What Google’s Move to Drop Anonymous Reviews Means for Local Brands

In late June 2018, Google officially announced they were removing anonymous reviews from business listings. Google provided local search blogger Mike Blumenthal a short and sweet statement confirming the move.

“We do not allow anonymous reviews today and we’ve removed legacy anonymous reviews.”

The actual purge of anonymous reviews appears to have occurred in May. Google’s confirmation came after many local businesses became concerned about a decrease in the number of reviews on their listings over the past couple of months.

According to Blumenthal’s blog in May:

I was able to confirm that Google didn’t throw (the reviews) away, they are just no longer counting anonymous reviews from “A Google User” in the total shown in the Knowledge Panel. Whether this foretells some other action (vis a vis anonymous reviews) is not clear. But for now, many businesses will see an immediate drop in their review count. It will be more obvious to those that started the review process before the G+ era and have a lot of reviews from non-identified users.

Since reviews can be a key factor in acquiring potential customers, the sudden removal was alarming. To help you make sense of what’s going on, here are answers to a few common questions on the impact of the move for multi-location brands and local businesses.

Related – It’s Not Just News: Google Is Having Trouble with Fake Biz Listings Too

What are anonymous reviews?

Anonymous reviews are considered any type of comment left by “A Google User” (i.e., an unnamed account). These unidentified users account for about 3 percent of all reviews on Google, according to BrightLocal.

Google reviews with named author vs. “A Google User”

Google reviews with named author vs. “A Google User”

Even though this seems like a relatively small amount, BrightLocal conducted a survey of two million Google reviews across 40,000 different businesses and discovered that approximately 50,000 of these reviews were from anonymous users.

Where did all these reviews come from?

It’s tough to determine where all of these reviews came from (they are unidentified after all). Some reviews are from nefarious accounts, but many came from the pre-G+ era when users didn’t have obligatory social profiles tied to their Google activity.

We do know when a lot of the reviews came from. BrightLocal’s study also looked at the number of anonymous Google reviews posted each year and found that activity spiked in 2012 and has seen a precipitous drop since then.

Number of Google reviews authored by “A Google User” posted per year

Note from BrightLocal: the size of the database has grown over the years, so these figures aren’t the result of an exact science (also note that 2018 is H1 only), but they still point to a clear trend.

What’s the big deal with anonymous reviews?

Although anonymous users have contributed just a tiny sliver of all reviews on Google, they’re the main culprits of fake reviews and can lead to lower average scores. The BrightLocal study found that identifiable users gave an average rating of 4.3 stars, while anonymous reviewers gave an average of 4.1 stars.

According to BrightLocal:

This suggests that, overall, business owners and reputation managers have reason to be happy in the long-term, as the anonymous reviews dragging their star rating down will be gone, leading to a higher average star rating.

Did Google target any non-anonymous reviews?

The short answer is yes, but it might not be related to the purge in May. Google routinely pulls reviews from non-anonymous profiles if they deem the content as spam. According to Moz, this could happen for a variety of reasons:

  • Having paid for or incentivized reviews, either directly or via an unethical marketer.
  • Reviews stemming from a review station/kiosk at your business.
  • Getting too many reviews at once.
  • URLs, prohibited language or other objectionable content in the body of reviews.
  • Reviewing yourself, or having employees (past or present) do so.
  • Reviews were left on the same IP address (as in the case of employee reviews or customers leaving them on your free on-site Wi-Fi).
  • The use of review strategies that prohibit negative reviews or selectively solicit positive reviews.
  • Any other violation of Google’s review guidelines.
  • A Google bug. In which case, check the Google My Business forum for reports of similar review loss and wait a few days to see if your reviews return. If they don’t, you can take the time to post about your issue in the GMB forum, but chances are not good that removed reviews will be reinstated.

What happens next?

Despite Google’s valiant effort to make anonymous reviews a thing of the past, there are ways to game the system. For instance, users could use a fake name under a different account and post multiple reviews. However, if business managers look into other reviews from the account, they could see if this person was part of a review sharing scheme or working for a review network (both of which are not allowed on Google) and the business owner could alert Google.

Online reviews are critical to local businesses, with 85 percent of consumers trusting online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Google has been battling with review transparency for a while now and the removal of anonymous reviews is a step in the right direction.

Need help managing your online reviews or local listings? Contact Mindstream Media Group.

[Guide]: Voice Search Marketing – How to Reach Smart Speaker Users

Our Voice Search Marketing Guide can help your brand connect with consumers conducting voice searches on their smart speakers.

Download this guide to learn:

  • What smart speakers are and how these devices work.
  • How many people are using their smart speakers.
  • How consumers are using these devices to help them make purchases.
  • What you need to do to reach consumers on their smart speakers.

Marketing to Consumers on Smart Speakers - featured & social image

Voice search and smart speakers

Voice-enabled search has been a growing force in digital media and search marketing for the past few years. By 2020, it’s estimated that 50 percent of searches will be conducted by voice. Like the transition to a mobile-first search landscape before it, voice search seems to be the next big thing for marketers.

Similar to how smartphones disrupted marketing strategies a decade ago, voice-activated smart speakers are poised to dramatically change the way brands connect with consumers. Smart speaker adoption is growing rapidly and users are increasingly leaning on these devices to help them research purchase decisions. If your brand hasn’t started implementing strategies to reach these consumers, now is the time to start.

An overview of smart speakers and voice-enabled digital assistants

Smart speakers: Hardware devices powered by digital assistants that provide voice assistance to users.

Examples include:

  • Amazon’s Echo devices
  • Google’s Home devices
  • Apple’s HomePod

Digital assistants:

AI-powered software found in smart speakers that responds to voice commands.

Examples include:

  • Alexa (Amazon)
  • Assistant (Google)
  • Siri (Apple)

Who is using smart speakers

Smart speakers are far from reaching market saturation, but people are jumping on the bandwagon quickly. In 2018, more than 45 million people will use a smart speaker in the United States – that’s triple the number of users from 2016.

Smart speaker users (in millions)

Smart speaker users (in millions)

Amplify your marketing campaigns

Are you looking for solutions to help your brand connect with the growing number of smart speaker users? Mindstream Media Group is a full-solution media agency that can amplify your brand’s message across a variety of channels with customized marketing strategies and media solutions.

Search Engine Optimization

We increase your brand’s presence on top search engines by optimizing technical elements and copy on your site.

Local Listings Management

We deliver your brand’s location data across local platforms to reach the right consumers at the right times.

Content Marketing

We connect your brand to target audiences using a variety of engaging, relevant and informative content pieces.

Contact Mindstream Media Group to see how we can Fast-Forward Your Business.

Amazon Prime Day 2018: Top Takeaways for Brand Marketers

Monday marked the fourth annual Amazon Prime Day. This year, Prime Day will run for 36 hours making it the longest version of the holiday yet.

For almost half a decade, the mid-summer tradition has been disrupting the holiday-shopping calendar, with this year’s festivities kicking off July 16th at 3 p.m. on the East Coast.

Even with some initial hiccups this year (more on that soon), Prime Day is still a force to be reckoned with for online and brick-and-mortar retailers alike. Here are the top takeaways for brand marketers from Prime Day 2018.

A dog day afternoon

You might expect some websites to crash from an onslaught of traffic, not Amazon though… right? Well, sure enough, the rush of shoppers on Prime Day was enough to cause significant issues on Amazon’s website and mobile app.

According to reporting from The Verge:

The outage is restricted to the US, and it appears to still be affecting large parts of California and the New York as of 5:30 p.m. ET, with a smattering of smaller outages in the Pacific Northwest and other parts of the country.

Some users have reported being able to access product pages but not the Amazon.com homepage. Some are not experiencing issues at all, while others are seeing the company’s well-known “dogs of Amazon” page, which is the company’s placeholder art during full-blown outages that highlights well-known pets of Amazon employees.

According to downdetector.com, the problems began pretty much right as Prime Day began Monday afternoon.

Problems with Amazon's site during Prime Day

Somewhat ironically, I was able to replicate this issue while shopping for dog beds around 7:30 p.m. ET, hours after Prime Day began.

Sorry! Something went wrong - Problems with Amazon on Prime day

Not everyone experienced this issue and apparently, there are ways around it. According to Amazon, despite the glitches, this year’s Prime Day still got off to a better start than 2017.

Primed for growth

With an extra six hours of deals, Prime Day 2018 is expected to be the most lucrative edition for Amazon yet. According to projections from Internet Retailer:

Shoppers will spend $4.04 billion on Amazon during its fourth annual Prime Day this year. That’s a 67 percent jump from the Internet Retailer-estimated $2.41 billion in sales on Prime Day last year (held on July 11, 2017). In the U.S., shoppers are expected to spend $2.5 billion, Internet Retailer estimates. Comparatively, last year Amazon grew its overall Prime Day sales by 60 percent year over year during the 30-hour sale.

Amazon Prime Day: Better than Black Friday?

Amazon’s efforts to drive sales during a typically slow season for retail is gaining steam. While it’s still not at the same level as Black Friday, reporting from Business Insider shows Prime Day is starting to close the gap.

Cowen & Co. estimates that Prime Day generated about $1 billion for Amazon last year, while e-commerce sales totaled $5.03 billion on Black Friday, according to Adobe.

But the deals are better than what shoppers might find on Black Friday, according to BestBlackFriday.com. The website analyzed Amazon’s deals on Black Friday and Prime Day in 2016 and found that 77 percent of Prime Day prices were better than comparable deals offered on Black Friday.

According to numbers from the National Retail Federation, Prime Day isn’t just increasing in popularity, it’s also hurting Black Friday shopping numbers. In 2017, roughly 174 million customers shopped in-store and online over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, down from 226 million in 2011.

Local retailers not ready for Primetime

The majority of retail shopping – roughly 90 percent – still happens at local stores. However, Prime Day made a serious, albeit temporary, dent in that rate in 2017.

According to research from Foursquare:

As compared to an average summer week (excluding July 4th week), we found that all major retail categories saw a dip in foot traffic around Prime Day, with some recovery seen the week following (July 17 to the 23rd).

How Amazon Prime Day impacts foot traffic to local stores

Other retailers are fighting back

For years, retailers have been experimenting with ways to compete with the e-commerce juggernaut that is Prime Day. This year, retailers continued to ramp up those efforts.

According to reporting from Business Insider:

JCPenney, for example, held its biggest two-day sale this week ahead of Prime Day, and will hold another three-day promotion, called “Cyber-in-July,” starting Monday.

Macy’s, meanwhile, is holding a “Black Friday in July” promotion this week offering 25 percent off most of the site, and Lowe’s is offering 10 percent off sitewide on Monday and Tuesday for new and existing MyLowe’s Customers. Lowe’s is also giving out free Google Home Mini devices to shoppers who spend more than $150 on Lowes.com.

In addition to running their own promotions, many retailers will price-match Amazon’s Prime Day deals. These retailers include Home Depot, Staples, Best Buy and Bed Bath & Beyond.

For its part, Target put on a one-day sale offering online deals store-wide today. A wink to Amazon Prime’s free shipping perk for members, Target is also offering free same-day delivery memberships for six months for shoppers who spend $100 online.

Target responds to Amazon Prime Day

Image source: Target

Apparently this effort to jump on Amazon’s bandwagon is working for retailers. According to data from Adobe Analytics data:

  • Online visitors to major retailers on Prime Day last year were 35 percent more likely to make a purchase.
  • Non-Amazon e-commerce outlets saw a 17 percent increase in online purchases.

Related: Advertisers Wake to Amazon’s Giant Opportunities

Want to Fast-Forward your brand’s online sales? Contact Mindstream Media Group to learn about our e-commerce solutions.

[JULY 2018] Top Announcements for Advertisers from Google Marketing Live

Google hosted its annual Google Marketing Live event in San Jose, California on Tuesday. During the live-streamed keynote address, Google executives announced several new features and initiatives coming to the company’s various advertising platforms. The event came just weeks after Google introduced three new (i.e., updated) advertising platforms – Google Ads, Google Marketing Platform and Google Ads Manager.

While Google’s execs touted the company’s three principle advertising characteristics – valuable, transparent, trustworthy – the default theme to this year’s Google Marketing Live keynote was actually two other words – “machine learning.” It seemed as if every update Google announced, the speakers highlighted how their automated processes can help make your job as a marketer easier across all aspects of campaign management.

Google Marketing Live - valuable transparent trustworthy

If you want to watch the full keynote, you can find a recording of the event here

Sridhar Ramaswamy, Senior Vice President of Ads and Commerce, kicked off the event by recapping major previous announcements to Google’s ad services. But, the new announcements we all tuned in for came when Nicky Rettke, Google’s Group Product Manager of Video Ads, and Anthony Chavez, Product Management Director of Google Ads, took the stage.

Reach nearby consumers with Local campaigns

During the keynote, the speakers stressed one of the worst-kept secrets in search marketing: consumers are increasingly expecting to find only the most local and relevant results to them. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Google continues to roll out features and campaigns designed to help drive traffic for local businesses.

“Today we’re introducing Local campaigns: a new campaign type designed to drive store visits exclusively,” Google’s Vice President of Product Management Jerry Dischler said in a blog post about the keynote. “Provide a few simple things – like your business locations and ad creative – and Google automatically optimizes your ads across properties to bring more customers into your store.”

Local campaigns will begin rolling out to advertisers globally over the coming months. Here’s a sample of what this will look like across Google’s platforms:

Google Local search campaigns - Search - Maps - Places Pages - Display - YouTube

Manage campaigns with responsive search ads

With responsive search ads, you’ll be able to provide up to 15 headlines and four description lines as options for paid search ads. Using machine learning, Google will determine which combination of ad creative is most likely to perform best for a given search query.

The feature is still in beta, but Google has already highlighted a number of benefits responsive ads provide advertisers:

  • Create flexible ads that adapt to device widths, giving you more room to share your message with potential customers.
  • Save time by providing multiple headline and description options, then let AdWords show the most relevant combinations to your customers.
  • Reach more potential customers with multiple headline and description options that give your ads the opportunity to compete in more auctions and match more queries.
  • Increase ad group performance by attracting additional clicks and conversions that your existing text ads aren’t capturing, since responsive search ads help you compete in more auctions.

Google Marketing Innovations Keynote - Manage campaigns with responsive search ads

According to Google, responsive search ads also have a couple of advantages over expanded text ads:

  1. More space: responsive search ads can show up to three headlines instead of two, and up to two 90-character description fields (instead of one 80-character description field).
  2. More flexibility: you can provide up to 15 headlines and four descriptions for a single responsive search ad. And, AdWords will automatically show different combinations depending on the search query.

Here’s an example of how to create a responsive search ad based on Google’s best practices:

Best practices for creating Google responsive search ads

Responsive ads will start rolling out over the next several months to allow you to take optimization testing to a whole new level. According to Google, advertisers who use the search company’s machine learning to test multiple creative see up to 15 percent more clicks.

Maximize relevance and performance on YouTube

Nicky Rettke, Group Product Manager of Video Ads, took the stage at the Google Marketing Live keynote to talk about some major features coming to YouTube for advertisers. Before diving into those, she shared a few impressive stats:

  • There are 1.9 billion signed in users visiting YouTube every month.
  • Users watch a billion hours of video every day.
  • There was a 150 percent growth in ad conversions last year and a 70 percent lift in in-store sales from YouTube ads.

Google Marketing Innovations Keynote - Maximize relevance and performance on YouTube

Rettke then moved on to three new advertising features available on YouTube.

TrueView for reach

Google introduced this feature a few months ago and it’s currently available to advertisers. According to Google’s blog, “TrueView for reach brings our popular in-stream format built on user choice together with the simplicity of CPM buying. Optimized for efficient reach, this format can help you to raise awareness among a broad set of customers — and do so within our 95 percent viewable and 95 percent audible environment.”

TrueView for action

This feature has also been available to advertisers for a while. TrueView for action campaigns help drive leads and conversions by adding prominent calls-to-action (CTAs ) and headline-text overlays to your video ads.

Using this video campaign subtype, you can encourage customers to explore your product or service, share their contact information, and take other actions valuable to your business.

Maximize lift bidding

Google is rolling out this Smart Bidding strategy to help you reach people who are most likely to be interested in your brand and its products and services after seeing a video ad. Powered by (you guessed it) machine learning, Maximize lift is designed to automatically adjust bids to maximize the impact your video ads have on how consumers perceive your brand throughout the buying journey.

Maximize lift is available now as a beta and will roll out to advertisers globally later this year.

Optimize your shopping campaigns

Google launched a new Shopping campaign type earlier this year to help you optimize performance based on your brand’s specific goals. During the Marketing Live keynote, Google announced they’d be improving this feature so you can optimize campaigns for multiple business goals like store visits or new customers.

And, how does Google do it? You guessed it, machine learning FTW again. According to Google, “machine learning is also used to optimize where your Shopping ads show – on Google.com, Image Search, YouTube and millions of sites and apps across the web – and which products are featured.”

Google said these features to optimize shopping campaigns will begin rolling out over the next couple of months.

Cross-device reporting and remarketing

The crowd in San Jose went wild (relatively) when Anthony Chavez, Product Management Director for Google Ads announced the latest feature coming to Google Analytics.

Available now, you’ll “be able to take action based on a comprehensive view of customers,” Chavez said. Cross-device reporting and remarketing will provide a holistic view of traffic across devices in Google analytics. The feature also allows you to deploy cross-device retargeting strategies in Google Ads.

Mindstream Media Group is a Google Premier Partner. Contact us to find out how we can Fast-Forward Your Business with marketing campaigns across Google platforms.

[Case Study]: Our Digital Marketing Strategy Drives Profitable Traffic for Portrait Innovations

Background:Portrait Innovations - Digital Marketing Strategy

Portrait Innovations is a brick and mortar photography business delivering a wonderful in-studio experience. The company is facing downward pressure from online companies like Tiny Prints, Shutterfly and countless other online photo and print competitors. Continue reading “[Case Study]: Our Digital Marketing Strategy Drives Profitable Traffic for Portrait Innovations”

[July 2018] Google Update: Goodbye Google AdWords; Hello Google Ads

If you’re a business owner, marketing professional or let’s be honest, anyone who has taken a breath, you’ve likely heard of Google AdWords. After operating under that name for 18 years, the Google service that’s enabled brands to reach online consumers with paid search ads has rebranded to a simpler moniker – Google Ads. Continue reading “[July 2018] Google Update: Goodbye Google AdWords; Hello Google Ads”