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Google now showing competitor ads on local business profiles

The unit is from Local Campaigns and businesses cannot pay to remove them.



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Kindness as Currency: How Good Deeds Can Benefit Your Local Business

Posted by MiriamEllis

“To receive everything, one must open one’s hands and give.” – Taisen Deshimaru, Buddhist philosopher


A woman stands in a busy supermarket checkout line. The shopper in front of her realizes that they don’t have enough money with them to cover their purchase, so she steps in and makes up the balance. Then, when she reaches the checkout, her own receipt totals up higher than she was expecting. She doesn’t have enough left in her purse.

“No problem,” says the young clerk and swipes his own debit card to pay for her groceries.

A bystander snaps a photo and posts the story to Facebook. The story ends up on local radio and TV news. Unstructured citations for the grocery store start crackling like popcorn. National news takes notice. A scholarship foundation presents a check to the clerk. When asked how he felt about it, the clerk said:

“Personally, I think it’s undeserved attention. Because she did something so good … I felt like it was my responsibility to return the favor.”

In the process, if only for a moment in time, an everyday supermarket is transformed into a rescue operation for hope in humanity. Through the lens of local SEO, it’s also a lesson in how good deeds can be rewarded by good mentions.

Studying business kindness can be a rewarding task for any motivated digital marketing agency or local brand owner. I hope this post will be both a pick-me-up for the day, and a rallying cry to begin having deeper conversations about the positive culture businesses can create in the communities they serve.

10+ evocative examples of business kindness

“We should love people and use things, but sadly, we love things and use people,” Roger Johnson, Artisan

As a youngster in the American workforce, I ran into some very peculiar styles of leadership.

For instance, one boss gruffly told me not to waste too much time chatting with the elderly customers who especially loved buying from me…as if customer support doesn’t make or break business reputations.

And then there was the cranky school secretary who reprimanded me for giving ice packs to children because she believed they were only “trying to get attention” … as if schools don’t exist to lavish focus on the kids in their care.

In other words, both individuals would have preferred me to be less kind, less human, than more so.

Perhaps it was these experiences of my superiors taking a miserly approach to workplace human kindness that inspired me to keep a little file of outbreaks of goodwill that earned online renown. These examples beg self-reflective questions of any local business owner:

  1. If you launched your brand in the winter, would you have opened your doors while under construction to shelter and feed housing-insecure neighbors?
  2. If a neighboring business was struggling, would you offer them floor space in your shop to help them survive?
  3. Would your brand’s culture inspire an employee to cut up an elder’s ham for him if he needed help? How awesome would it be if a staffer of yours had a day named after her for her kindness? Would your employees comp a meal for a hungry neighbor or pay a customer’s $ 200 tab because they saw them hold open a door for a differently-abled guest?
  4. What good things might happen in a community you serve if you started mailing out postcards promoting positivity?
  5. What if you gave flowers to strangers, including moms, on Mother’s Day?
  6. How deeply are you delving into the season of giving at the holidays? What if, like one business owner, you opened shop on Thanksgiving just to help a family find a gift for a foster child? You might wake up to international fame on Monday morning.
  7. What if visitors to your community had their bikes stolen on a road trip and your shop gifted them new bikes and ended up on the news?
  8. One business owner was so grateful for his community’s help in overcoming addiction, he’s been washing their signage for free. What has your community done for you and how have you thanked them?
  9. What if all you had to do was something really small, like replacing negative “towed at your own expense” signs by welcoming quick stop parking?
  10. What if you, just for a day, you asked customers to pay for their purchases with kind acts?

I only know about these stories because of the unstructured citations (online references to a local business) they generated. They earned online publicity, radio, and television press. The fame for some was small and local, for others, internationally viral. Some activities were planned, but many others took place on the spur of the moment. Kindness, empathy, and gratitude, flow through them all like a river of hope, inviting every business owner to catch the current in their own way. One easy way for local business owners to keep better track of any positive mentions is by managing and monitoring reviews online with the New Moz Local.

See your online presence

Can kindness be taught in the workplace?

In Demark, schoolchildren learn empathy as a class subject. The country is routinely rated as one of the happiest in the world. At Moz, we have the TAGFEE code, which includes both generosity and empathy, and our company offers internal workshops on things like “How to be TAGFEE when you disagree.” We are noted for the kindness of our customer support, as in the above review.

According to Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki, people “catch” cooperation and generosity from others. In his study, the monetary amount donors gave to charity went up or down based on whether they were told their peers gave much or little. They matched the generosity or stinginess they witnessed. In part two of the study, the groups who had seen others donating generously went on to offer greater empathy in writing letters to penpals suffering hard times. In other words, kindness isn’t just contagious — its impact can spread across multiple activities.

Mercedes-Benz CEO, Stephen Cannon, wanted employees to catch the kindness bug because of its profound impact on sales. He invited his workforce to join a “grassroots movement” that resulted in surprising shoppers with birthday cakes, staff rushing to remote locations with spare tires, and other memorable consumer experiences. Cannon noted:

“There is no scientific process, no algorithm, to inspire a salesperson or a service person to do something extraordinary. The only way you get there is to educate people, excite them, incite them. Give them permission to rise to the occasion when the occasion to do something arises. This is not about following instructions. It’s about taking a leap of faith.”

In a 2018 article, I highlighted the reviews of a pharmacy that made it apparent that staff wasn’t empowered to do the simplest self-determined acts, like providing a chair for a sick man who was about to fall down in a long prescription counter line. By contrast, an Inc. book review of Jill Lublin’s The Profits of Kindness states:

“Organizations that trade in kindness allow their employees to give that currency away. If you’re a waitress, can you give someone a free piece of pie because the kid at the next table spilled milk on their foot? If you’re a clerk in a hotel, do you have the authority to give someone a discounted rate because you can tell they’ve had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day?”

There may be no formula for teaching kindness, but if Zaki is right, then leadership can be the starting point of demonstrative empathy that can emanate through the staff and to its customers. How do you build for that?

A cared-for workforce for customer service excellence

You can find examples of individual employees behaving with radical kindness despite working for brands that routinely disregard workers’ basic needs. But, this hardly seems ideal. How much better to build a business on empathy and generosity so that cared-for staff can care for customers.

I ran a very quick Twitter poll to ask employees what their very most basic need is:

Unsurprisingly, the majority of respondents cited a living wage as their top requirement. Owners developing a kind workforce must ensure that staff are housing-and-food-secure, and can afford the basic dignities of life. Any brand that can’t pay its staff a living wage isn’t really operational — it’s exploitation.

Beyond the bare minimums, Mercer’s Global Talent Trends 2019 Survey of 7,300 executives, HR experts, and employees highlighted trending worker emphasis on:

  • Flexibility in both hours and location to create a healthy work/life balance
  • Ethics in company technology, practices, and transparency
  • Equity in pay ratios, regardless of gender
  • Empathy in the workplace, both internally and in having a positive societal impact with customers

It’s just not very hard to connect the dots between a workforce that has its basic and aspirational needs met, and one possessing the physical, mental and emotional health to extend those values to consumers. As I found in a recent study of my own, 70 percent of negative review resolution was driven by brands having to overcome bad/rude service with subsequent caring service.

Even at the smallest local business level, caring policies and initiatives that generate kindness are within reach, with Gallup reporting that SMBs have America’s happiest and most engaged workers. Check out Forbes list of the best small companies of 2019 and note the repeated emphasis on employee satisfaction.

Kindness as currency, with limitless growth potential

“I wanted a tangible item that could track acts of kindness. From that, the Butterfly Coin emerged.” Bruce Pedersen, Butterfly Coins

Maybe someday, you’ll be the lucky recipient of a Butterfly Coin, equipped with a unique tracking code, and gifted to you by someone doing a kind act. Then, you’ll do something nice for somebody and pass it on, recording your story amongst thousands of others around the world. People, it seems, are so eager for tokens of kindness that the first mint sold out almost immediately.

The butterfly effect (the inspiration for the name of these coins) in chaos theory holds that a small action can trigger multiple subsequent actions at a remove. In a local business setting, an owner could publicly reward an employee’s contributions, which could cause the employee to spread their extra happiness to twenty customers that day, which could cause those customers to be in a mood to tip waitstaff extra, which could cause the waitstaff to comp meals for hungry neighbors sitting on their doorsteps, and on and on it goes.

There’s an artisan in Gig Harbor, WA who rewards kindnesses via turtle figurines. There are local newspapers that solicit stories of kindness. There are towns that have inaugurated acts-of-kindness weeks. There is even a suburb in Phoenix, AZ that re-dubbed itself Kindness, USA. (I mentioned, I’ve been keeping a file).

The most priceless aspect of kindness is that it’s virtually limitless. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be quantified. The Butterfly Coin idea is attempting to track kindness, and as a local business owner, you have a practical means of parsing it, too. It will turn up in unstructured citations, reviews, and social media, if you originate it at the leadership level, and share it out from employee to customer with an open hand.

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Google My Business adds bulk review management

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New research shows strong link between Google My Business photo quantity and search performance

Here’s what analyzing 580,853 images across 15,191 Google My Business listings taught us about how GMB images could be impacting user behavior.



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Millions of fake Google Maps listings hurt real business and consumers

Google says it is working on it, but is still positioned to profit as local businesses claw back visibility with paid ads.



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How to Guard Your Google Business Profile from Becoming a Running Joke

Posted by MiriamEllis

When customers walk into your place of business, phone you, or reach out to you via email or social media with a question that’s clearly a lead, you’d never, ever answer:

“Who knows?”

But it’s exactly this, and several related scenarios of absurdity, that have resulted from Google positioning itself as the dominant middle man between customers and local brands while failing to adequately communicate or enforce product policies.

Examples of Google Business Profiles gone bad are often comical, but it’s no laughing matter for your business to shed revenue for the sake of some jester’s joke. Then, spammers jump into the game, and that’s about as humorous as hitting your funny bone. And, sometimes, it’s even somebody on your own staff or a marketer you’ve hired who goofs.

Good local companies work so hard to develop exceptional customer service and a sterling reputation, and the Google Business Profile can brilliantly showcase both when carefully curated. But lack of vigilance over five key sections of this most visible online asset can cumulatively undermine offline goals.

Today, let’s look at some serious gaffes, get you set up to mitigate them, and put a watchdog mindset in your local place of business.

Naming nonsense

One of my favorite Local Tech Leads at Moz, Robert Reis, recently pointed out to me that Google’s sternest local guidelines actually reveal their greatest vulnerabilities. This is certainly true when it comes to Google not wanting brands to keyword stuff business names, because it so clearly appears to impact local pack rankings. Take a look at this all-too-common tomfoolery:

Credit: @DarrenShaw_

Then, there are other cases in which a business listing can be maliciously edited or hijacked by a competitor, an angry customer, or another third party. In this example, not only has the business name been edited, but the website URL has been pointed to ripoffreport.com:

Credit: @keyserholiday

What to do:

Customers may laugh, but certainly, they will not trust business names like these. If someone in your own company has been keyword stuffing, show them Google’s explicit guidelines regarding formatting names to match real-world business titles and edit the name to conform to the rules. Any other course risks losing customers and being reported by the public to Google for a violation.

If you suspect that a competitor’s high rankings are stemming, at least in part, from keyword stuffing, do a little research. Look at the name on their street signage in Google Street View. Take a photo in person if necessary. Look at the name on their website. Phone them to see how they answer the phone. Then, if you’re convinced that the guidelines are being broken, submit your evidence via the Business Redressal Complaint Form. There is no guarantee that Google will act on your report, but this is the main vehicle for seeking action.

If your listing has been hijacked and maliciously edited, I recommend starting by reporting the full details at the Google My Business Help Community. Ask the volunteers there to give you current steps for resolving the hijack. You can’t ever be totally safe from the possibility of hijacking, but do be sure you’ve claimed any GMB listing for your company. Some local SEOs also recommend making occasional null edits (hitting the submit button in your GMB dashboard without changing any of the listing data) as this activity might make your listing less prone to third-party edits.

Review roguery

I like to give business owners the benefit of the doubt for making a judgment call error when they review themselves. But it’s always embarrassing to see any company misusing reviews to sing their own praises, and particularly so when their family members point this out in public:

Credit: @ordacowski

More often, the business is the victim of review shenanigans. Google’s forum is continuously emitting distress signals from business owners who feel they’ve received one or more negative reviews from people they’ve never had a transaction with, as illustrated by this interchange:

And, the hard truth is that some entities have made a business model out of competitive sabotage via negative reviews. The problem has become large enough to make televised news.

What to do:

Falsifying reviews is illegal and has resulted in multi-million-dollar FTC fines in the United States. If you own or market local businesses, adhere to the Consumer Review Fairness Act and read the guidelines of any online platform on which you are receiving or writing reviews. Don’t review your own business or have past or present staff do so. Don’t review your competitors. Don’t incentivize reviews in any way, or post reviews on behalf of anyone else. Don’t hire any marketing firm or use any review management software that violates guidelines.

If your business becomes the subject of a review spam attack, screenshot and document all of the fake reviews, then flag them from inside of your Google My Business dashboard via the three little dots associated with each review. After three days, contact Google through their online chat option to follow up.

Google will make the ultimate decision on whether to remove the reviews and they are quite strict about what they view as negative vs. fake. If Google doesn’t remove the reviews, I would suggest two things. First, I would report the reviews to ReviewFraud and then, if the sentiment in the reviews is damaging enough, you might need to contact an attorney to see if further steps can be taken to prompt removal.

If you suspect a competitor is trying to boost their own rankings with review spam, document what you see and report it via the Google My Business Help Community.

Fatuous photos

“I cannot for the life of me believe that you would allow a normal user to upload photos to my business listing without my approval and you do not give THE OWNER OF THE PAGE the ability to delete them!” – from Google’s Forum.

The above quote typifies the frustration business owners feel regarding yet another element of their Google listing that is open to public contributions. Brands often think of these listings as belonging to them, when, in fact, they belong to Google. Images are considered to be a strong factor in CTR, so it’s particularly aggravating when user-uploaded photos either misrepresent or embarrass the business.

I’ve been shown cases in which people have mysteriously uploaded images that have nothing to do with a business. More often, though, I see photos like the following which highlight some aspect of the company that has disgusted or angered customers:

When something goes wrong with photos, like a bug on Google’s end, failure to size images correctly, or possibly the owner removing images that were previously there, this public warning symbol is definitely not a good look:

Google can also pull random images from website pages into your profile, resulting in your business being represented by something like … melted ice cream?

Credit: @tomwaddington8

Claire Carlisle recently documented Google’s penchant for pointing European users to Google Image Search instead of the photo section of listings. There is some reason to suspect this may happen in the US in the future, which could result in all kinds of strange optics popping up in association with brands.

What to do:

If an image accurately represents a lack of proper management at a location of your business, fix the issue or such imagery will continue to surface. You can then try flagging the photo, identifying yourself as the business owner, and explaining what you’ve done to correct the problem. However, unless the photo violates Google’s guidelines, it’s unlikely to be removed. Barring removal, be sure you are adding as many high-quality photos as possible to your listing to lessen the impact of a single image.

If the image violates Google’s guidelines, click on the name of the person who uploaded it and copy their profile URL. Then, report the user via the Google My Business Help Community, requesting that the profile be removed for failing to adhere to the guidelines.

If you see something like the warning symbol appearing instead of a photo you’ve tried to upload, check the above forum for reports of known bugs. You can always remove your own photos via the trash can symbol in your Google My Business dashboard.

Hours of inconvenience

“This is not a sustainable way to treat a business or customers.” – A reviewer experiencing unmanaged hours of operation

When customers feel that it’s your business playing a joke on them, they’re unlikely to return. This collage of 1-star reviews captures the collateral damage of neglecting to properly manage hours of operation on the web:

What to do:

A consistent theme in these damaging reviews is that customers are checking multiple places on the web to be sure an establishment is open on a given day. We’ve all come to depend on websites and business listings to provide this information, and it’s truly inconvenient when these assets mislead us. Few businesses can afford to let multiple customers down and no business can survive customers sensing they’ve been tricked!

The good news is that the fix for this is quite simple. Google’s tutorial for setting special hours if foolproof, and it will only take you a few minutes each year to ensure your profile displays correct information every day of the year. And, of course, update your website to reflect this data, too.

There are no dumb questions, but…

Sorry to say it, but there are actually some answers that are far from smart. I’ve saved for last the most extreme example of real-world businesses becoming the butt of online jokes.

Google Q&A is beginning to have all the earmarks of an experiment gone astray, and if you’re not actively managing this feature of the Google Business Profile, chances are good that your customers are experiencing a bizarre substitute for customer service.

Brace yourself for this collage:

What to do:

A quick study of the public responses to real consumer questions shows the state of total confusion surrounding this GBP feature. For example, one customer has mistaken it for a “discussion board” not associated with the business; this is incorrect. Others are proclaiming that they aren’t associated with the brand and don’t want to “lead people”, despite responding. Still, others are steering potential patrons away from the brand to a competitor (yikes!).

But, predominantly, we have wags replying to questions without having any information to share. “IDK” and “Why don’t you call them yourself?” typify this ridiculous behavior. Why would anyone waste time doing this, you might ask? We can put it down to two things: the old adage about idle hands and Google’s still-new program of perks for participation. Note how many of the individuals in our collage have achieved Local Guide status for giving out these useless answers. Raise your hands if you’re not impressed.

But now, put your hands back on your keyboard for a little work. Unlike the review medium in which guidelines forbid you being an initiator, Google Questions & Answers invites businesses to post and answer their own FAQs. All you have to do is spend a few minutes populating this area of the Google Business Profile with common questions and responses. Then monitor this feature on an ongoing basis so that customers are receiving a helpful, authoritative response to questions. Q&A is a lead-generating asset and conversions are totally within your control.

Adopting a local watchdog



All five cases of Google Business Profile hijinx share the requirement of vigilance for prevention and mitigation. Manually checking on multiple features week after week is a serious drain on local business owners’ limited time. Businesses with multiple locations are especially prone to becoming distracted from or worn out by the effort.

Putting a devoted watchdog between pranksters, spammers, and your vital Google listings is the smartest thing you can do to maintain them as an influential source of truth about your brand.

Adopt the new and improved Moz Local at your place of business and feel secure knowing:

  • If a third party edits your business name, our software will recognize the change and override it with the authoritative data you’ve provided.
  • Moz Local continuously alerts you to incoming Google reviews so that you can catch any emerging reputation problems quickly and respond to them.
  • You’ll be alerted every time a user-uploaded photo gets added to your Google listing. This is tracked in a continuous feed in your dashboard, and you can even set up email alerts if that’s easier for you. Either way, you’ll be the first to know if someone is uploading images that violate Google’s guidelines.
  • You aren’t disappointing customers anymore with inaccurate hours, because you can set them up well in advance in the Moz Local dashboard. We recommend setting special hours at least 7 days in advance of a known closure.
  • You’ll see all incoming Q&A queries in a continuous dashboard feed, facilitating fast, authoritative responses from your business instead of “IDK”s from random users.

Moz Local is the faithful companion you’re seeking to ensure you’re publishing trustworthy business data, taking maximum control of your online reputation, and maintaining a high level of spam awareness, all in an intuitive, organized dashboard.

Everybody likes a good joke, but your Google Business Profile isn’t the place for one! Ready to put a serious watchdog at your place of business? Learn more about the new Moz Local!

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Survey: More consumers trust accuracy of SMB websites over Google My Business

BrightLocal also found an overwhelming consumer preference for phone calls vs. other channels such as email and messaging.



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Google adds short names and URLs to Google My Business listings

The new feature has yet to be publicized by Google, but local guides like Mike Blumenthal report that it’s already available to some verified business in Google My Business.



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