Does Local need to be held to a higher standard? Bill Slawski Responds

Bill Slawski of SeobytheSea brings a deep understanding of the underlying techniques that Google & Yahoo have developed to assemble their local data.
Here is his answer to whether Local needs to be held to a higher standard:

Bill: I’m not sure that local can succeed without the actual involvement of people on a local level who have incentive, inspiration, and impartiality to verify, to explore, and to arbitrate.

I think that differences in local language usage and in knowledge of local areas can play a role in whether local succeeds or fails.

Right now, local search involves at least three different paradigms, and methods of collection of data:

1. Providing map information – with an emphasis on purchased data from data suppliers, and from information (mentions) from directories and web sites. The most authoritative site for one of these listings may not even be the web site of the business owner located at an address.
2. Providing a business directory – with an emphasis on listings from actual business owners that is verified by those owners.
3. Providing contact information for a business in Web searches – with an emphasis on identifying the best contact information from a web site. This contact information may only be shown in queries which are identified as navigational ones, where the business listed is, to use the words of the recent Google Relevance testers document, a “vital” listing in response to the query.

The potential for this information to clash is based upon the differences in data collection methods and purposes. For example, the most important information to a telecom is a phone number, and listing an actual physical address is much less of a priority. Nearness to cross streets is fine with them.

Some types of organizations have very little motivation or desire to verify their businesses. Some may not even know that if they don’t have a web site, they can still verify the location of their organization in Google Maps.

There is no set standard way to display location information on a website, and attempts to scrape a site for the “right” contact information may be hindered by multiple addresses (old, new, multiple locations, etc.), poor formatting (images, incomplete data, uncrawlable information, etc.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Does Local need to be held to a higher standard? Bill Slawski Responds by

9 thoughts on “Does Local need to be held to a higher standard? Bill Slawski Responds”

  1. Bill, you’ve hit the nail on the head, yet again with your opening statement:

    “I’m not sure that local can succeed without the actual involvement of people on a local level who have incentive, inspiration, and impartiality to verify, to explore, and to arbitrate.”

    To me, that seems to be the direction that Yahoo is headed, based on Matt McGee’s recent interview with Brian Gil. http://www.smallbusinesssem.com/the-sbs-interview-brian-gil-yahoo-local/1124/
    (You’ll have to scroll down to where Brian starts talking about Consumer Submit)

    There needs to be some sort of community element to Local, and combatting the spam is always going to be difficult, but I’m confident that there’ll be a solution eventually.

    My biggest beef, as those who read Miriam Ellis, or Will Scott, or myself will know, is that Google in particular has elevated the 10-pack without having these issues figured out, alienating real businesses and providing poorer search results than standard organic listings by doing so. But that’s just one opinion :D

  2. Thanks, David. And thanks to Mike for publishing this response to his questions about local search.

    I’ve seen a lot of web sites try to offer services on a national level, installing a generic approach that ignores local and regional differences, and I think that’s an invitation for smaller sites that have a passion for a local area to succeed.

    For example, it wouldn’t bother me to see a number of New Yorkers build a web site about New York City, including business listings, maps, reviews, personal tales of the City, and local community involvement. I think that they would have some things that I see Google and Yahoo lack, like a passion for getting things right, and a pride in showing off their City and community.

  3. I couldn’t agree more with the opening line Bill….

    I am one of the folks that expressed interest in the Google Local ambassador (??) 10 – 99 adWords and Local Search program a few months ago.

    I really hopes this comes about – I see so many dupes in local using fake addresses and a plethora of ‘phone #s…. all leading back to the same person.

    Yahoo! is also plagued with this so I have a paid monthly ad to bring a bit of reality to the top.

    Cheers

    David
    Charlotte NC British Bloke ;)

  4. Of interest, some time ago I had a conversation with a very long time employee of a company called ADC. ADC has been one of the premier hard cover mapping companies in the nation. I believe their market territory is primarily the eastern portion of the US.

    We discussed the differences between the quality of info from the mapping companies providing information for mapquest, google, yahoo, etc.

    Per this employee, the quality standards and detail required by the companies that are supplying the web are less than those of ADC. He referenced things like the requirement to drive new roads, contacts with governments, etc.

    At various times I’ve checked the web maps detail against ADC. ADC has always been more accurate.

    It could be that the effort and work and investment into one aspect of local….the development of maps, are inferior to that which used to exist.

    That doesn’t even address the algo’s that create driving directions. But if the map info isn’t detailed enough, it suggests ultimate problems with the algo’s. Anecdotally, I regularly hear how directions get messed up as one gets close to the final turns for a drive.

    It is interesting that perhaps besides the need for significant local involvement there is a a potential deficiency in the production of a core element of local, based simply on the fact that the producers are shorting the investment in one aspect of local information and consequently creating an inferior product.

  5. I wonder how viable these niches will be and how well they can be managed in midsize and rural markets. Google and Yahoo can yawn and change the market dynamic very quickly for both horizontal providers like local portals and vertical providers like Yelp.

    Mike

  6. I was just going to mention Yelp! For local to work, I fully agree that people at the local level have to get committed to the cause. Not just individuals, but businesses too.

    Seriously, business owners will work hard to make sure the locals notice them (by advertising on the radio, TV, in the Yellow Pages, etc.) but many seem to ignore the Internet either because it’s too confusing, a fad or not really part of their marketing model. Once the people who run these businesses realize what an impact having good information about their company online will do for them, then it’s up to everyone else to try their best.

    We all just need to have a commitment to our local companies and do it the Yelp and Wiki way…get the word out online, tell everyone we know and eventually the actually companies themselves will get on the ball! :)

  7. So well stated, Bill. What a wonderful assessment of the situation.

    So, perhaps the question becomes…is Google willing to staff local in a manner that will lead to the accuracy we are all longing for?

    Miriam

  8. I was removed from Google maps for mapspam after a guy I hired did all sorts of bulk uploads for the same address who I paid goo money. One of the listings was to a park!! (I found out later).

    In all events, Google allows other businesses to claim your listing. Pretty sneaky. I think I discovered a guy who did that to me and went to the Maps group for help. Instead, a forum troll reported me as a spammer and I was removed from Maps.

    I fired the webmaster who set up maps for me. Too late, Maps Jen says I am out for the “foreseeable future”. I have suffered at least a 30 percent drop in business.

    What’s worse, is that the other sites my guy copied are all still submitting multiple listings for the same location, using multiple mirror sites with different url’s, submitting fakes firm names, that are really keyword names, and are totally controlling all the traffic from Maps.

    Do you have any suggestions as to getting back into Maps and to get Maps to enforce its rules in a just manner, rather than the arbitrary and capricious manner they enforce their rules now? It really killed my phone.

    Don’t you think they should offer amnesty or a second chance?

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