With the recent rollout of Add a Place to Map , allowing everyone to add a listing to maps with its more flexible categorization structure, Google has also upgraded the categorization system in the Local Business Center.
This upgrade comes in response to 18 months of complaints in the Google Maps for Business Group. The all too common refrain: Why can’t I be in the same category as my competitor, will no longer be heard. The very limited and limiting system previously used by Google forced unusual workarounds for businesses that did not fit into the small number of categories. In a February 22nd interview with Carter Maslan, Maps Product Management Director, he indicated that this category upgrade was in the works.
The new categorization system still allows only 5 category entries per business. They can however, be from a much larger list of Google provided suggestions or entered in an ad-hoc fashion in any way that the business owner wishes. Under the previous category system there was but one category choicein the insurance area: Services – Insurance (to see a list of all previous categories)
There are similar suggestions in every business category area. This increased category flexibility also open new possibilities for spam. For lack of a better term, this CatSpam could affect rankings and listings as much as previous Maspamming techniques of Business Title manipulation, location & address manipulation, bulk upload abuse, phone book listing capers and sophisticated combination tactics.
However in the interview with Maslan in February, it was obvious that Google is aware of this possibility:
He felt that over the long haul the best solution was to allow the users to make corrections to the listings and then have some way to make that visible in the ranking. They are definitely pursuing more user input which he hoped would provide an ultimate reduction of the frustration levels. They are also putting in place techniques to prevent abuse. Their general philosophy is that there are more good people than bad but that the bad are very motivated, and that with the right balance of technology they can have high confidence in the data.
This past Sunday, on the Google Operating System Blog, Matt Cutts commented:
I would assume that Google is going to take mapspam quite seriously. I invited someone from the local team to discuss the subject in depth with my entire team just last week, for example, and we talked about lots of ways to work together. So my personal advice would be to make sure that your business name/category is accurate.
Ominous advice for sure. It will be interesting to see how this is policed and managed in the coming months as significantly more data flows into Maps from users and business owners alike.