An Interactive & Customised Google Maps Example (Darling Harbour, Sydney, NSW)

I’ve long been a fan of using Google Maps to create customised storyboards. It’s a simple process to create your own layers, but if you’re new to this Google has recently released a step-by-step interactive tutorial – you’ll see it when you log into your Google Maps account.

I’ve created a simple interactive map below centered around Darling Harbour in Sydney. Click on the placemarks to view examples of various media I’ve used: text, images and video. I’ve also embedded the entire customised  map bundle within this blog, but it’s also viewable on Google Maps over here (in satellite view this time).

 



Retailers, Please do These 8 Things. Right Away. As In Now.

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1. Claim & Optimise Your Google Places Business Listing/s

Google has mapped the street address locations of almost every business in Australia – it’s called Google Places. Your business will more than likely have its own Place page already, and now you as the business owner must claim and optimise it. This is an important step: Google favours its own business Place listings on page 1 search results when people are searching locally for products, services and brands. ‘Local’ search examples would include ‘Melbourne dentists’, ‘cake shops Elwood’ or ‘Jasper coffee suppliers in Toowoomba’. Google can also serve your Places business listings if people are searching using a GPS enabled device – the physical proximity of the searcher triggers ‘nearby’ businesses based on the product, service or brand keywords that were searched on.

If you don’t claim your listing and tell Google exactly what it is that you do as a business, Google can’t potentially serve your listing within its page 1 results for people searching online for your goods or services. Furthermore, once your listing is claimed you can include and edit additional information such as opening hours, geographic service areas (as a km radius or specific towns/ suburbs), email and website address, payment forms accepted, images, videos, and even redeemable coupon offers. Google Places is a free service.

See an example of a claimed, optimsed listing
See an example up an unclaimed listing
Open up a Google Places account

2. Optimise Your Own Website Yourself (sure you can)

People can’t type anything but keywords into Google when they’re searching for a product or service, and don’t know who’s got what; so, for example, if you stated on your website that you’re a ‘Melbourne Beauty Salon’ and you offer ‘special bodily treats for the soul’, this would be misaligned information for a person searching for a ‘pedicurist in North Fitzroy’ (assuming you offered pedicure, and were located in North Fitzroy). Google can’t make inference leaps on your behalf.

You must be clear and explicit about your product and service provisions, and your geographic locations and/ or service areas; this information must then be positioned in the keyword language that people within your target segments would logically use to solve their problems or meet their needs based on what you do as a business.

3. Come to Terms with Online Reviews (you can’t control the winds, but you can trim the sails)

It’s a fact of life: people will start posting online reviews for your business at an increasing rate as more people work out how to do it, and how easily done it is. For retailers, the big review syndication sites to watch out for are TrueLocal and the soon to be introduced US based review platform, Yelp. Google user reviews also need your attention – these reviews are incorporated into business Google Places listings (see point 1) alongside reviews from third party platforms. Given that Google Places business listings often appear on page 1 search results, these reviews have high potential visibility.

If you have existing happy customers and clients, now would be the time to start asking them for their online reviews. Put a buffer of positive sentiment in place before you cop your first spray – it will lessen the pain of only having one visible review, and it being a bad one. And some motherhood advice: don’t post positive reviews for yourself or negative reviews for your competitors – it’s just not something a proud professional would do.

An example of positive Google business reviews (my own!)
An example of a negative Google business review (with no response from the owner)
An example of fake Google business reviews

4. Make your Online Presence Mobile Friendly

Some retailers offer products or services that people will search on through their phones just before they need it, e.g. restaurants, hotels, cinemas, tourist services. These types of businesses should invest in a parallel mobile website which is optimised for viewing on smaller screens. A mobile friendly site is a scaled down version of your standard website but with fewer pages, fewer graphics, and a focus on up-front key business information: street address, opening hours, contact number, tickets prices, booking forms, etc.

5. Check into Your Own Foursquare Business Listing/s

Foursquare is a relatively new but fast growing social media platform which enables people to ‘check-in’ to physical locations via an app on a GPS enabled device (mostly smartphones). People can upload photos, and leave tips – positive and negative – about businesses that future users will find when they check-in. As a business owner you should claim each of your Foursquare business listings, if for no other reason than to stop somebody elese illegitimately claiming them. Once you’ve done this you can expand your business information and get access to the check-in data of all the people who have ever checked-in to your business via Foursquare: their gender, age-group, and often times their photo, and Twitter and Facebook handles. Go to the next level and start pushing out specials or promotions to people who are checking into directly to your business, or to other businesses within walking distance to you.

See a Foursqure business listing example from a well known brand (still unclaimed) [update: Starbucks have since claimed their listings]
Open up a Foursqure account

6. Google Shopping Anyone?

A relatively new Google platform in Australia (June ’11). If you have an ecommerce platform Google is offering to serve your products and prices through their Google Shopping search vertical. There is no charge for this. Be aware however that Google Shopping is fundamentally a price comparison engine; this could be a good or a bad thing depending on how you’re positioned on price compared to other online enabled merchants offering the same products.

See a Google shopping product search results page
Open up a Google merchant account

7. Mark Yourself Up (ask your developer about microformats)

Microfromats have been round a while, but they’re gaining momentum given their elevated profile within search results. Simply put, microformats are structured metadata about a category of information. When you structure specific types of content using universal microformat schemas you make it easier for search engines to connect people to your business and product/ service content, and in a variety of different ways. As a retailer you would want to mark-up information such as street address, opening hours, event dates, prices, reviews, cuisines (if you’re a restaurant), genres (if you’re an entertainment provider), authors (if you’re a bookseller), and so on. There are numerous categories with cross-over applications for any business offering – retail or otherwise.

See a micromat example using marked up recipe and user review information – notice the filters on the side which make full use of the rich semantic data embedded within the webpages Google is drawing from.

8. Add Google+ to the Business Mix

Google + business pages  will be released in the next while (currently only personal G+ profiles are allowed). Nobody knows how important these pages will become to businesses big or small, but word on the street is that they have the potential to surpass Facebook’s business pages in respect to online visibility, functionality, and customer communication integration. Think Google Places, reviews, Alerts/ monitoring, Gmail, YouTube, Analytics, video conferencing, and the +1 button under all under one roof. We’ll see.

 



Google+ and the Usual Requirement to Dive in and Get Wet

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It’s a bit soon to be consigning Google+ as G’s failed and final attempt at social, as some are already doing. Don’t use such chatter as an easy excuse to avoid the usual intellectual dive needed to understand what this development means, could mean, or where it’s potentially headed.

Google+ could well become a place where integration is possible across your online communications (email, voice, chat & video), your online content (video, images and audio), your networks, and your contacts. This level of integration would enable conversion and exposure metric cross-reporting on the social engagement activity through all of your web properties and online content. Consider how siloed the web really is at the moment.

Google already has a level of control and insight into my own online business footprint. All of my professional contacts and much of my own online commercial content – and the metrics around them – sits on a Google family platform:

Search – the webpages from my various websites and blog have all been crawled and indexed by Google (I’m financially grateful for this – I rely upon organic search for sales & lead generation purposes).

Gmail – stores the email contact information of every person I have professionally engaged with over the last several years.

Places – physical address and related service information from my businesses, automatically optimised for ‘local’ search from desktop and mobile. And my customer reviews.

YouTube – hosting and syndication of my video communications, including the social engagement layers around each one.

Picasa – hosting and syndication of my business photos & images.

Analytics – sales level conversion numbers which can now be cross-referenced with social action and engagement data from Facebook, Twitter, and of course Google’s own +1.

Much of my online business content and analytics already sits within the Google camp; if they can integrate and overlay the social elements, the Google+ value proposition would increase considerably for me. As it would for any organisation.

I don’t imagine anyone but Google could attempt to set up a social media platform from scratch, for the reason that nobody else has such rich, deep content and metric layers already in place.

Time to get wet.

Visit the Google+ demo page here

See an example of a Google+ business profile here



Image by Jordi’s

 



The Social Media Button Rat Pack: Facebook Like, Google +1, Twitter Tweet and LinkedIn Share

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Social media share, like, connect and follow buttons are mushrooming – if you have a website or blog, get them aligned to your advantage.

Unlike the first gen of share and bookmarking buttons/ chicklets of a few years back, the new breed are integrated with the big social media platforms, and in some instances with Google and Bing search. Furthermore, they are able to provide measurement on the social media influenced traffic which moves through your web properties.

Other reporting features include referral and engagement data for your online content. To bring a little social media functionality to a webpage near you requires the simple copy and paste of a snippet of code (I’ve talked about the non-technical marketing requirement of copying and pasting code in a previous post).

Here’s the rat pack of social media buttons to be paying attention to, what they do, and how to grab them. The buttons on this page are all live, so feel free to test them out…

Facebook Like

Love or hate Facebook, there’s no denying its deep reach across the web, making this button a ‘can’t ignore’. If a visitor to a webpage who’s logged into Facebook clicks on FB Like button, the page URL is posted onto their FB wall; this in turn appears on their friend’s news feeds. The post serves as both a friend recommendation, and provides a link back to a page and to whatever was liked on that page.

The Like button doesn’t have to pertain to the page the button is actually on. For example, you could have multiple items or products on a page, each one with its own Like button, but associated with the specific page where the particular content item or product is featured.

You can embed your Facebook Like buttons with or with count indicators, and in different sizes. Create you own here.

Microsoft’s Bing search engine integrates various FB social graph data into its search results, including an indication of the webpages your friends have liked. See the guy from Bing talk about this in a short video here.

Facebook have recently released their impressive Website Analytics. Once your website or blog is verified you can pull aggregated data for people who have interacted with any of your embedded FB functionality such as like buttons or comment boxes. You can also track data for people who have arrived on your website or blog via external FB links – from FB itself or other webpages hosting FB like buttons or widgets.

Google +1

+1 is Google’s new social media play. It works in a similar way to the Facebook like button, but draws personal profile data from your Google Profile instead of your Facebook profile. If you don’t have a Google Profile, you can get one here. To see an example of one, this is mine.

Instead of Liking a webpage as you would with Facebook, those with a Google account can tag online content items and products as being +1’ed. Google pulls your social connection information from any of their platforms that you are registered with and share with others, such as Groups or Buzz. Google has also started integrating +1’s into its search results, including indication of any webpages your Google connections have +1’ed.

It’s likely that Google will integrate +1’ed reporting with its own analytics and your web properties that have GA is installed.

You can embed your +1 buttons with or without count indicators, and in different sizes. Create you own here.

LinkedIn Share

For the professional set, Facebook’s Like button is too trivial for most – and it’s more likely that an executive would be logged into their LinkedIn account at work, and not Facebook. LinkedIn’s Share button sends a summary of page information, a thumbnail image from the page, and a webpage link to the person’s LinkedIn updates wall in the form of a status update.

You can embed your LinkedIn share buttons with or without count indicators. Create you own here.

Twitter Tweet

A visitor to a webpage who is logged into Twitter and clicks on a Tweet button will send a summary of webpage information and a shortened page URL to their Twitter account (the user gets an opportunity to customise the tweet before posting it).

Google has also started integrating shared Tweets into its search results, including indication of any webpages your Twitter connections have shared.

You can embed your Tweet buttons with or without count indicators. Create you own here.


Twitter Follow

This button enables visitors to your webpages to follow you, or any designated account on Twitter, without actually having to visit Twitter – assuming they’re already logged into their Twitter account.

Create your own buttons here.

 

 



Money for Nothing and your Chicks for Free – Agencies, Google Analytics and Asymmetric Information.

I’ve harped on plenty about the importance of getting some sort of analytics installed on all of your web properties. And I’m an unashamed fan of Google Analytics because it’s quick to set-up, boasts powerful reporting, and is drop-dead easy to use. Ah yes, it’s also free. Unfortunately I come into regular contact with businesses that are paying significant money for their Google Analytics set-up, reporting or ‘maintenance plans’. I have no issue with agencies charging fair market prices for their services, including a premium for their IP that comes from years of experience in the game; I do however have a problem when an unfair advantage is taken.

Asymmetric information is the cornerstone of many service business models – if I know something you don’t, but you need something done requiring my knowledge, then I can charge you for it. But because online marketing and social media are such new business disciplines it’s too easy (and tempting) for agencies to position very simple work as being more complex, expensive or time consuming than it really is.

Here are some of the common ways which simple tasks around Google Analytics are being manipulated:

Being Charged to Set Google Analytics Up
As I’ve said, it’s a free service from Google and takes no more than a few minutes to follow an online bouncing-ball registration process. Even if it took a full five minutes, I find it hard to believe that an agency could include that as a line item expense (and keep a straight face).
Being Charged to have Google Analytics Installed
Most modern websites use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) – drop Google’s analytics tracking code in once and it automatically propagates through to every present and future website page. Another five minute job.

For websites requiring a manual page-by-page insertion of tracking code, the usual hourly fee would reasonably apply. There are also instances where the tracking code needs to be altered to perform non-vanilla functions – the client will need to pay something for this.

Being Charged for Google Analytics Reporting
The Google Analytics auto-reporting feature is quick and easy to activate. Reporting data can be exported in a range of formats – including PDF, Excel & XML – and be pre-set to auto-generate as an email attachment to one or more addresses every day, weekly, monthly or quarterly.

There are two main variations of agency money-for-nothing Google Analytics reporting – 1. the agency simply forwards an automatically generated colour PDF report onto the client, or 2. the agency exports their client’s raw data and pumps it through an overlay of their own branded graphs, charts and lists (typically an intern or a junior gets this very boring job).

Agencies are perfectly entitled to charge their clients for reporting, but it should be for sales and marketing insights drawn from the data, and come with recommendations or action based options. After all, data in its own right is of limited value to anyone. On rare occasions I’ve seen agencies churn out some pretty good segment level custom reporting – a solid value-add that can and should attract a client fee.

The Agency Holds Their Client’s Google Analytics Account to Ransom
If an agency has set up a Google Analytics account for their client – and we know they didn’t pay Google any money for this – then as far as I’m concerned, it’s the client’s account and not theirs.

I’ve seen agencies refuse to give their clients direct access to the own analytics accounts and data – can you believe? I’ve also seen instances where a client is told that if they leave the agency, their Google Analytics account will have to be closed down, i.e. they will forever be denied access to their own website data. This forces the client to go through the set-up process again and get new tracking code reinstalled. And they loose all of their historical data. Talk about mean spirited.

Betting on Dumber
Seth Godin’s blog post, Betting on smarter (or betting on dumber) talks directly to the issue of agencies and individuals who are making a (healthy) living by exploiting the ignorance of others:

“Marketers fall into one of two categories: A few benefit when they make their customers smarter. The more the people they sell to know, the more informed, inquisitive, free-thinking and alert they are, the better they do.

And most benefit when they work to make their customers dumber. The less they know about options, the easier they are to manipulate, the more helpless they are, the better they do. Their perfect customer is someone in a hurry, with plenty of money and not a lot of knowledge about their options.”


Setting up your own Google Analytics account
A recommended analytics guide: Web Analytics 2.0 by Avinash Kaushik