Google Maps Category Mystery Part 2: Backgound

On of the long standing mysteries in managing a Local Business Center business listing for Google Maps has been:“Why does my listing not show up in the same category as my competitor?”. There has not been a topic more frequently raised in the Google Maps for Business Group and one that has been more evasively answered by the Google staff. (For an example of this saga see Google Maps Category Mystery Part I: The Problem.)

Categorization has provided fodder for philosophers & scientist since Linneaus first created binomial nomenclature as a means to understand and classify all living things in the late 1700’s. The battle lines have been drawn between the “lumpers”, those that think there should be fewer categories, and the “splitters”, those that think that there should be more categories. All categorization is an arbitrary human artifact that helps us to more easily understand the world around us. There is no one answer to the “correct” number of categories of any given group.

Business categorization is no different. Add the needs of commerce, the power of computer search and the vagaries of the multitude of ways that humans can search for things make the problem even more vexing. What seems like a simple question: What categories should be used to classify U.S. Businesses quickly becomes a complicated problem that has many solutions. The fact that Superpages has a full-time staff team devoted to Taxonomy Development shows just how complicated.

The SIC code (standard industrial classification) system has roughly 1,500 categories of US businesses. The newer NAICS used primarily for economic analysis has roughly 1200 categories. The SuperPages which has both an offline and online needs has approximately +/-8000 categories and iBegin uses approximately 10,500. Google on the other hand uses only 520 categories and this remains unchanged exactly one year later. (Go here for a complete list comparing Reuben’s 2007 findings and my 2008 results.)

Clearly Google has not added a team of taxonomists to deal with this problem of increasing their limited category sets to a more complete set. Google has not added even one category to their list in the past year despite their exhortation to make suggestions. They obviously fall into the category of “lumpers” in the taxonomy debate although probably due to financial or programing concerns more than philosophical ones. The problem of matching such a small number of categories to a much larger category obviously creates its own very difficult problems.

As we have seen, their category strategy has generated a great deal of dissatisfaction amongst the businesses attempting to control their business record in Google’s Local Business Center. Perhaps if we could just understand enough about how Google uses its categories we could answer the question: How can I get in the same category as my competitor? Obviously the problem is complicated, and Google’s most recent response “The Google Help Center is your friend” does little to shed light on this.

Given that Google gets most of its data from data providers the question that needed to be answered were two:

•Who is the primary provider of categories to Google Maps?

•How does Google relate its limited number of categories to the categories of its suppliers and the greater business world?

The search professionals working with Google local have been exploring this question of how Google manages categories since the introduction of the Google Local business Center in 2005. (Prior to that categorization was handled by InfoUSA.) The understanding has come in fits and starts with many contributors. However the answer to the first question became obvious, Google was, in the United States*, using the categories of SuperPages as their default categories. Those business that showed categories in Map’s results that not listed in the LBC were direct SuperPage’s categories.

Superpages and Google never publicly announced that they had a formal deal to use Superpages data in Google Maps, though it’s now obvious that they do, just as Google has partnered with many other data providers. Sources at Superpages noted that they were “not entirely certain that Superpages’ business development managers were aware that Google was displaying their custom Category names on the listings page in this way, though there’s no specific contractual problem with that. ”

So while it has become clear where the categories were coming from that were not shown in the Local Business Center, it was not at all clear how any given business could get into the SuperPage category if they so desired. It took the hard work of a locally focused webmaster and an apparently off hand comment from Maps Guide Jen to one of his many questions to point the way. More on that in Part 3: Solution.

*It is likely that in each country in which Google Maps operates it uses a default data source for its categorization of business. It would need to be determined on a country by country basis.


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18 thoughts on “Google Maps Category Mystery Part 2: Backgound”

  1. Hi Mike,
    So, it’s Superpages!

    But I am still feeling very confused by this concept of competitors not appearing in the same category. I’m trying to get a handle on this, Mike, but feel like I’m not quite getting it.

    How can something be a category with only one listing in it? I’ve been looking at your earlier posts trying to catch up on this issue, but I guess I’m missing something.

    Does this mean two auto mechanics in San Francisco can’t appear in the same category? Am I missing the point? I feel like I am…but I’ve got the flu today, so my thinking is a little fuzzy.


  2. Great stuff as always, Mike.
    Categorization is a real difficult problem to solve, especially at the local level. Do you sell Wedding Dresses, Bridal Gowns or Formal Wear? A lot fine lines between those categories. Just being listed where your competitor is can be a decent defensive strategy however what you really want is to be listed with the right set of descriptive terms that match up with what you do as a business and how people would look for your product or services. Shoot me an email if you want to go into more detail. I think I can add some insight into some of the underlying issues.
    I do always appreciate your analysis.


  3. Miriam

    If you are not getting it, its because I am not explaining it clearly. If you do a search on Window Replacement San Francisco in Google Maps, at the top of the listing you will see categories that obviously influence relevancy and rank but are not available in Google. They come from SuperPages.

    I have added a screen shot above so you can see what I am talking about. The closest Google offered category is “Services – Glass & Window Repair” which if selected in the LBC typically returns your business listing in the auto glass repair area. If your business is Window Replacement
    you would want to be found in that category which Google is obviously using but which is not available.

    If your 10 competitors show up on the search for Window replacement and you do not, and if that really is the phrase that you are striving for, and Google only offers you the category “Glass & Window & Repair” and you have chosen it, and no matter what you do , you can’t get into that search results category, and ask Google and they say “The help file is your friend”, what are you going to do?

    Hope you are feeling better.


  4. Oh, thank you. I get it now, Mike!

    – Google is pulling categories from SuperPages
    – These categories are not available in LBC
    – SMBs are frustrated to see their competitors being shown in these desirable categories when there is no way, within LBC, to be added to them
    – Google is telling people to suggest categories, but is not implementing these suggestions
    – Being told to go to an unhelpful help file is….unhelpful!

    Did I get that right?

    So, now, if you have determined that in the USA, these categories are being pulled from SuperPages, is the answer to get listed in SuperPages in the desire category? Is that the gem in this article? The answer to the mystery?

    I really appreciated the screenshot. I often learn best from visual examples. Thanks, Mike!

  5. Miriam

    By george, I think you’ve got it (said with a distinguished British accent)! Although you could add: 6)And this problem has gone one for 18 months & 7)why is local this complicated?

    The only problem with your excellent summary is that I am wondering if I really needed 1500 words to get to this point 🙂

    You would think that your answer is the answer but alas it tunred out not to be that simple. You will have to wait for Part 3 for the solution to this particular mystery.


  6. Awesome analysis Mike…

    I believed and still suspect as I did when I wrote this this.

    Allpages uses superpages for results, so it is likely that they share many categories.

    The big difference between the two is that I cannot update my listing on Allpages – all the info comes from the Telco. Superpages I can add a listing. But 95% of the results are going to be identical.

    So, my big question is… If I’m running a business and I don’t have a business line through the telco, could updating my business profile on get me in the right category on G Maps?

    And if it can, than I would advise such a business to NOT use the local business center with Google. As I did both a year ago and the business operating off a res line is STILL in the wrong category.

    Again, an awesome discussion… thanks. Oh! and side note: I was NOT able to find the category you used as an example above in Allpages… however many others were shared… i.e. pressure washing instead of power washing.

  7. And both SuperPages and Allpages use Axcion as their data source so they could originate there. There are many ties and threads that wind through the whole industry. My conversation with Superpages folks led me to settle on them.

    And the answer to your big question is….it will have to wait until I have the time to write part 3 as I find the story and analysis as interesting as the answer that I discovered.

    Your advise to not use LBC given everybody’s previous state of knowledge was good in that it “did no harm” as using the LBC could do. I think that you will find that there is a way around that now……

    But your point demonstrates how Google’s approach to these types of problems can be counter productive to their interests and long term needs…that is by not saying how to affect outcome they motivated some to stop using the LBC…the exact opposite of what they want which is long term control over data accuracy.


  8. Mike your comments just seem to reinforce a feeling that I’ve had for a long time. Google doesn’t seem to understand the needs or the limitations of small business – and at the local level it’s small business that Google has to deal with.

    Instead of helping the very people it should be helping Google just seems to use small business as so much cannon fodder.

  9. Hi Stuart-

    You have that right. And it is such a shame too because Maps could be such a help to the small busines person if only it was more tranparent and easier to figure out.

    I shouldn’t take 6 months for a small business with my (unfortunately) unpaid consulting to figure out how to get into the category that they want. It is just too friggin hard but then again why would the world need me if it wasn’t? 🙂

    Although I am not sure that Google views small business the way Napoleon viewed troops…I think it just as likely that in their reverance for code they forget that there are real people who have to cope with it on the other end.. …

    Even a simple confirmation after entering a listing like Yahoo provides would go a long way towards assuring the small business person that their data isn’t just meandering through the ether.


  10. Dear Mike,
    Thank you for helping me regain my sanity! I have been going back and forth with Google over this matter and I honestly can’t believe that they are so obtuse. (Makes me wonder why I ain’t that rich!)

    To confirm what Miriam said above – if I partake in SuperPages advertising my ranking on Google Maps will improve?

    We’re ranked 6th-9th on Google; 4th on Yahoo and 2nd on MS Search for the regular search results so being ranked on the 3rd page of Google Maps while my competitors enjoyed this “free” service caused me some concern to say the least.


  11. Hi Peter

    The whole category issues has changed dramatically since this was written. On March 19, Google Local Business Center had an upgrade that allowed Unlimited Category Options. With this change you should be able to get into the same category as your competitors without removing all categories.

    Whether Google adds authority to SuperPages or other sources of you and your competitors info is unclear. I would change the category info there and at Localeaze as well. Being in the same category is not necessarily going to rank you better.

    That would come from more “web page” references and more reviews.


  12. *”if I partake in SuperPages advertising my ranking on Google Maps will improve?”*

    (Mike please correct me if I’m wrong in what I’m about to say)


    I don’t think Mike implied that you need to advertise on Superpages, he is referring to the business profile. Which can be updated at no charge with the most appropriate categories for your business.

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