Using Google Cloud Platform Frees Up Time for Product Development

Since we opened our doors, VendAsta has built its solutions on Google App Engine. What it’s given us over the years has been the ability to focus on the end user solutions without having to worry about the serving hardware infrastructure. It’s allowed us to provide a redundant, reliable and infinitely scaleable solutions that our biggest clients can count on. The following write-up appeared on the Google Cloud Platform Blog, and was drafted by Jason Collins, VendAsta’s chief technical officer.


When we founded VendAsta in 2008, we had great ideas about helping millions of small local businesses manage their brands and local reputation. At the same time, we knew that we didn’t want to go through the headache of building our own data center – some of us had done that before at a real estate startup and it was painful. With fortunate timing, Google App Engine launched at the same time we founded VendAsta, and it was an easy decision to use Google’s infrastructure for building and testing applications. As Google added even more features to App Engine and made it a better product, we knew we’d made the right decision.

In fact, our very first lines of code were written on App Engine. We liked not worrying about server redundancy, data replication, peering relationships, power backup, cooling systems, application scaling, or data backups. We could simply focus on the business logic of our applications and what we wanted to deliver to our end users. Focusing on the product got us where we are today – our platform monitors the web for any mention on over 200,000 local businesses, analyzes the social content, and helps them figure out what they need to respond to and take action on. Once a business understands its online reputation, it can take steps to improve it, attracting more customers and increasing revenue.

Large architectural strides can be made when you commit to a platform and align with the platform’s vision. VendAsta has made that decision, and we’re realizing the benefits of using the full Google Cloud Platform feature set. Today, we have about 75 applications running on App Engine and Google Cloud Datastore, including Social Marketing, a tool that helps businesses share content across social channels, and Reputation Management, which shows businesses what customers are saying about them online.

We’re leveraging several other parts of Cloud Platform as well: we use Google BigQuery for structured analysis to perform multi-location analyses for large brands. With BigQuery, we can build data analytics “hypercubes,” using data from thousands of local businesses – like a chain of thousands of car dealerships that wants to compare the reputations of East Coast locations against those on the West Coast. We use BigQuery to analyze the data, then we use Google Cloud SQL to generate the reports that clients need. Our large number of applications are able to communicate reliably with one another using Google Cloud Pub/Sub as an asynchronous messaging system.

Running our business on the cloud gives us the scalability we need to remain competitive. We have the freedom to seek out more partners who will buy our platform and bring it to their customers, without being concerned about our ability to handle customer requests to onboard thousands or tens of thousands of accounts. And all that time saved by not worrying about our infrastructure has helped us bring more and better product features to the small and medium businesses that rely on VendAsta.

Facebook has 4X the Number of Reviews as Yelp, Google+

VendAsta’s reputation software now pulls in business reviews from Facebook! Did that get you excited? It should have.

This is big news.

We are the first in the online reputation industry to pull in reviews from Facebook, alongside reviews from other top review sites like Yelp and Google+. Businesses can see what their customers (and potential customers) are saying about them all over the web from one central location. And as you can see from the headline, it is becoming increasingly important to manage Facebook reviews.

But Why Does This Matter?


In October of 2013, Facebook began quietly tiptoeing into Yelp and Google+ territory by adding reviews to their offering. Since they already have a massive user base — over 1.23 billion monthly active users — Facebook’s jump into reviews is likely to be a swan dive rather than a belly flop.


Business owners should be happy to see Facebook enter the game as well, since people are more likely to use their real identity to post reviews, meaning there will be less anonymous, conspicuous one-star ratings. And since the reviews are already posted on the social network, they are easier to share with friends and family, which people are more likely to trust than anonymous reviews.

With a Bright Local report confirming that over 85% of consumers read reviews for local businesses, up from 76% in 2012, it’s no wonder why Facebook would jump into the review game. While Google+ and Yelp have been battling it out for the marketshare, Facebook has slipped into the game and is quickly becoming a fierce competitor. Currently, Yelp exceeds Google+ on number of reviews and places reviewed, and Yelp tends to have nearly double the number of reviews than Google+ on places where they have the same business listings (PiperJaffray). While the talk of competition is mostly between Google+ and Yelp right now, Facebook has entered the game as a lively competitor, ready to let the others bicker while they take huge bites out of the growing market. In some business categories, has found that there are four times more Facebook reviews than other sources.


Businesses and consumers are already on Facebook, so to use it as a consumer review platform seems intuitive. The average person spends about 15.5 hours a month on Facebook, and many consumers seek out current business information here rather than the company’s website. Consumers are more likely to get quick responses and meaningful interactions from a company’s Facebook page.

Counting is Hard and the (Pre Alpha) Solution

Jason Collins, our CTO, has been burdened with a problem: counting. And not just the kind Big Bird is constantly chirping about. Developers are often tasked with coding pages containing many data points, which can be a lot of information to get to a user quickly. Jason wants to find a way to get accurate data quickly.

In his example, Jason uses VendAsta’s Social Marketing software. The dashboard houses various data points, including the number of reviews a business receives. So we simply have to ask the database, right? When we input the simple command to store a review — review.put( ) — that information is stored in a datastore.

data store 1

The above, of course, is a simplified version. In the world of Google app Engine, that data will be stored in several different datastores, in various geographic locations:

review put various citites

The statement attempts to house the review in all locations, but only waits until it hears from a majority of the datastores in at least two geographic centers. This algorithm is called paxos.

review A

While all the data is not in one datastore, the information will be “eventually consistent.” Datastores are copying all this data trying to bring the system into consistency, so eventually all reviews will be in all data sets. In the case below, reviews A,B and C will ultimately be in each datastore. While it is frequently updating, it is often out of sync as new information is constantly added.

eventual consistency


The (pre-alpha) Solution


Accurately counting the information by scanning all the datastores is time-consuming and expensive. What Jason has done is found a way to capture a “snapshot” of the data using BigQuery. After the initial snapshot, which has information from all the datastores, then the system will track deltas — how much to add or subtract each hour.

data snapshotOccasionally, it will be necessary to apply a new Snapshot, as the information becomes out of sync. As logic follows, the more frequent the snapshots, the more likely the data is to be accurate.

snapshot 2

Click on the video to see VendAsta CTO Jason Collins presenting his theory to our office — the real thing is even better than the write up.

Counting is Hard


Show Some Skin: From A Negative Facebook Review to (Relative) Fame

Women are rarely surprised at the bombardment of sexist comments. It’s not shocking to read offensive words online posted by some dude (the YouTube comment section seems to deteriorate the fastest, with people nearly instantly and inexplicably jumping to statements about Hitler and the “she should be in the kitchen” types).

While not shocking, the comments are definitely harmful. When a reviewer casually mentioned that servers at Atomic Grill in Morgantown, West Virginia should “show more skin,” the owner agreed. Sort of.

“It was brutish. I was upset. I’m a father of a 12-year-old girl and I’ve got five sisters,” owner Daniel McCawley told ABC News. “The way that women are treated is pretty personal as far as I’m concerned.” Rather than engaging in a debate likely to go nowhere, McCawley took positive from the negative; lemonade from lemons; feminism from misogyny. This Memorial Day weekend, Atomic Grill be offering a special on their potato skins, and donating 100 per cent of the proceeds to the West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information Services.

The likes for Atomic Grill are pouring in on their Facebook page. Morgantown has a population of less than 30,000, so to have over 8,000 likes is a noteworthy feat. And reviewers are taking to their keyboards too. With over 1,000 reviews, Atomic Grill’s average rating is a lofty 4.8/5. Nearly 90 per cent of people who have reviewed the Grill gave them five out of five stars, and my guess is, not a lot of them have even eaten there.


Many of the reviews talk about the locally sourced meat or the pulled pork, but a huge number of them pertain to the business’s stance on women’s rights. When McCawley posted his positive spin about the negative review on the company’s Facebook page, he could not begin to imagine the response. “When we come up with an idea like the ‘show us some skin,’ we never in our wildest dreams expected it to take off like this did,” McCawley posted on their Facebook page. “We are humbled and excited that everyone has responded to it so positively. We value our employees as much as our own families, and if we can turn something negative into a positive for our community, then all the better.” Social media is a great equalizer — any size of business can find success (or failure).

Atomic Grill Reviews


Reach for the Stars

Social media creates an avenue for customers to express appreciation for your business, or even something more abstract, like your business ethics. If you are passionate about something, take a stand. Don’t pretend to care about something you don’t, or worse yet, don’t care about something for publicity or marketing sake. Why did Atomic Grill gain so much traction so quickly? Because they came across as honest and concerned — their reaction never seemed like a publicity stunt.

The True Price of Online Reviews

“Recommendations can have more of an impact than brand or price. They can be more important than what your brand is and the price you’re charging.”
— ShareThis CEO Kurt Abrahamson

Think of the last time you went out for supper and all the decisions that it took you to get there. You likely chose a night that fit into your schedule (or realized there were no groceries in your fridge), picked an outfit and hit the town. And, if you’re like most people, you searched the restaurant online as well. According to Constant Contact, “restaurants are the most searched industry by consumers through both mobile applications and browsers.” Restaurants are frequently sought after online, and other industries are not far behind. One of the main pieces of information consumers are seeking is online reviews.

Yahoo! Tech recently reported on a study that illustrates the monetary value of online reviews. The study, conducted by ShareThis and The Paley Center of Media, puts dollar values on a phenomena all of us know (or at least have sensed) to be true: customers trust online reviews nearly as much (and sometimes more) than personal recommendations. The study revealed that consumers were willing to pay more for products if they received good reviews.

“We found that highly positive online shares can generate an almost 10 percent increase in purchase intent, and negative reviews can also have a correspondingly negative impact, [reducing purchase intent by] 11 percent,” explained ShareThis CEO Kurt Abrahamson to Yahoo! Tech.

The survey considered the responses of over 6000 participants to see if people would be willing to pay more or less for products based on reviews from strangers and friends, online or in person.

Their conclusion: people are definitely willing to pay more for a product if they are aware of positive reviews. When buying an iPad, respondents would pay $22.26 more based on a positive online review by a stranger, and $27.42 more with a good review from a friend. The table below shows how much more people are willing to pay for certain products — Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy, Dell Venue and Google Nexus — based on positive reviews by strangers, acquaintances and friends.

Constant Contact

Bad reviews proved to be more influential than positive reviews, driving down the price people were willing to pay for a product. After reading a negative review by a stranger on the iPad, people were apt to pay $32.20 less for it.

What’s the Big Deal?

It is absolutely essential to monitor a business’ online reviews. The good ones can be harvested and used for promotion, and the negative ones need to be responded to quickly and efficiently. Even when the exact monetary value cannot be measured, it’s clear that reviews have a huge impact on the way consumers view products or services. Help business monitor their online presence and ensure their business listings are accurate. This is the best form of customer service for the digital age.


How a Rogue Employee Ruined the Reputation of a 40-Year-Old Business

George Leith, our VP of sales, is constantly traveling North America to help business owners understand the concept of the virtual doorway and their digital footprint. He emphasizes that a brand is no longer what you say it is, but what customers say it is. While in Iowa George heard a story that stuck with him — he detailed it here for us.

Don’t Let Mice Infest Your Company

Helping the small and medium business person is my daily quest. As I travel the country interpreting this crazy world of “the virtual doorway,” I have the privilege of hearing the day-to-day issues of business people. The couple I just met in Iowa has a look of dismay as they tell me the horror story of how an ex staff member ruined their 40-year-old business’s reputation. How easy it was for the staff member to do so sent chills down my spine.

The ex staff member had been working for the couple’s small town gas station for six months, and they suspected her of stealing. After installing a security camera, they indeed caught the young woman skimming money from the till. The couple fired her, choosing not to make a scene with local authorities. What happened in the next few weeks is astonishing, and speaks to how important it is for all businesses to listen to what is being said in today’s connected world.

The woman, upset that she had been fired, went online and created a Facebook page for the business. The gas station had yet to recognize the power of social media and did not have a page for themselves, so it was easy for the young lady to create a page using the correct business name, address and phone number. She then began posting images she had collected in her six months on the job. To the horror of the business owners, their dirty laundry was aired across the internet. The gas station had a rodent problem, one that they had identified and hired an exterminator to fix. However, before said fix occurred, the woman was able to gather a number of photos of mice in the potato chip display. They had eaten through some bags, and one even was kind enough to practically pose for the photos. There, in all their negative glory, were these images across the business’s virtual Facebook doorway for current and potential customers to see — a PR nightmare that the business could not control.


It is vital for businesses to understand what is being said about their brand online. This chatter through review and social sites is constantly affecting brands. More than ever, business people need to be aware of what is being said online and understand how to deal with it. This particular story details an angry ex-employee purposefully spreading hurtful information via social media, but it is increasingly important for business owners to listen to what is being said online. Whether positive or negative, reviews are the best source of instant feedback, something business owners are constantly seeking out. Your brand is no longer what you say about yourself, but rather what your customers say about you.

In the coming weeks, we will investigate various online issues business people face and source some of the best solutions of the day. This is challenging to say the least, because this world is moving beneath our feet.

I have conducted online reputation seminars throughout North America over the past 18 months, and business people are clamoring to learn about this world and how to manage their virtual doorways. Business owners are demanding answers to these tough questions, and I’m here to help navigate this new world.

Geo LeithGeorge Leith is a digital media interpreter. Specializing in digital strategy and implementation, George illustrates the importance of online reputation management and brand presence. He helps organizations make their virtual doorways as inviting as their brick and mortar entrances. With nearly three decades of experience, George is always in high demand across North America. Last year alone, George traveled to numerous cities across America, including Las Vegas, Sarasota, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Miami, Toronto, Tampa, New Orleans and Fort Worth, reaching thousands of businesses. 

VendAsta Releases New Listing Distribution Service and Brings Transparency to Online Listing Management

VendAsta’s Presence Builder now distributes local business information to fix inaccurate listings, list businesses in more local search sites and provides detailed proof of performance.

Saskatoon, SK, Apr 24, 2014. VendAsta Technologies, a leader in online reputation and presence management platforms, is releasing a new listing distribution product to help partners improve and scale digital presence services for local businesses. VendAsta provides white label online reputation management and presence solutions to reseller partners who serve the marketing needs of local businesses.

In the US, four major data providers power the web — Neustar/Localeze, Acxiom, Infogroup and Factual. Over 300 major search sites query these providers for information, including search engines, online directories, navigation systems and more.   If these data providers have incorrect listing information — name, address, phone number or any other detail — those errors will be disseminated all over the web, causing poor search ranking, as well as a loss of customers and revenue.  Recent studies have shown that customers lose trust in a brand when their listing information is incorrect.

Trying to keep business listings accurate by manually entering information is prohibitively tedious and time consuming. Listing distribution is economical, easy to use and makes accurate listing data available to potentially hundreds of online directories and listing sites, which is key for a good local search rank and overall reach. Listing Distribution sends accurate data to all four data providers, helping correct business information on existing listings and create new listings where they don’t exist.

“Listing Distribution solutions today lack transparency to show businesses where their information has been sent, if that information was accepted and what the result is over time,” explains Brendan King, CEO of VendAsta.  “Our solution shows all of the results as this business data moves through the complex pipelines that ultimately determine how and where businesses are listed online. In the end, we want to be able to show local businesses the real value and proof of performance that these major data solution providers deliver.”

Listing Distribution is part of VendAsta’s Presence Builder, which also includes Location Pages — search optimized business pages with key business contact information like name, address, phone number and hours of operation — that are easily crawlable for search engines. With Listing Distribution, this provides a robust local SEO package.

Listing Distribution is revolutionary and innovative in scope, pioneering in the world of presence management.  With the reach and scale that VendAsta affords, channel partners can provide listing distribution at competitive rates that provide attractive margins.  For more information, visit

About the Company

VendAsta Technologies is a leader in digital marketing and brand management solutions for small to mid-sized local businesses. VendAsta provides white label solutions to media companies that work directly with local businesses, including online directional media companies, newspapers, broadcasters, SEO services, certified marketing representatives, web hosting providers and interactive agencies. VendAsta’s reputation and presence management platform includes Reputation Monitoring, Brand Analytics, Presence Builder, Social Marketing lead generation tools and Concierge CRM platforms to help manage and sell digital products. For more information, visit

Press Contact

Jeff Tomlin, Vice President of Marketing
+1 (306) 220-2721 |


Location Page: What It Is and Why Businesses Desperately Need It

The Googlebot scours the web for information, and if it’s not easy to find for the bot, it definitely isn’t easily accessible to mere humans. Google recommends location pages as a good way to ensure accurate information is picked up by their crawler, as well as those of other search engines.

What is a Location Page?

A location page is as simple as it sounds — any page that contains information about the business. It’s extremely important to note that a business’ location page is in addition to their website, not in place of. For most small and medium businesses (SMBs), this will likely be an individual page, but for chains or multi-department stores, it may be part of a store-locator section from the main website.

Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Webspam team, emphasizes the importance of not hiding your multi-location information within a complex site. Cutts says, “If you want your store pages to be found, it’s best to have a unique, easily crawlable url for each store.” He goes on to say that a Google Places page is not enough, and cannot be substituted for a location page. “[Having a Google Places page] doesn’t change the fact that you should provide a web page for each store–that lets anyone on the web find your store locations more easily.”

According to Google, the most frequently sought after information is:

  • • business address
  • • hours of operation
  • • phone number
  • • departments available (i.e. parts department at an autobody)

Google, as well as other search engines and sources, require certain criteria for optimal data sourcing. Google’s criteria includes:

  • • each location or brand’s information accessible on separate web pages
  • • allow Googlebot to discover and crawl the location pages
  • • location information presented in an easy-to-understand format
  • • use of structured data markup
  • Google Location Page
Go Mobile

Google also has suggested standards for mobile location sites. It’s no secret that mobile is increasingly important. In the Mobile Path-to-Purchase report for 2013, xAd/Telemetrics found that 1 out of 3 smartphone users search specifically for contact info — phone number, maps, address and driving directions. While there are three options for mobile sites — responsive design, dynamic serving and a separate mobile site — Google encourages the use of responsive design.  A business without a clear and concise mobile-responsive location page is driving customers away.

1 in 3 infograph

Why do SMBs Need a Location Page?

SMBs may notice that their information isn’t being sourced properly and is inconsistent across the web. This information usually pertains to name, address and phone number (NAP data), as well as hours of operation. When the structured data contained on most websites is formatted into HTML from its original structure, many applications struggle to recover the authentic data. The markup of a business’ website needs to be organized in a way that is accessible by major search providers. Search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo! and Yandex all rely on this markup to show an enhanced display of search results that many people have come to rely on.

Though it is an expert web crawler, even the Googlebot struggles to obtain the correct information. Businesses need to be sure that their site’s robots.txt file allows the bot to crawl the page. According to Google, the most common reason customers are unable to find a business’ location information in their search results is because the Googlebot’s ability to crawl the page has been blocked. To ensure your business or the business of your client isn’t disallowing web crawling, read up on Google’s details.

No Fear, VendAsta Here!

While we can occasionally be the bearer of bad news, we always have a solution in tow! Presence Builder syncs common social data, corrects inconsistent NAP data across the web and builds location sites to Google’s standards. On Presence Builder, it’s easy to create mobile-responsive location sites in just minutes. The sites are clean and adhere to Google’s standards. One of the next features we will be incorporating into our location pages is the ability to see reviews on the page in Google’s format, helping to improve SEO.

The best part? We include Presence Builder in your seller’s package, so you can give it away to SMBs. A location page is so important, we just couldn’t stand the thought of SMBs not having one.


Size Matters: The Ideal Length of Tweets, Facebook Posts and Google+ Headlines

Whether you’re speaking, writing or tweeting, size does matter. Small and medium businesses, SMBs, often facilitate several social media pages. This can be a great way to stay at the forefront of peoples’ minds, and have people learn about the company. The downside, however, is that it’s easy to be ignored in all the clutter.  Here are some guidelines for brands posting on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Twitter Talk

While 140 characters already feels limiting to the verbose logophiles among us, experts are telling us even that is too long for maximum engagement.

For tweets containing links, we can turn to some research by Dan Zarrella (because he’s won awards, written books, yada yada). After analyzing over 200,000 tweets containing links, Zarrella concludes that the click through rate, CTR, is highest among tweets of 120 – 130 characters. He also found that placing links about 25% of the way through the tweet was the prime location for a better CTR.

For the highest likelihood of a retweet, you need to drop nearly 30% of the Twitter character allotment. Zarrella’s findings say that tweets between 100 and 115 characters are 34% more likely to be retweeted. Once tweets hit 120 characters, the retweet probability goes down faster than Justin Bieber’s reputation.

Facebook Fodder

When Twitter first launched, people questioned how anything of substance could be contained in 140 characters and attacked millenials for having short attention spans. Naysayers didn’t recognize the way Twitter would change the way we absorb media, but what about Facebook? It’s been around longer than Twitter and has the potential to post much longer statuses, but should you?

Absolutely not. The longest status update you can put on Facebook is 63,206 characters. Seems like a random number? Bob Baldwin, an engineer at Facebook, told ZDnet:

“I set the exact limit to something nerdy. Facebook … Face Boo K … hex(FACE) – K … 64206 – 1000 = 63206.” In other words, Baldwin calculated the number using the hexadecimal numeral system: The hexadecimal value of “FACE” is 64,206. Then, Baldwin subtracted “K,” or “kilo-” (the prefix for 1,000), to arrive at 63,206.

I guess that is kind of nerdy. Anyway, though you can fit 451.5 full tweets in a post, you surely should not. Jeff Bullas reports that brand wall posts less than 80 characters receive 66% higher engagement than longer posts. Posts of 40 characters or under are even better, receiving 86% higher fan engagement. Not a lot of people have caught on apparently — only 5% of all retail brand wall posts are under 40 characters.

FB long posts

Grasping Google+

Demian Farnworth reported that the ideal length for a Google+ headline is under 60 characters so that it fits on one line. Also, you now only see three lines of text before Google suppresses the content to a “read more” call to action, so it is imperative your first sentence is intriguing.

Whether you’re posting content for your business or on behalf of your SMB clients, the moral of the story — keep it short.


The Tool That Will Increase Your Digital Sales Conversion and Probably Make You Rich

Our software is amazing — everyone that uses it is impressed by the results. Businesses see improved SEO, consistent listings across the web and better brand awareness, with the added ability of scheduling social posts from one location, viewing specific regions or branches, and a diverse plethora of other capabilities.

But, we noticed our salespeople sometimes struggled to get the software in the hands of small and medium business, SMB, owners. There were a few problems:

  •    • a disconnect between product and sales
  •    • sales teams that are sometimes inexperienced in selling digital
  •    • occasions where businesses understand digital better than the salesperson
  • We worked hard to come up with a solution that would make things easier for all three parties: the SMB, the salesperson and us.

    The Solution: Snapshot Report
  • The Snapshot report is the perfect solution to alleviate the difficulties of selling digital, and is easy to use. Like, really easy.

    The report doles out information that is interesting and personalized for the SMB — this is information that they want. It’s compelling for both the salesperson and the business owner, at the same time as being easy to explain. It costs very little, and will never embarrass the salesperson by showing unwanted information.

    Enter a few fields of business information (sometimes the only information you need is the business’ phone number), and give the report a little time to generate. Some information will be available in about 10 minutes, but it’s best to wait 24 hours before presenting to the SMB to ensure the most information is available.

    The report shows visuals of how the company is doing in regards to visibility, reviews and social sites in comparison to their competitors and industry averages. It illustrates what their website looks like on a mobile, as mobile has replaced much of desktop search. The report also offers a prescriptive pitch to the salesperson on how the company can benefit from their services.

  • snapshot.png

  • The Results
  • We’ve been tracking the progress of the new tool with the over 4,000 partner salespeople with accounts. The improvement in close rates rose 61 per cent in January. The average close rate for salespeople who use Snapshot is about 26 per cent.

    Not to brag, but the Snapshot report is a little bit of perfection here on digital earth. It’s the synchronization of product and marketing, sales and creative, business and intrigue. Are you aching for data? Want to learn more? Is the suspense killing you? We will be releasing more information on our website soon, but for now, you can check this webinar for a demo.



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