Don’t Panic, SEOs! The Whisky-related Zero Result SERPs are a Bug

Zero-result SERPs have caused a bit of a stir in the SEO industry this past fortnight. For time-related searches, instead of showing a variety of results, Google shows you the answer and… that’s it. Unless you click the ‘Show all results >’ box at the bottom, all you see is Google’s answer. Here’s an example for "time in cardiff":

"time in cardiff" search screenshot
The situation went into panicky overdrive when I checked Twitter this morning and saw tweets from overnight suggesting that whisky-related SERPs had been affected. Rightly so, if you searched for "lagavulin 16" – as in Lagavulin’s 16-year-old single malt bottle – it would show the time box, Google Shopping results, Google AdWords ads (if applicable) and that’s it:

"lagavulin 16" search screenshot
The time box was a particularly bizarre inclusion – what’s the time got to do with a search for a bottle of whisky anyway? There was also chatter that other bottles of whisky with numbers after them (as in their age) were producing similar results.

And that’s when it hit me: what if Google was thinking that people were searching for Lagavulin the place and that the number was the time, as in: “what time is it where I am if it’s 16:00 (i.e. 4pm) in Lagavulin, the Scottish village?”

I tagged Danny Sullivan (who now works for Google) in a tweet and he’s confirmed that it’s an “edge case” (interesting choice of phrase, Danny – not “bug”?) 😉

So there you have it, folks. No need to panic (yet). They’re not after our whisky SERPs – phew! Breatheinbreatheout breatheinbreatheout. Why not pour yourself a glass of Lagavulin?

…Too soon?

The Launch of TechEvents.Wales

TEW logoBack in 2015, I created a side-project website for my parents’ IT recruitment agency (Computer Recruiter) called CR 25, where we published 25 blog posts in one month to coincide with their 25th anniversary in business. It was a ton of fun, and I was chuffed that it earned me a couple of UK Search Awards shortlistings.

Since then (given that the main CR site doesn’t have its own blog – I know, I know…), I’ve been wondering what else we can do on the content front, beyond CR 25 and our occasional guest blogging efforts. On Twitter (@ComputerRecruit) we follow a lot of meetup/event organisers (check out our Twitter list!) and also RT a lot of their tweets about upcoming events, which got me thinking: what about a calendar of all the tech events in South Wales, all in one place…?

And voilà – TechEvents.Wales is born.

TEW homepage screenshot
Its homepage features a list of upcoming events from a ton of different meetups covering a ton of different topics: AWS South Wales User Group, South Wales Agile Group, Swansea Software Development Meetup, Digital Tuesday, PyDiff, South Wales Cyber Security Cluster and Cardiff Blogs, to name a few… even the horrendously run, joke-of-a-meetup that is Cardiff SEO Meet is on there. 😉

Its blog is going to include:

  • Interviews with local meetup organisers,
  • An analysis of 2017’s meetups in the area,
  • Writeups and reviews of local meetups, etc. etc.

Find out more in our intro post.

Got any ideas? Want to get involved? Feel free to drop me a comment below or tweet me. I live off feedback (so long as it’s constructive, obvs!) and would welcome people’s opinions on the direction of the site and its blog.

Also, a quick thank you to Peter of Xanthe Studios for helping with a few frustrating WordPress issues when setting up the site.

Google Reviews are Broken (and Google Local Guides Aren’t Helping)

Basketball points illustrationGoogle has a review problem.

When I help clients with SEO, if they already have – or could benefit from having – a Google Map listing (a.k.a. a Google My Business listing), I help them with the presentation and optimisation of that, too. One element of that is the ability for customers to be able to leave reviews. For a business that works hard to give its customers a good service, it can be a fantastic way to stand out from the competition. I often encourage clients to try and get Google reviews from their happy customers – in a way that abides by Google’s guidelines.

However something that I’m finding is becoming more and more prominent is the phenomenon of fake – maybe even ‘incorrectly-given’ – reviews. This blog’s most popular ever post is about how I managed to remove a fake and libellous review from my parents’ business’ Google listing. We (mostly) got lucky because the review’s text said some very nasty things that were very obviously against Google’s review guidelines, but where the whole Google review removal process gets messy is when the text is ambiguous (i.e. it could be a customer or it could not be, and it doesn’t conflict with Google’s review policy either way) or if no text is left against the review at all.

‘Cold’ reviews

One of my clients (and also my business’ home) – Welsh ICE – gets fantastic reviews. They consistently get 4- and 5-star reviews from people who we know are members and have used their facilities.

…But then, all of a sudden, a few months back, they got a 3-star review with no text against it.

And then another one – 3 stars, no text.

And then a 1-star review with no text.

Two things were weird about these reviews:

  1. When I asked Jamie & Rachel – who are involved with running ICE and looking after its community – if they knew who these people were, they said no. The reviewers (to the best of their knowledge) had never used ICE.
  2. They all had the ‘Local Guide’ tag next to them.

Google Local Guide review examples screenshot

Introducing Google’s Local Guides

I’ve been in SEO (and Local SEO) for a while, and while I’d come across Local Guides before, I hadn’t really paid much attention to it – so I did some research. It’s a way to contribute to Google Maps – most likely rising from the ashes of the death of Google Map Maker, which I’d used previously (with limited success – but that’s an aside). What’s more is that it’s gamified: contributors can earn points and badges, and can ‘level-up’.

Google Local Guides points screenshot
At first I thought it was just a prestige thing, but then I came across something quite interesting: at one point (fairly recently), they offered a Google Play perk, whereby “Local Guides who reach[ed] Level 4 and beyond by 31 August 2017 [had] a chance to receive 3 months of Google Play Music and 75% off a movie rental on Google Play.”

Google Local Guides perk screenshot
…Which I’ve screenshot, just in case the page gets taken offline in the future.

Of course, Google’s Maps User Contributed Content Policy states that “contributions must be based on real experiences and information” – but here’s the thing: how can anyone prove or disprove that a review was based on a real experience? Given that Google are incentivising Local Guides by offering them a Google Play discount, what’s stopping Local Guides from randomly leaving random reviews/ratings in order to get points, including businesses they’ve never even dealt with and/or places they’ve never even visited?!

Click to read more!

Really F**king Simple Solutions to Spotify’s Explicit Tagging Problem

Spotify button imageThe solution(s) for this are so simple that it’s [email protected]!#ing painful.

I blogged a few years ago about how Spotify’s tagging of explicit tracks is hit-and-miss – with some tracks that are explicit not tagged as such, and vice versa – and the situation hasn’t improved much since then. As a parent with young kids who wants to play music around the house but wants to avoid subjecting them to accidental swearing, my options are a) only playing music/playlists/albums that I know from memory are 100% swearing-free, or b) simply don’t use Spotify. I don’t think Spotify would like the latter option much, especially if a lot of people followed suit.

Spotify obviously cares about catering to families – they have a Premium option aimed at families specifically (h/t to Pritesh Patel for this discovery – who’s had similar frustrations to me). So it seems counter-intuitive to me that they consider families a target audience but won’t do all that they can to make it a family-friendly offering.

There’s definitely something already in place, as some tracks are tagged as explicit. A look at The National’s Trouble Will Find Me shows that all the explicit tracks are tagged correctly (3 out of 13), which is great. But look at The National’s more recent offering – Sleep Well Beast – and nothing’s tagged, however track 3 (“Walk It Back”) contains the word “f*ck” at least 4 times. You could argue that it’s not a popular song, but it’s had nearly 4 million plays on Spotify (as I type this), so that’s not really true.

Example on Spotify of The National screenshot
Example of how it looks on Spotify – notice how “I Need My Girl” is (correctly) tagged while “Walk It Back” isn’t tagged at all

The problem with a half-hearted approach is that you assume it’s right (especially when implemented by a company of Spotify’s size and scale) so you think if something’s marked as explicit then it is, and if it isn’t then it isn’t. If there was no explicit tagging in the first place then you know you’d have to be careful – but with incorrect tagging, you risk assuming everything is tagged correctly (and getting caught out when it isn’t).

Of course that’s just one example of one track from one album by one band… so I asked some Twitter friends for more. Here’s what I got back, plus a few more I’ve found of my own accord in the past:

I appreciate that it’s unfair of me to suggest that Spotify doesn’t care. On the one hand, it could be something that they’ve completely overlooked. On the other hand, it could be the one thing keeping Spotify’s developers up all night. Who knows.

So what can be done? Here’s a few suggestions that I can think of for starters…

Leverage Spotify’s partnership with Genius further…

Spotify is already partnered with Genius (and SoundHound, I’ve just found out while researching and typing this) to be able to show lyrics while listening to a song. Presumably there is an API in place that Spotify is using, which feeds Genius’ lyrics for a song into Spotify.

Click to read more!

Cardiff SEO Meet is Looking for a New Venue for 2018!

Cardiff SEO Meet (alt logo)New year, new venue. After three events in 2017 at Tramshed Tech, it’s time for a change… Cardiff SEO Meet is looking for a new venue for its events in 2018 and beyond. I have somewhere in mind, but I’d like to keep options open and get a ton of suggestions to consider.

Can you help? Do you know of anywhere suitable? Are you a venue owner who can provide a venue? Here’s our criteria:

  • Within 10 mins walk from Cardiff Central railway station
  • Reliable, free WiFi – ideally with no catches (e.g. you don’t have to subscribe to their mailing list or follow them on social media, etc.)
  • Accessible between 5:30pm-ish & 9:30pm-ish on the night, to set up and pack by
  • 50-100 capacity
  • Their own screen/projector setup

And nice-to-haves, although by no means deal-breakers if not available:

  • Food and drink available to buy (negating the need for a caterer – although happy to source externally if required)
  • PA and mic provided (if required, depending on whether or not the venue needs it)
  • Parking outside or nearby (free evening parking an added bonus)

Something like a function room in a bar would probably be our best fit, however another possibility could be an office premises, say if they also host events there… So long as the above criteria are met really.

We have sponsors, so there’s a budget, meaning that the venue hire doesn’t necessarily have to be free/cheap… however if the venue is open to becoming an event sponsor in return for a reduced rate then that’d be fab. Perks include a logo and a link on the Meetup group and on the event page of each event (here’s an example of an old event page), mentions in tweets before/during/after the event, mentions/links in the emails that go out to meetup subscribers (380+ people as I type this), and probably a whole bunch of other stuff. There’s also the fact that the venue will be seen by 30-50 people each time (I’m hoping to ramp this up next year) – one of our past venues commented that everyone who came to the event was a fresh face who had never visited before, so 30-50 new customers essentially.

Let me know! You can leave a comment below, email me, tweet me or @CardiffSEOMeet, or sign up to the Meetup group and message me on there. Cheers!