Google Plus Box – Where does the (wrong) data come from?

One of the more vexing problems in local search has been erroneous address & phone data showing for a bricks & mortar location in the main Google search results in the Plus Box. For a screen shot of the issue click here.

Small business owners have flocked to the Google Maps for Business Group in search of answers on the apparently untrue assumption that the data in the Plus Box comes from the Local Business Center record.

I recently theorized that the primary source for this erroneous information was the business website itself. That seems true as far as it goes. Apparently though there are other web “signals” that will trigger the Plus Box and if a business has relocated in the past several years it is likely that the information will be wrong, even if the website and the Local Business Center record has been correctly updated.

This recent request to the Google Maps for Business Group motivated me to look deeper into where this information might come from if not the business’s website. It appears that the source is either a high page rank directory site with a Maps API display or one of the many Yellow Page resources that Google uses as a secondary, confirming source for address information.

The upshot is that the (incorrect) Plus Box data appears to come from:
•Your Website
•Secondary business listing data suppliers to Google like the YellowPages
•High PageRank Directories that use a Google Maps API to geolocate the incorrect address

These sources would need to be changed for Google to “get it right”. There may be other sources but a creative search of Google should turn those up. I would suggest your prioritize your “cleansing” efforts by the list above. In this particular case, I found 62 web references to the wrong address. I do not think that all need to be changed.

Clearly Google could simplify this correction process in a number of ways. They could simply prioritize Local Business Center data when they have it. Barring that choice, they could provide details as to the sources of their data so that it could be purged more easily from the index.

The current system of begging in the Groups is obviously an inadequate response to a problem that from the SMB’s perspective is pressing. It is particularly so when customers end up at the wrong address due to the erroneous Plus Box. In these cases the business complaint should be addressed immediately and the business treated as a partner that helps Google generate accurate data.

Here is the original query from the Maps Group in its entirety and my research and response:

Hi Jen/Brian,
I have a problem when doing a natural google search for my business. If you search my business from google.com – ‘at home in the valley’ it comes up with the incorrect address.

Google Search: At home in the Valley

It comes up with a clickable link saying ‘Map of 16780 Stagg St, Van Nuys, CA 91406′, and this is the wrong address. However if you click the link it expands to say:

A Warehouse Full of Rugs at Home in the Valley—
16780 Stagg St
Van Nuys, CA 91406
(818) 780-4663

And in that the top line ‘A Warehouse Full of Rugs at Home in the Valley—‘ is a clickable link. Now if you click that link it takes you to my google maps listing with the correct address. So I have been trying to fix this for a while and I have had countless postcards sent out fixing the old addresses i could find in google maps and now I am stuck because there are no more incorrect addresses left in google maps when you do a business search for ‘at home in the valley’ in ‘van nuys, ca’.(Maps Search: At home in the Valley)

However my incorrect address is still on google.com. So now I am just confused as there is nowhere left with that old address. I have even signed up with google adwords just to try get a correct listing on the page next to or on top of the incorrect one.

Here are my business details:
INCORRECT
At Home in the Valley
16780 Stagg St,
Van Nuys, CA 91406

CORRECT
At Home in the Valley
16531 Saticoy St
Van Nuys, CA 91406

Please get back to me and let me know what I need to do to get this fixed as it has gone of for long enough now.

Thanks,
At Home in the Valley

My response (some redundant elements removed):

Hi athomeinthevalley

I have been following your thread in Google Groups and have done some research on the issue of where Google gets “signals” for content of its PlusBox.

I have convinced myself that it does not come from the Local Business Center, even though that would be logical. The Plus Box is from the organic side of the Google house and only picks up its signals from the greater web. Why that is I don’t know.

I had though that the primary signal was from the business’s main website (see my post: Google-and-the-plusbox-blues). That appears to be true as far as it goes but it doesn’t explain your situation.

Clearly Google is picking up “signals” for this data elsewhere on the web.

The search:

Google Search: Stagg + 4663 (Your old street address and a snippet of your phone number)

Shows 62 websites that have your old address. I do not think that Google uses all of them equally. I believe that there is a trusted status that some of these data aggregators have and thus Google gives some of them more priority in the info stream than others.

There are several that you should get changed and see if they affect your listing (it will take 6-8 weeks, god I hate saying that and can’t say it without a touch of irony)

1)This listing has a pagerank of 3 AND uses the Google Maps API to locate your business….a very clear signal:

list-corp.com/b2b_directory/Carpet_Rug_Dealers_New/At_Home_In_The_Valley

2)After you get that one changed (if you really want to do this scientifically, wait and see if the above has much affect) I would start on the erroneous yellow page listings as I think that Google has a trusted relationship with most of them. Note these:

www.cbsyellowpages.com/Directory/Shopping/Home_And_Garden/Home_Furnishings/Tapestries/

www.yellowpagecity.com/US/CA/Glendale/Tapestries

There are others: yellowbot, localask etc that seem to have your old address and could be significant.

3)Once Iyou have dealt with those I would review the others in the list to see which ones use the Google Maps API and deal with those.

4)In addition I would check with the primary data sources that Google uses to see if one of them still has the incorrect phone number as that may be feeding the above yellowpages and or Google. Correct as necessary. These are:
Axcion
infoUSA
Localeze

I realize that this is a lot of work but you seem motivated.

How long has it been since you moved your business? The reason that I ask is that the data may eventually fall away as the yellow pages etc catch up with you…strange in the internet age but possibly true.

Let me know how you make out. I would be curious to see the results of your experiment.

Mike Blumenthal

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Plus Box - Where does the (wrong) data come from? by

35 thoughts on “Google Plus Box – Where does the (wrong) data come from?”

  1. A lot of research, Mike. Kudo’s.

    At this juncture, the scope of what might be necessary to correct erroneous information within the authoritative onebox, the plusbox, and appering elsewhere is clearly beyond the scope of webmasters.

    Dave

  2. Hi Dave

    Yes it is a fair bit of work. It is ironic that Google’s business listing would take on certain “aging” characteristics that we normally associate with the printed Yellow Pages. i.e you have to wait for the “new book”. Now it is: “You have to wait until 5 other unidentified data sources update their outdated records and we can’t really say when.”

    You asked in another email: ” How did you come up with choices of the external links that you determined might have the most impact.”.

    I am not positive but my choices were based on my understanding of the sources used by Google noted in Bill’s Authority Documents for Google’s Local Search and some intuition. It is alas but a theory at this point with NO empirical data to back it up. Oh well, caveat emptor, your mileage will vary….

    I am hoping that the business owner lets me know what he finds out.

  3. It’s really good of you to prioritize how one my set about trying to fix this, Mike. I’m sure that the business owner will be really grateful.

    It seems to me like the quickest fix for this would be to allow users who claim their LBC listings to lock their data in some way so that it becomes the authority source for their listing.

    I can see the need to scrape outside data for unclaimed business listings, but once someone has said, “this is mine,” if Google was able to trust that, this problem would go away.

    I suppose the cross-referencing is a measure put in place to combat potential spamming, but it seems to be causing more harm than good.

    Great post, Mike!
    Miriam

  4. Hi Miriam

    It does seem that Google should be able to do something, that is for sure. The black box nature of it is very frustrating. The cross referencing may have been put in place before the LBC was really functioning or had that much data.

    I have a recently entered record for a client and they have the wrong number in the Local 10-Pack. I have yet to figure out where Google is getting it and how to get rid of it…very frustrating on the small business end. The rules on the 10pack are different than the PlusBox.

    Mike

  5. The deep problems here are illustrated by what the writer said and did. Athomeinthevalley sent cards to google trying to get the information corrected.

    It didn’t work.

    Athomeinthevalley spent on adwords to get a correct address showing for searches.

    Maybe Google enjoys and profits by presenting erroneous information.

    Meanwhile, if your theory is correct, all the efforts in the world to correct address information by contacting Google at the Local Business Center would be worthless.

    Dave

  6. Hi Dave-

    Yes you have a point but that brings up the question that over the past some months Maps Guide Jen has offered to “take care” of Plus Box issues. So maybe they do have a way to either fix the index or break the relationship between the web info and the address info.

    I would love to know how many are inaccurate Plus Boxes there are at point in time and how long, if say a business moves, it takes for them to resolve themselves…ie for the correct phone number to work its way through the system and back into the Google index and affect the Plus Box.

    Regardless they have not been forthcoming about this issue, like others, and it has made “life in the trenches” difficult.

    Mike

  7. In thinking about this….and from my own personal experience, I hope that “signals” about addresses do not come from third party websites that google crawls.

    It is extremely hard to get changes made to a third party site by anyone. I’ve done this but the effort is extraordinary.

    It would be a disservice to website/business owners if correcting plusbox addresses in part relied upon requesting corrections from third party websites.

    It just doesn’t happen easily.

  8. You have that right.

    Google really needs to establish a little button in LBC that says “Apply this data to my PlusBox please”. Obviously begging in the group has been non productive. In some cases (mine at least and hopefully pti) its a relatively minor update to a website but in this situation it seems much more substantial and in the end unmanageable.

    That being said, I am hoping that this business owner is up to the task as it is a great experiment as a way to test exactly where Google is getting the data.

    Mike

  9. Of note: relative to the pti situation, in early Dec, 07, Google Jen stated “she would look into the situtation” or something like that.

    Nothing was done nor did she ever get back to them.

    the responsiveness is not of a “customer service” quality or methodology.

  10. Dave-

    I just visited http://www.athomeinthevalley.com/ site for the first time and realize that he is missing some opportunitie to inform Google of his whereabouts. It could be due to design that Google uses all of those other sources. Go take a look.

    Note the home page image and the Maps/Directions page where Google might be looking. (although his address is on most other pages but at the top).

    Mike

  11. Hi Mike,

    I can’t thank you enough for the response you have given me to this ongoing problem. What you said was exactly what I thought was going on here, i.e. google local business center really does nothing much and google crawls all its info from third party websites. I have been going through all the big name providers I knew of (infoUSA and all the yellowpages I could find) and asking them to change details and to email me when they are done, however I never got a response so I can only assume nothing has been done. However your genius way of searching “16780 Stagg” “4663 ” for our business returned way more results than I ever could.

    So, I have went through to list-corp.com to update our address as your suggested and it conviently tells me at the bottom of their ‘contact us’ form “Note: E-Mail Form Currently Disabled!”. So i’m just guessing they are offline for a few days or something and I will have to try them again later. And I also went through the various yellowpages listings and sent off updates to them. So now its just a waiting game for me I guess to see if it gets changed.

    The only part of your email I didn’t quite get was the Axcion provider. I couldn’t find a website for them. axcion.com comes up with a music website?

    I’m sorry I didn’t go through one by one to see which one was providing the info to google but I just want to get this changed as we have been in this location for almost 3 years now. Our biggest problem is when we moved from our old location a new rug store moved in NEXT DOOR. So we are losing countless customers to them because of google having our wrong address.

    I also read the comment you left on your page:

    ‘I just visited http://www.athomeinthevalley.com/ site for the first time and realize that he is missing some opportunitie to inform Google of his whereabouts’

    Please let me know any suggestions I can do and I will have them passed on to our web guy. Although I think I know what you mean. On our website at the top of the index page where our address is supplied it is in a JPEG format, something that google cannot crawl. If we had that there in plain text (therefore imbedded in the HTML) google would crawl it and (possibly) at that to our plusbox. Am I right?

    I am very thankful for the time you have spent trying to help us out and I will definately be in contact if anything happens and feel free to email me anytime with any new suggestions you have.

    Thanks again,

    Jarrad Baker

  12. Jarad

    I hope you don’t mind that I posted your email above. I wanted to respond and felt that the info might benefit others.

    google local business center really does nothing much and google crawls all its info from third party websites.

    Not to put too fine a point on it but this is true of the Plus box that you are experiencing but not of the Onebox or the Local 10 Pack as there the business center does contribute.

    I was not sure quite what you meant when you said:

    I have been going through all the big name providers I knew of (infoUSA and all the yellowpages I could find) and asking them to change details and to email me when they are done

    Most of the primary and secondary providers let you now control your own record. The best single list of the URL’s for access to edit your record at each of the major providers is available from LocallyType here: HowTo Get Your Business Listed On Major Local Search Engines. Frank provides a one stop shop for a click through to all of the major players so you can submit & correct your own data.

    As far as giving Google “signals” about your correct address from your site you should have plain text address block on every page (perhaps just at the bottom of the page) that includes and is formatted as follows:

    Business name
    neighborhood (ie downtown, Upper West Side, whatever)
    street address
    City, St Zip
    phone: XXX-XXX-XXXX

    You don’t need to replace the jpeg if this is on the bottom of your pages. Minimally it should also be on your contact us page and your directions page as content as well.

    It is amazing that you moved 3 years ago and this old address is still creeping up. Google needs to become more helpful in these matters as they are obviously affecting business.

    Perhaps it is also time for the major data providers and search sites and telephone companies allow a single point of correction for these types of data changes.

    Good luck

    Mike

  13. Be sure to check “off page” stuff including but not limited to Yellow Page ads, Phone Bill addresses, The business license address, Domain name registration address, etc. Unfortunately, some directories/local search engines don’t update there business listing database as often as it’s published or provided to them, there is also the delay due to cached pages in the various indexes. typicaly it’s a slow process but I suspect you will see a dramatic improvement over the next 60 days.

  14. Gib

    This fellow has been out of his old business location for over 3 years. Are you saying that the primary data supplier(s) to Google may be picking this up from a non digital sources and Google is giving that more weight than their own LBC data?

    Mike

  15. Gib

    So by going to Localeze, infoUSA & Axcion and being sure that those primary records are correct, any outdated information would be purged at that level?

    And theoretically flow back into the system cleanly from then? How long would it take?

    Mike

  16. Mike: The google patent from 2005, which references how google will organically crawl and identify the address associated with a web site ,suggests an alternative way to placing address information on a site.

    That method works. Bill Slawski wrote about it in this thread at Cre8asite forum in 2005. It still applies.

    There can be problems associated with a loose and ample description of addresses. The pti.edu site is a possible example.

    The business identified 3 addresses. The business moved and eliminated an address from the main portion of its site. On the other hand it left up to 16 pages on the site with the 3 addresses in a footer. The address that was closed had been defined as the downtown campus. The other two were associated by name. Additionally, pti.edu did not use reference words or lins as the 2005 patent suggests.

    This is only guesswork, but I suspect that the reference word became the predominant aspect pulled from crawling that results in that old address showing up in the plusbox. I suspect that, in that the patent clearly references the ability to crawl and the usage of words to define address.

    So whether one places an address on every page or creates an address page on the site, it is critical to use appropriate words to define the address.

    Dave

    Dave

  17. Mike:

    My suggestions above are partially based on theory and partially based on observation that the patent from 2005 applies for web sites.

    The PTI.edu site does not follow suggestions from the 2005 with an internal linking structure that highlights an address page.

    My theory is that in light of that, and based on observation that the 2005 patent does work, and it does reference that crawling identifies “words” that describe location, google’s crawl did the next best thing. It’s crawl identified the most prominent “descriptive word” from among three different addresses and assigned prominance in location to the word, downtown. I believe that is how the “crawling” of the site as described by Bill Slawski in his patent writings on the plusbox, result in that address showing in the pti.edu plusbox, and additionally why repeated efforts to upgrade the Google Local Business Center had no impact.

    Of further interest, if a business has only one address in a market I suppose either method of placing an address on every page, and or having an address page with internal links throughout the site designating it as an address work equally well.

    If one has two addresses in a market then it becomes trickier.

    Dave

  18. Mike:

    With one location he could do it the way you suggest. I think I would stick with the google patent description of 2005; set up a location page and link to it from within the site with anchor text links that say something like “location”.

    I suspect either way will work.

    Dave

  19. When I read the patent it mentioned pages with names like Directions/About US & Contact Us. Google is obviously very good at figuring an address out. I wonder what % of all plus boxes have erroneous results.

    A reader has suggest the hCard microformat would clarify it for Google. Is there any indication out there that Google is in fact reading hCard?

    Mike

  20. Hi everyone,

    I haven’t had time to dig too deeply into this new patent application, but it was published today, and provides some alternative method where Google might gain information about addresses for businesses:

    Local Search Using Address Completion

    I could see how the method described might cause some errors, especially if there was old address information out on the web.

  21. Hi Bill

    The question for me then is: “Which of these old sources does Google give priority to?”. If that can be answered then one could “fix” the problem with a few well targeted changes. Otherwise they could be at this for the rest of their life.

    Did you see any indication that they are using the same “trusted” sources as Maps and the OneBox?

    Mike

  22. Hi Mike,

    It seems that overnight my erroneous plusbox address has disappeared. Now when i search ‘at home in the valley’ from google it just has our website as a result with no plusbox. It would have been nice to keep it and have the correct address, but still its better than sending people to the wrong location.

    Jarrad

  23. Hi Jared

    I have seen several disappear over the past few days. Better none than an erroneous one.

    I think, if you managed to clean up all of the old addresses you will sooner or later get another plus box back.

    Its been a month so it isn’t clear whether Google removed it manually or whether the work you did had an impact.

    Mike

  24. I believe you misspelled Acxiom. You printed “axciom” and I believe you meant “Acxiom.” They lead to different places.
    thank you.

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