotions etc. But Bing has taken that one step further in attempting to attract the small business to not just come to the portal but to come back frequently. Bing has added a very slick collateral creation process that leverages each of the specific data types to create related collateral materials with minimal effort.

For example Bing has added the ability to create a business card from your listing data and uploaded logo, a post card that can be used to promote your event, ceiling danglers for promotions and tents and posters for the loyalty program. The software automatically suggests complimentary colors based on your logo colors or allows you more manual control. It creates both a file that you can print or take to a service bureau or facilitates your interaction with the local Office Depot for printing of all materials except the business card. More printing partners are apparently in the works. As Bing noted they are “Creating a value proposition around allowing the merchant to not just verify accuracy, they can now use the data to do the things a business already doing but doing it easier”.

The interface was very slick and the ability to create related collateral materials is incredibly useful. I think we are seeing the future of what the business portal needs to become to attract and retain small businesses – a one stop shop for a complete range of offline AND online marketing and advertising options.

To view a slide show of screen shots of the new features click the image:

Google Places: Google Removes Spam

It appears that Google has removed most but not all review spam from the Moishe’s Moving System’s Places page and from many of the other Places pages affected by this scam. On Moishe’s Places page, the spam that remains (besides their response spam) was posted between July 1 and July 3 and seems to still affect 35 or so other moving companies nationwide. Whether Google just removed the spam affecting the most companies or it is still a work in progress is not yet clear. Kudos to Google for moving on this problem.

Here are a few samples of the spam that still remains and is affecting moving companies country wide:

Another interesting sidelight is that Google is not alone in having been hit with this spam. According to Google’s index, Superpages has been seeing this stuff since February, 2010. It is also present in, Judy’s Book, Yellowbot, InsiderPages, MyMovingReviews and  Kudzu starting last fall and continuing into early this year. While this dreck is visible in all of these sites, it is much less pervasive than at Google. Whether it was already taken down elsewhere or the extortionists are just ramping up their game is not yet clear.

Fake reviews are a problem whether perpetrated by the businesses themselves or by others attempting to gain advantage at the expense of the business. The answer to the problem is not totally clear but a solution probably will need a number of components:

  • More FTC enforcement and education
  • Better filtering algorithms on the part of the search engines
  • Improved and more viable business complaint options, dispute resolution and removal mechanisms.

Google Places is not the only environment in which this abuse is taking place. But Google can and should provide a lead in developing an exemplary review environment that is fair to the public and fair to the businesses being reviewed.

Google Places: Reputation Management

Most small businesses live in dread of the day when a competitor drops a nasty review on their Places page. Imagine waking up one day and finding 58 of them. That’s what happened to the Place Page for Moishe’s Moving Systems in NYC. For several days in early July they were finding one 1 star review after another showing up on their Places page. Imagine their sense of futility as they hit the “flag as inappropriate” link over and over again.

A quick call to their competitors across town indicated the same was happening to them. Not just the same pattern but the very same reviews, same bad English, same mispellings, often not even getting the company name correct.

A search in Maps on the phrase “It really hurt me and I highly recommend that NOBODY DO BUSSINESS WITH THIS COMPANY>>>>>> and by the way all the locations they advertise with are 100% fake” surfaced the very same reviews on over 100 moving companies country wide from Miami to LA.

It seems that in this scam, hundreds of moving companies across the U.S. not only ALL received the exact same bad reviews but many then soon received unsolicited proposals to “remove malicious, old, slanderous, unfounded, and internet defamation ratings”.


The internet has spawned a whole new generation of reputation management firms that help make sure that the front page of Google does not have bad things prominently displayed about your company. With the growing importance of reviews and the impact that they have had on businesses a number of companies jumped into the “positive review” only game to be sure that your Places page showed only glowingly satisifed reviews.

But apparently, the review reputation management business has taken on a new, more sinister twist of late. It appears that unscrupulous “reputation management” firms are now not only offering to place postive reviews on your Places page and help take down negative reviews, they are actually creating the negative reviews in the first place. Now that’s a business model! Have you seen this practice in other industries?

Google has indicated that they are in the process of removing the reviews. That being said it does highlight the structural problems caused by a still immature review spam algo AND the frustrating process for an SMB to request that a review be removed via the “flag as inappropriate” link. This problem is much like the issues that they confront with bugs in the Places Dashboard process.

It is likely that this obnoxious review spam will be taken down, it is also likely that the spam review filter algo will improve over time.

The current automated flagging system however is inadequate to handle the situation until such time as the algo improves. The flag, like many Google complaint processes, is likely just feedback to their machine learning system. It rarely if ever leads to an immediate takedown. Google consistently prioritizes their needs and the assumed needs of reviewers in this process. It certainly provides NO feedback to the affected merchant as to what if anything Google will do about the problem review.

As demonstrated once again by the review snafu last week, when numerous revews were lost, reviews are an very much a flash point for most business users of Places. The lack of quick public response on Google’s part demonstrated either an incredible lack of staff, an incredible lack of sensitivity or perhaps just an on-going tin ear to the needs of their small business clients vis a vis reviews.

Until such time as the algo is significantly improved and problems like extortion spam can be greatly minimized in an automated fashion Google needs to create a process that comes down in favor of the SMB reporting the problem. Perhaps one that hides the egregious reviews pending a human review process that actually includes timely communication. Once the algo has been refined they could then think about a cut back to the human intervention.

But with Google’s growing portfolio of Local Commerce products they will find a very chilly reception indeed on Main Street until they do a better job of handling reviews.