Google Maps Category Mystery Part 3: Solved?

Update 02/11/10: Google has dramatically updated their category syntax. These Google LBC categories have now been placed in a searchable database too located on the Google LBC Categories page of my website.

Update 12/20/09: I have a new list of current categories at Google Local Business Center Categories – The Complete List

The most oft repeated complaint and the biggest ongoing mystery in the Google Maps for Business Group has been: “Why can’t I be in the same category as my competitor?”

In Part 1 of this series, I gave some examples of the type of complaints that Google is seeing several times a week, in Part 2 I provided some background on the early research and the difficulty with categorization. I have also decided to provide a Part 4 with additional analysis so I will cut to the chase and spill the beans.

The upshot of the previous articles (Thanks to Miriam for clarity):

• 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
• Google responses have been unhelpful!
• This problem has gone one for over 18 months
• And the complaints are coming into Google 2 to 3 times per week

It appears that with lots of research, dogged questioning of Maps Guide Jen and testing, by Patrick Hagerty with Foxtail Hill Window Replacement in San Francisco the answer has been uncovered.

Patrick and I had been corresponding and testing all possibilities since early June, 2007. He felt that it was necessary for his business to show for the search: Window Replacement San Francisco. We quickly identified the category as SuperPages in origin and his competitors were there in strength. Over the months he attempted everything that I suggested including (but by no means limited to): being sure that he had correct SuperPages categorization, that his site was optimized for the phrase, that he had updated his optional fields in the LBC with this information and more. None worked. Until…

When he suggested that he was going to remove all categories from his record at the Local Business Center, I thought that he was nuts but that he had nothing to lose. I could not conceive how Google could possibly manage their category information in that way. He decided to inquire one more time of Maps Guide Jen and she responded:

We currently prioritize the information coming from the Local Business
Center to display with your listing, but we combine it with information from
our other providers to show the best combination of information. If you
don’t want to select Local Business Center categories for your listing, you
can remove them by going through the “edit” link that’s next to your
business. Hope this works out for you!

The solution: remove all category information from your Google LBC listing, update your description and title field to include your preferred category phrases and let it rip. We have not yet determined whether once you remove your LBC categories your business record will at some point re-aquire your SuperPage category or not but it appears that with the LBC categories gone, it then uses the business title, the description field and the business website to make a category determination.

To be safe be sure that you are listed correctly in the SuperPages (and probably Axcion), wait 6-8 weeks for the next Google update (you didn’t want to hear that one more time did you?) and your listing will show with your competitors in the correct category in Google Maps.

It is possible that Google gets categorization information from a few of their directory info partners but that remains to be tested. However a Superpage resource added: “Perhaps they only accept categorizations from partners which have taxonomic processes which they believe to be of higher quality”. If that is the case it appears to have less influence the the attributes mentioned above.

Weird yes, hard to believe, yes? However it appears to be the case. So far we have but two test cases which I realize is not a large sample. For those of you that have been struggling, this is a simple test that will hopefully put you in the category that you should be in and findable on the searches that you wish to be found on.

The irony is that Patrick had finally achieved a Top 3 OneBox listing and a week later Google introduced the Local 10-Pack. He wrote to me: This is good news for those businesses that were on the second page previously but bad news for those of us who had worked hard to earn our privileged spot in the Onebox and now have to share the position with nine others.

So here is a model of how it appears that Google internally generates their category information (for a full page HTML view):

categoryprocess.jpg

If you test this idea, I would love to hear of your success (and failures). If you can help refine the above model please let me know. As with all things Google, caveat emptor.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Maps Category Mystery Part 3: Solved? by

23 thoughts on “Google Maps Category Mystery Part 3: Solved?”

  1. And there you have it!

    Mike, this was a brilliant piece of detective work on your part. What a boon to all the SMBs who have been in category limbo, not knowing what to do. This is an extremely important article, and it was really a pleasure getting to follow along with you.

    Miriam

  2. Hi Miriam

    Thanks and thanks for your feedback during the process.

    However, I would add a great big caveat: the internal categorization process used in Maps that I have defined is but a hypothesis. As a hypothesis we need to, as a group either refine it or disprove it. A sample size of 2 is hardly definitve and I look forward to making sure that we are on the right track. And that we find the variations and exceptions…lots of questions still to answer….no rest for the weary :)

    Mike

  3. Hi Tim

    Hard work, good luck yes…genius no. It is still needs broad verification with numerous tests.

    In fact it was my interaction with the psychic from Santa Fe just the other day that finally clarified the relative weighting of the factors when Google LBC categories were not there. It was a perfect test case with no previous influences to muddy the waters…she didn’t have a SuperPage listing or any business listing any place as far as I could tell…the fact that it showed up next day in the correct category in google maps even though I had entered none in the LBC meant that there was no way that the work I had done in SuperPages could have had any significant influence. That was luck or perhaps fate? I was ready for a sign that I knew what I was doing that’s for sure.

    Sharing is the essence of learning. So get crackin’ and let me know what happens. :)

    Mike

  4. I just noticed the 10-pack. Great, because we’re #1, bad, as Patrick said, because we have 9 others right with us.

    This is some important work you’re doing for small businesses, Mike. Any way I can convince you to block all IP’s from a certain area in a certain state (except 1) from accessing this site?

  5. “Get Crackin”

    Alright Mike, I got to work. I followed your advice… now the hard part… waiting. It could be a helpful example because the business does not have a biz line nor any record in axciom.

    I’ll let you know what happens.

  6. Hi tim

    That a boy! :) (I am such a task master, no?) It might show up in Maps at lot sooner than the 6 weeks given the situation..like my psychic did…I would keep an eye out ….(that is one weird phrase…Miriam, its origins?)
    Keep me posted.

    Mike

  7. Mike, you continue to be THE authority on all things local. I think this series of posts is going into my permanent archives of noteworthy research on SEO, along with the 2006 series on restaurant reviews and such.

  8. Excellent post, Mike, thanks!

    SuperPages’ “Category” classification is definitely a major factor in Google Local’s ranking/placement of small business listings. We’ve found there are a few other components that could contribute to this, and even influence the Category name. Here’s a podcast we posted last year, explaining how to modify your Google listing/placement through a few of the other contributors (such as InfoUSA, who Google acquired a couple years back).

  9. Rick-

    When I get to broadband again I will give a listen. Thanks!

    I know that Google has a deal with InfoUSA for data but I don’t know that they own them
    Mike

  10. Sounds like you are making a lot of small business owners very happy. Good luck.
    A psychic in Santa Fe?

  11. Hi Jeanette

    We need to stop meeting like this :)

    I hope that I have made their job easier….it will take some time for the info to spread but at least for the short haul it will help.

    Mike

  12. I’ve been reading all parts on this category mystery. I was into research on this topic. The results are very clarifying.

    Still, is there any research/results on the following:

    #1 influence of sponsored links (Adwords Google Maps listing) on categories.
    #2 Influence of DMOZ (www.google.com/Top/ ) as provider of categorization
    #3 results from the yellow pages on each country. Google publicly lists it in the Google Maps Search results. Do they use their categorization? (3rd party providers as Jen is talking about?..)
    #4 User-Generated Content ( .kml files included in sitemap..) and ranking (to get your results up in the Local 10 Onebox).

    Been keen for any results and research done.
    What do you think mike?

  13. @me, remark at #1, I’m aware of the florist episode. Still, I wouldn’t be too amazed if Google would use data from Adwords as input for their organic (or maps) search for other purposes.

  14. Hi Martin

    If you saw the interview with Google’s Maslan that there are multiple influence’s on the category. I think that my chart really only shows the top level obvious influences and is accurate as far as it goes….thus other sources for “signals” are incredibly likely. And being in DMOZ could do no harm.

    Obviously if the Superpages doesn’t exist in a given country that Google would use a different yellopage/data provider for the start up seeding categorization.

    In my gut, KLM files are one of the signal sources as it verifies both business info and geolocation. I don’t have any proof of that but it makes tons of sense to me.

    Mike

  15. Thanks Mike for proving the tricks for getting listed in the same directory as someone’s competitor. I will share it with one of my friend who is running an SEO company who want to get listed in the same directory of his competitors from his place.

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