Google Places: Making Information More Visible

Google has just released a new browser plugin (Chrome & IE) tool, Google Related that provides information that Google thinks is relevant to a given website that you are visiting. The tool, while working across a range of e-commerce, information & local websites, is of particular interest in the local space as it provides direct access to information drawn from your Google Places page.

When Google noted last month that they would be making buried information in Places more visible, they were not kidding. The plug-in presents maps, reviews and related places front and center in a tool bar at the bottom of your website. It may also reference videos and additional web sites and will show these if 1)the info is available AND 2)the viewing screen is wide enough. The video, unlike the other options, plays in place and offers no click through option. As the screen resolution drops fewer options are displayed.

The new plugin provides a user with two additional links to your Place page, one link to your Google Places review page, links to 3rd party review sites and links to the Places page for businesses that show up in the Related Places section of your Place Page.

The feature set, while of likely use to the searcher, is most likely to benefit Google and their properties, driving page views and ad revenues.

In pushing Google Places information out to the greater web, Google is once again putting review management at the fore of both the searcher and the business’s mind. The use of Related Places is sure to raise the ire of many an SMB, much as it did when the feature was rolled out in early 2010. At the time it was referred to as Places Nearby You Might Like and was the first obvious indication to SMBs that they did not control their Places page but that Google did. It also demonstrated that Google was developing a sophisticated “business graph” that was capable of mapping out a web of similar local businesses across the local market.

It also raises a number of other questions. Will Google provide any analytical information about the information that is attached to your website? How many times folks viewed the review summary? How many visited your Place page or better visited a competitor site? If Google is going to attach this sort of information to a business website, they should have the analytics in place to help the business understand how to improve things.

Here is the same screen shot as above captured on a wider screen. Note how the web pages and videos now show:

Interestingly if you click on the Map pop up it will take you to a new Map view that by default shows reviews and related places as you scroll down the page:

If there are no reviews it shows related places in the new map view:

If you click on one of the last 4 reviews highlighted in the reviews tab it will feature that review in a custom view of your places page, elevating that specific review:


This display of hours is something that I have only seen on a few of the websites and it is not clear why it shows sometimes and not others.

Google Places Basics: A Timeline for Launch

Opening a new business is an exciting proposition. But as you are laying the foundation for all of your future web equity it is important to not put the cart before the horse. This poster in the forums was, like any self aware business person these days, wanting to get his soon to open business showing in Google Places before it opened to help generate buzz. Not a good idea.

Listing a new business with Google has its own quirks that need to be considered so I am highlighting my response here and following that up with a sample timeline for the complete process.

The Forum Question

VERIFICATION ISSUES FOR The Boilerhouse Restaurant on University of Western Sydney Campus

Hi I have no problems with executing my verification via mail however as you can imagine being on a large university campus (and my restaurant is still under construction therefore doesnt exactly exist yet so no mail can get to it) the mail is getting lost.

I need to be able to verify via phone or email. our website is however is under construction and hasnt gone live yet as our restaurant is not open yet.

Could someone please let me know how I can VERIFY as I wont receive the mail on the campus and haven’t even though I have had it sent twice as I want my google places live for opening in August.

If anyone knows a way to help me. please let me know. my situation is unique being located on a Campus.

My Answer:

I understand your desire to have your Google listing live before August. However I would strongly caution you against doing so.

There are several reasons but verifying BEFORE you are open will actually result in more delays in the actual showing of your record on Google and could lead to a suspension from Google.
Google has a very clear guideline:
Businesses that are under construction or that have not yet opened to the public are not eligible for a listing on Google Places.

What we have seen is that businesses that attempt to verify prior to opening end up in an infinite state of Pending, never going live. How does Google know? We are not exactly sure but it is important that the signals that we know they use are ALL active and in their system BEFORE you attempt to verify.

They create what is known as a cluster around every unique business/phone combo that they find. In that cluster is all the evidence about not just the existence but the popularity of your business. They get this data from lists that they buy in each country, from trusted information web sites (like Hotfrog) that they scrape, from your website and from around the web. They know when things were initiated like phone numbers, when domains were pruchased and when websites have gone live… they add all of this information up in their cauldron like cluster and make a determination that you must not be open yet as no one else in the universe seems to have heard of you… once that happens you could wait till Kingdom comes for a resolution.

As to getting the PIN, Google uses their trust assessment (see above) to decide which verification method to offer up. If they find little to go on, they (ie their algo) only offer the post card. So you have little choice but to go down to the campus mail room, bribe the clerks to be on the look out for your card and be sure that it makes its way to you.

Before doing so though I would suggest that 1)your finish your website 2)you get listed in all the major directories in AU 3) you be sure that you are listed properly with the legal authorities and utility companies. You should do all of that 8 WEEKS or more before claiming your record at Google, When you finally do get that PIN, as aggravating as it was, your record will likely go live within 24 hours and you WON’T end up in a Google purgatory.

Each starting business is different and establishing an absolute set of steps is nearly impossible. But here is timeline that you  can reference to establish your own internet marketing baseline for local:

6 Months Out – Start the legal paperwork to get your business established. These county and state documents find their way into Google via Axciom. It isn’t known how long it takes for this data to finally wind its way through the system and 6 months might not be enough.

5 Months Out – Depending on timing, you might want to think about taking out a Yellow Page print ad. As you know I am not a big fan of taking out these ads BUT if your business is opening in the first quarter of the year, it is one authority source that is used by Google’s most trusted list source, InfoUSA and could help.

4 Months Out – Buy a domain name and get a telephone number and list them in the business name and at the future address of the business. Google is a registrar and sees the domain and its age is likely a factor in trust. Localeze, one of the primary list suppliers in the US, tracks new phone number creations and uses it as a trust source. Their data, used directly by Facebook, Bing, Yahoo and others, probably makes its way to Google indirectly but makes it there none the less.

3 Months Out – Start filing your business listing with the primary data suppliers. It takes between 8 and 12 weeks for the data to move from primary list supplier to Google so it needs 3 months. For your first year be sure to list with both AND Localeze to maximize your presence in the critical upstream data sources. (I am checking with Localeze and InfoUSA to see if they have a specific policy in this regard). You might also want to consider joining the BBB. Again I am not usually a fan of these folks but establishing your virtual presence requires leveraging as many trusted off line and online sources as you can afford.

2 Months Out – try to get your website finished up and live. Be sure that the site follows best local practices for site building and includes the NAP (Name, Address & Phone) on every page, has a detailed Contact Us page and has a KML sitemap. Pimp the site on Twitter and Facebook, list it in Webmaster tools and get a few inbound links so that Google and the other search engines promptly index it. It takes Google from 6-8 weeks to get data from your website into their main index and then into the Maps index. Sloooow.. why no one knows except Google but it is one of the major bottlenecks in the system.

6 weeks out – Start claiming your listing at the prominent local directories and information sites like the Yahoo, Bing, Superpages, Citygrid etc

2 weeks out – Familiarize yourself with the Google Places Dashboard, read their quality guidelines, pick appropriate Google Places categories and write a great 200 character description of your business. But DON’T VERIFY your listing just yet.

Opening Day – celebrate, get some great press and bask in your new found freedom before the reality of your serfdom becomes obvious.

Opening Day Plus One Day – CLAIM Your Listing in Google Places. If all is in Place your listing should go live in 48-72 hours.

Pray that their system has adequate knowledge about your business that you don’t hit Pending. Although if you do, be patient. Pending means that a human review is taking place. Don’t freak out, don’t change your Places listing. Remember that while you and your business are the most important thing in the world to you, to Google you are just a virtual blip on their statistical radar. It isn’t personal. Wait the 3-4 weeks for them to see that you are real and take the time start planning the next step.

The New updates in Google Maps/Google Earth APIs Terms of Service

As the Google Maps APIs continue to grow and evolve, we periodically review the Google Maps/Google Earth APIs Terms of Service, which define the terms under which we offer these APIs to developers. Today we are posting an update to these terms which contains a number of notable changes. These changes are intended to encourage use of the APIs in mobile applications, and secure the long term future of the APIs as location aware applications become ever more ubiquitous.

Developers are now permitted to use the Static Maps API outside of a web browser, for example to add thumbnail maps to mobile applications, providing the map image is linked to Google Maps. Developers of mobile apps that are sold for a fee through an online store such as the Android Market and Apple App Store no longer require a Google Maps API Premier license. This brings the Terms of the web based Maps APIs into line with the Terms of the Android Maps API and iOS SDK.

There are also a number of changes that relate to advertising and usage limits. To ensure that we can continue to offer the Maps APIs to developers for free, we now require that any new Maps API applications going forward display any advertising delivered in the maps imagery, unless the site concerned has a Google Maps API Premier license. The opt-out from displaying such advertising that was offered in earlier versions of the Terms will continue to apply to any existing Maps API applications. Information on exercising this right of opt-out will be provided on this blog at least 90 days prior to the launch of any such advertising.

We are also introducing transaction limits on the number of maps that may be generated per day by commercial Maps API web sites or applications. These limits are documented in the Maps API FAQ and will take effect on October 1st 2011. Commercial sites that exceed these limits may be required to purchase additional transactions or a Maps API Premier license. Additional transactions will be offered online at an affordable rate which will be published on or before May 2nd 2011.

Commercial sites that consistently exceed these limits and do not purchase additional transactions online will be contacted by a Maps API Premier Sales Manager to discuss their licensing options. Not for profit applications and applications deemed in the public interest (as determined by Google at it’s discretion) are not subject to these limits. In addition, Non-profits are also encouraged to check out their eligibility for the Google Earth Outreach program.

In addition to the most notable changes detailed above, there are many other minor changes and clarifications, and we therefore recommend that you read the complete Terms and the Google Maps API FAQ. You can also discuss the Terms with other Maps API developers on the Google Maps API forum. Please note that Google’s Developer Relations team, who monitor the forums, are not able to offer legal advice. However any frequently asked questions or areas of confusion will be clarified in future FAQ and Terms updates.