Google has difficult a programming problem that they are attempting to solve in Google Maps. There are somewhere on the order of 25 million businesses in the U.S. and there are perhaps more than 25 billion web pages for (some of) those businesses in their index. Google, in their Maps product, wants to gather as much information as they can about each of those businesses and link it directly to that business.
From Google’s perspective, the web site associated with that business is very important piece of information. Their Page Rank system assumes the relative importance of a web site based on the number and quality of links into the website and by extension this is used to calculate the relative importance of the actual business. For Maps to work the way that Google envisions, they want to associate a specific business with a specific website. It is not the only criteria that is used in ranking in their local product but it is a significant one.
They have a structured database of businesses with addresses, phone etc that they purchased from the many database suppliers and Yellow Page directories and they need to match that information up with their own index of websites and pages. In the absence of owner entered content, they will use their Authoritative document identification algorithm to do this.
From their patent abstract on this subject of Authoritative document identification (from Authority Documents for Google Local Search by Bill Slawski):
A system determines documents that are associated with a location, identifies a group of signals associated with each of the documents, and determines authoritativeness of the documents for the location based on the signals.
The method leads to a mostly accurate Google Maps database in regard to which website is associated with which business. However, when Google makes an error in this assignment of the website, it can be a doozy. I have written about my experience here: The road to Google Maps Nirvhana is paved with good intentions and recently there was this post Competitor Hijacks Google Local Business Listing?. It is easy to see why people in the industry think that there is skullduggery afoot.
The algorithms on Google Maps automatically select relevant web pages to appear with each business listing. These algorithms work to link each business listing with the most accurate web page the algorithm can find. However, it sometimes misses the most appropriate site for an individual business.
Here is a recent example of this problem (pointed out by Markus at AU Interactive):http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&client=firefox-a&q=the+met+sarasota
The number one result points to a competitor’s website:
A. Met-Fashion House Day Spa/Sln www.kubotadayspa.com
35 S Blvd of Presidents, Sarasota, 34236 – (941) 388-3991
When you dig into the more info you see that there have been no details provided by either the business owner or one of the directories that might submit to Google. In the absence of this, Google made it’s best guess…and it turned out to be wrong.
It isn’t totally clear how often this occurs. When it does, it is very disconcerting and it is tempting to look for the evil doer. Late last year, when analyzing Buffalo restaurants, my research indicated one error in fifteen entries. Most however, were not errors of this magnitude. How often Google picks a competitor’s website needs to be more carefully assessed.
Clearly, given the new prominence of the Local OneBox, this sort of issue will come to surface with increasing frequency and will need to be solved by Google for their Maps product to have the level of consumer trust that their organic search product does.
The takeaway? Claim your business record at Google’s Business Listing Center. Now! Don’t wait! Trusting your business to Google’s algorithm is an act of faith that may not be rewarded with the outcome you were hoping for.