Time to refine the Local 10 Pack?

One long standing complaint about the Local 10-Pack has been that on certain searches it returns multiple results for the same company.

In July of 2008, Eric Enge interviewed Carter Maslan, Director of Product Management for Google Maps. In the interview he asked Carter whether it was appropriate to have single company dominate the listings such as on the search Public Storage San Jose CA:

Eric Enge:…See how 8 of them are from one vendor, and the information presented for each of their entries is identical?

Carter Maslan: Yes, in that case, even though there is nothing inherently wrong with a single business ranking prominently in the top results, we are working to modify the way we handle cases like that. The challenge spans multiple areas around the quality of the data, the way we index it, the way we score it, and the way we present the UI in showing it.

So we are working on variations on ways to handle those cases better, but that’s not to say that there’s something inherently wrong with one business having a prominent presence in the top ten.

There must not have been much wrong with the listings…now 10 out of the 10 listings are from one vendor:

public_storage_san_jose2
I am as big of a fan of a good algorithm as the next person but if a disparity of knowledge in the market place allows this sort of manipulation then something is not right with the algo. The challenge may “span multiple areas around the quality of the data…” but it is time (past?) for the “variations on ways to handle those cases better” to be rolled out.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Time to refine the Local 10 Pack? by

16 thoughts on “Time to refine the Local 10 Pack?”

  1. The volume of ways to spam Local are significant and dramatic. This example is pretty ludicrous.

    One of the aspects of Google that has enabled it to dominate search is that it maintains a repuation for a “better quality” with regard to search results than competing search engines. The opposite of better quality is often defined by the public as “spammy results”.

    Frankly if I were google I’d be embarrassed by the results shown above. I’d remove the 10 pac for that phrase, work on the algo problem and wouldn’t put it back up until I had a solution.

    From a public perception…..what looks spammier than that? On the other hand, if I saw results like that and was an active webmaster/had local business acccounts as an SEO web marketer, worked at generating spammy disceptive results, I’d be encouraged when I saw results like that…..figuring that Google Maps and the 10 pac are an easy venue to distort/spam/provide misinformation wherein I could take financial advantage of the problems.

    Geez…they should be identifying the warts and working to fix them….for their own good….let alone that of the public.

  2. The irony here is that Google does not perceive this as “spam” but as relevant results….and in the sense that they really do have all of those locations they are not technically spam…that being said the results are not very helpful if you are looking for one of the many competing storage companies.

    Mike

  3. Okay. Its a search with a “brand name”. On the other hand if I’m a consumer do I want the brand name or do I want any public storage facility…and use the most popular “brand name” to actually try and find any such facility?

    I’ve used storage facilities in the past for personal/residential and business purposes. In most areas where there are quite a few of them in the region there are competitors.

    Oooohhh….its one of those things where you can negotiate price. I can call brand name x and competitors y and z and more likely than not get a better price if I put a little effort into it. In fact one of Public Storage’s facilities in the area might have a high vacancy and maybe I can get a better price there than some of the others. If I want the facility closest to me that is a separate issue.

    If I looked up storage San Jose 4 of the 10 in the 10-pac are public storage….I get some choices. I searched for storage facilities in San Jose and 9 of the 10 in the 10 pac are Public Storage.

    I think if I wanted choices I’d go to the Yellow Pages book….or god forbid…I might go to an IYP such as a personal favorite….;) MoreYellowpages.com :D

    In the context of universal search…trying to provide responses that might reflect any of the possibilities with a search…I’d suggest variety covers more bases.

  4. How is it spam to list all locations of a brand name on the maps? When I type any brand term plus city I would expect to get the brand term. I hope you aren’t stating that you want Google to show competitors for brand name searches?

    When I search storage denver PS has 4 of the top ten but wouldn’t you expect that from a large company?

    I’m not sure what all of the fuss over this example is about.

  5. Alex

    I appreciate your “brand name” argument but in this case the brand and the generic overlap to the detriment of choice.

    I did not suggest that it was spam. I do suggest that it is not the result that most searchers would want to see. My argument speaks to relevance and providing results that meat the needs of the searcher.

    I don’t feel that in this situation, the results meet that criteria.

    I can’t really speak for EarlPearl but I think was he arguing the same.

    Mike

  6. Gosh, does that company really have ALL those locations? That strikes me as rather amazing that they have 10 different facilities in the same city.

    The thing is, I think the average user might see this 10-pack and believe that this really must be the best company if Google appears to favor them so much. The seasoned user, however, would certainly like to see more choice, just as Mike says.

    If they really have all those locations, it isn’t spam, but I’ve never seen so many locations belonging to one business in the same town. San Jose isn’t that big. Is anyone sure all these listings are legit?

    Miriam

  7. @Miriam, I think so, a quick check of their site shows at least 10 for San Jose. I guess the silicon valley folks have a lot of Google lava lamps to store (-;.

    I’m still a little confused about the argument. Mike are you saying that you feel users searching for “public storage” are really looking for a public storage facility and not the largest storage company in the US?

    Do you think that people that search for “best buy san jose” (which brings up a one box) are looking for the best buy in san jose?

    Sorry I know that comment sounds a like snarky…..not trying to be rude.

  8. Mike are you saying that you feel users searching for “public storage” are really looking for a public storage facility and not the largest storage company in the US?

    I am arguing that some percentage of searchers are in fact looking for public storage not Public Storage. It may be a brand name to you, it isn’t to me. Carter himself said:

    So we are working on variations on ways to handle those cases better

    So I am apparently not alone in thinking that this might be the case.

    Best Buy is not ambiguous. Public Storage is, and I would venture to guess, intentionally so.

    Given the ambiguity, Google needs to handle it better. Part of the problem is that Google gives way to much strength to business title in determining relevance.

    Not to worry about sounding “snarky”, I understand a good discussion sometimes sounds that way to some…not to me.

    Mike

  9. No, I see the confusion here, Alex. I think it’s an open and good question as to whether the user intent would be a brand search or an industry search (i.e. Kentucky Fried Chicken vs. chicken fried in the style of Kentucky). I’m not sure what the user intent is. I tend to think of storage places as ‘self storage’, not necessarily ‘public storage’ so perhaps this is, indeed, a brand search and Google’s algo is viewing it as such. They do show full 10-packs for other brand searches, so then this wouldn’t be out of the ordinary, but I think there is still a legitimate concern here that the intent isn’t brand-oriented, in which case, the user is being given an extremely narrow choice of businesses.

  10. While Public Storage might be the most egregious example of one company dominating the local 10-pack, you don’t have to google very long and you don’t have to type in a company name to see other examples of this.

    Google car rental new york city and Avis takes up 4 of the 10 spots. And Hertz takes up 2 more. In each case they only take you back to the main company home page. There are dozens of small car rental companies in New York that a consumer could choose from.

    Part of the problem in this case may be that the smaller companies don’t know how to promote their companies in this space, but Google’s not helping matters.

  11. @David

    There are plenty of these examples, where the results are more a function of knowledge on the part of the listers rather than relevance on the part of Google. But I agree Local is mostly made up companies that “… don’t know how to promote their companies in this space”….whether they are big or small.

    Mike

  12. “Public Storage” is the name of the company, their site is www. publicstorage. com. It’s well know name in the moving industry. The reason that G shows only their results, because you typed the name of the busines in the search box. If you type “storage units” it’ll come up with a different results.

  13. That’s a tribute to Public Storage’s naming strategy not the effectiveness of Google’s algo. In the end the user is not necessarily best served.

  14. Good to see you are still fighting the good fight Mike.

    This argument is a major component of the locksmith issue (ie. “Locksmith, City Name” searches).

    Though I am an avid reader and agree with 99.9% of your positions, I have to disagree on this particular thread.

    In this case Public Storage is a registered trademark and Google should not ‘put their thumb on the scale’ to divert searchers. Dilution of the trademark and possible intentional interference would be just two problems I can think of with skewing the algo to ‘dismiss’ branding that ‘Google thinks is too generic’.

    Q-tip has spent a lot of money to make their name a ‘famous mark’ and trying to extrapolate between ‘common usage’ and ‘branding’ is a shaky area.

    The same logic you apply can easily be applied to Q-Tip, which is “Oh, well they typed Q-Tip but what they are really looking for is a cotton tipped cleaning tool.” Where does that line of thinking end?

    Thankfully, there is already a system of law in place that decides what is ‘common usage’ and what is not…the federal trademark system.

    Regardless if you think ‘public storage’ is a generic term or not, they were issued a federal trademark on the terms.

    Those results for that search were valid and any artificial attempt to manipulate the directory should be pursued by Public Storage ™ for violation of their trademark by Google. I believe that a more specific GPS or Triangulation based ‘centroid’ will give a better result in the future.

    The real challenging cases are far more difficult because they are truly more generic terms. ie. Locksmith Austin for example or Austin Hotel.

    The only fix is for Google to make a judgement call, do they make a ‘special exceptions’ rule for certain categories to ‘exclude’ branding and suggest a weaker reference ( In this example something like ‘Bob’s Storage’).

    Additionally, the http://tess2.uspto.gov (Trademark) database could be incorporated directly into the algorithms to help mitigate some of the most blatant violations.

    I know you suggested that “In the end the user is not necessarily best served.”

    I understand the source of the position, however, I don’t think that dilution of branding or that the intellectual property laws and protections should be sacrificed to accomodate the exception to the rule.

    In fact ‘branding’ may be the answer to many of the issues that the locksmiths are now facing. Imagine what would have happend if all of the locksmiths had made decisions to use well defined ‘brandable’ names instead of ‘city name locksmith’ and ‘AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA1AAAAA Locksmith’ type names…they wouldn’t be getting hijacked all over the place right now. If they were at least they could mount some defense! But many of them took short cuts to try and ‘hackzor’ the Yellow Page Alphabetical Listings to be listed closer to the top of the heading and now they are paying for it by not being able to defend their ‘business name’ when scammers create false listings.

    Bottom line, there are only so many common term type categories, those true ‘categories’ can be defined with some help from existing trademark law and conventions.

    Let the trademark office sort out what is ‘common usage’ and what is not. I’m not quite ready to let Google take charge of that.

    Selling Trademarks as Ad Words?

    As I see it, there is very little difference between selling Trademark terms as ‘ad words’ and tweaking a fair algorithm to divert peoples searches to other results for no other reason than to ‘equalize the playfield’ or because ‘the branded company’s naming strategy is too good’.

    In this case I believe diverting searchers intentionally to a different result than the one posted above would just be wrong. (If those are all real locations and not stuffed).

    The only way I see to turn over the responsibility of defining what is common usage and what is not to Google is to require something like a new constitutional amendment…don’t think I’m ready for that either…then again maybe they would do a good job with it…like the good job they have been doing with the locksmith stuff :)

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