Does Google Maps Discriminate Against Women When Merging Businesses?

I am fascinated by the intersection of Local and our every day lives. The Internet has moved from the era of local questions and world wide answers to the era of local answers to world wide queries.

Google Maps, because of its immense reach, is at the center of this confluence. Real people with real concerns are affected in both positive and not so positive ways by its increasing presence in our daily lives and communities. This confluence is changing how we see the world and interact with our neighbors.

The negative outcomes are highlighted and amplified in the forums. The positive aspects of this change are not so readily obvious as they are buried in folk’s balance sheets or kept as secrets in the unpublished tactics of a Local SEO. But the negatives always intrigue me and include events such as disputes between nearby competitors, thefts, the threat of violence, the possibility of gun use against trespassers and even, apparently, real life confrontations all stemming in one way or another from Google Maps and its consequences “on the ground”.

Often, folks assign malicious intent to Google’s all too impersonal algorithmic way of doing things which they lay at the feet of Google or the competitor or the trespasser. I was cruising the forums where I found this post from Sue, a physician in the UK, who seems to think that Google is discriminating against women:

sue.f 9/10/09

My local listing seems to have been merged with my husbands. He is an osteopath, I am a podiatrist. OK we are married, we live in the same house so have the same home address – this is I suspect not unusual. We have different telephone numbers (although we share a fax number), we work different hours, we see different patients, we do different jobs. We need to be separated again (from a Google point of view that is). We have 2 separate entries in Local Business Center. www.billferguson.co.uk and www.sueferguson.co.uk . At the moment when you search for him you get my website, and when you search for me you get his website. It’s very confusing. If a husband and wife are not allowed 2 local listings then I have to get rid of mine I suppose.
***
All replies
sue.f 9/11/09

Any response from Google?
***
sue.f 4:30 AM 9/12/09

This is just making the Google map search look useless and inaccurate. How can I fix this? This is discrimination. I need an answer – are a husband and wife allowed separate entries and if not why not. What would happen if the husband was a garage mechanic and the wife was a beauty therapist – would they have to share a local/map entry?

It makes it worse that a local competitor has an entry for each therapist and one for the clinic as well giving them masses of local exposure.
***

My answer to Sue:

Sue

You have fallen prey to a “feature” in Google Maps that merges businesses’ listings because the Google clustering algo “thinks” that they are the same business. It sometimes occurs to businesses at the same address and/or competitors at nearby addresses.

If it is any consolation it is an equal opportunity algo error (actually it is not an error at all but a lack of granularity in an intended outcome) that affects not just spouses but all sexes, races, creeds and types of businesses particularly if they are in the same field and in close proximity.

The “cluster” assembles its data from primary data providers, internet yellow pages, websites across the internet, the Local Business Center, business records etc and automatically puts everything it finds into this bucket as it were, Information in the cluster that indicates to Google that the businesses are the same overrides the information provided in the Local Business Center that they are distinct. Google euphemistically calls this merging “over clustering”.

It might be resolved by sending signals to Google’s cluster that the businesses are in fact different. For example, changing both records to include a “Suite number” in the Local Business Center like Suite A and Suite B might be enough information (then again it might not). A marriage counselor should probably be used to ascertain which of you gets the “A” to avoid any further family conflict. :)

It would be desirable to then get the various phone books, the post office, business records, data providers & online directories that Google is using to also recognize this new suite number so that this distinct information is integrated into Google’s cluster for the businesses.

Think of it as a slight change of address rather than a separation. Good luck with your listing, business and your marriage!

This new way of doing business in Local, the switch from a human engineered directory to one assembled by machine will affect is affecting us all. Many of the outcomes are yet to be seen, some will be good and some will not but all will be interesting.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Does Google Maps Discriminate Against Women When Merging Businesses? by

31 thoughts on “Does Google Maps Discriminate Against Women When Merging Businesses?”

  1. Mike you’re a mensch and Sue is sure lucky to have you.

    That said, wouldn’t it be nice to have a phone number and a human being to fix this? I mean, last I checked Google was monetizing Local so it’s no longer a pre-market product.

    I’m not going to go on a rant but to defend Google with the statement “actually it is not an error at all but a lack of granularity in an intended outcome” is to excuse the lion when it eats your children.

    Look at what you’re suggesting – you’re telling Sue she needs to spend significant precious time correcting a problem not of her making. Correcting Google’s “lack of granularity” which isn’t her problem at all – the data sources over which she has exercised control in the past are not wrong.

    Will

  2. Will

    Don’t take my attempt to explain material reality accurately in any way as an endorsement of Google’s (lack of) customer service policy. I too find their poor customer support to be appalling.

    That being said, I can’t currently change that policy. I can and have commented about it and think that it makes no sense for Sue to go thru the gyrations that I mentioned above to get herself “separated” from her husband…. Its not that I am suggesting these actions, its that these are the only actions that might currently affect the outcome. Reality is a bitch at times.

    But this does reflect the current reality of local.. it is bizarre, its different, its surely not your mother’s yp but it is what she and we are all looking at…one can pull a Don Quixote or one can adjust…or as is my preference one can adjust and still try the Don Quixote…

  3. Mike:

    Nice article, nice catch.

    Take one algorithem. Sprinkle in a little bit of humanity for testing/tweaking/correcting mistakes. Evaluate the results.

    C’mon Google. Act as if you acknowledge actual humans…not some futuristic all algo robotic world.

  4. This is crazy! I mean, what about the large office buildings? There are sometimes tens or hundreds of companies sharing the same address. So, are they all facing a risk of being merged? I think Google will soon become too big for a human to manage it (whoever tries managing it).

  5. Google gets most office buildings correct which is why adding the suite number
    might just do the trick. Although this problem does on occassion occur there as well.

    It (Maps that is) is already to big for human management but that is ok with Google, they don not want to have to manage with a human :)

  6. You gave good and helpful advice to Sue, Mike. I think the most important point your post brings up is that people may put a personal spin on a non-human algorithm. I can see why this would happen, as people search desperately for answers as to why their business listing is incorrect, in the midst of silence. Thanks for continuing to write about how the non-human algo is altering the the lives of human people.

  7. I think the most important aspect of this article is the advice to seek a councilor over who gets A and B. What Mike didn’t point out is that not only is he an expect in local search, but also a rising marriage guidance councilor.

    The advice he would have shared was this…..

    The A is a masculine number which comes to a point representing the males need to thrust, while the B is a femine number with two round areas that emphasis a woman and the need to nuture, hence, The male should have suite A and the female should have suite B. Not based on appearance in the alphabet, but based on shape and meaning behind the individual letters.

    So, if a person has a home business, and they create a suite a and b, do you need to have a mail box with individual spaces, or will it all be gathered, and the secretary (aka son, daughter, or dog) can sort the mail?

  8. @Miriam

    Yes, they anthropomorphize the algo. Of course they treat their business name as they would their child… Oddly it reminds me of the seven stages of grief when Google destroys their child er..business name:
    - Shock or Disbelief
    - Denial
    - Anger
    - Bargaining
    - Guilt
    - Depression
    - Acceptance and Hope

    @Mike
    er…mot exactly sure what to say….While I am not a marriage counselor, I am not sure that you should pursue that field either.

  9. @Mike……note taken, but I am going to toot my own horn and say that the whole A B analogy was very clever. It will be coming out in my future book “Local Search, Symbols, and the Sexes”

    Seriously though, if you do the suite a,b, thing… do you have to register with the postal service that way? I haven’t ever had the need to use this method, but it sounds like you have been there and done that.

  10. I don’t think that the postal office much cares if there is a Suite # after your street address. That being said, if it is spread far and wide in all possible mediums it might keep the addresses from merging.

  11. I’d be curious to see Google justify this for the times where it does work. To date, you’ve done an excellent job reporting – and making me aware of – all the problems with merging listings.

  12. I’ve had much fun with this when doing some 400 listings for a medical company, some listings with same office building, same number (as they share a receptionist) Some different numbers. We changed the address to add Suite numbers and office numbers which seemed to work.
    The bigger problem was/is with Yahoo. It’s been over a year and we are still having to mess around with Yahoo. We emailed them numerous times to advise that the Doctors were in fact separate businesses, with different numbers but the same addresses. We kept being told to make them unique. WE DID!! WE DID I TELL YOU!!
    We just occassionaly go into the Local Account in Yahoo for this client to become humble.

    I also wish that Mike R had been my marriage counsellor, it might have saved years of painful legal battles over who gets what letter of the alphabet. *sighs* The only people that won were the lawyers…

  13. Joan

    Thanks for sharing your experience but I am not sure that you should encourage Mike R’s forays into the counseling business. :)

  14. But it sounded like common sense, aye but there’s the rub. There isn’t any when dealing with Google or separations……

    *heavy sigh*

  15. @Joan and for the ears of Mike B.

    I’m glad someone here appreciates my heavy research into the origin of letters. :) Joan, When my book is finished you will get a free signed copy, Mike…you can pay full price.

    I once heard of a business model (can’t remember who in local search) that would consist of buying up downtown property and renting micro-spaces to company’s needing a local address. It would be a physical location, regardless of the physical size. I guess the whole suite A,B would work with that model.

    I am not sure where I stand on the idea of renting micro-spaces. It is more legitimate than p.o. boxes. But, still a stretch. While many service industries are getting hurt based on their operating location in the Local Search Results, I hope that the fix by Google comes before these service industries do have to buy micro-space to compete.

  16. @Mike Ramsey, Mail Boxes Etc., a UPS company, more or less works like renting micro-spaces. Is P.O. boxes at a physical street address. The peeps at UPS take all deliveries to that address then place items inside the mail box assigned to company name on file matched to company name on the mail received.

    At any one such address there can be dozens, if not hundreds, of businesses using it. From what I can see there are many not getting merged together. Probably because the variety of businesses fall in different categories. So unique business name, plus unique phone#, plus separate categories may be keeping the merge monster away for them. But should another similar category business suddenly start to use the same UPS address, merging of listings might take place.

  17. @Stever I just called one in SLC and they are like $7 a month. But, this definitely seems very gray area (if not jet black) for google. Have these listings been known to get penalized?

    I see both sides of the coin here. It’s like the force…it can be used for good or bad ( I can’t believe i just used a star wars analogy I’m better than that)
    So, I am wondering what peoples thoughts on this are?

  18. From what I’ve seen and heard Goog is ok with these UPS addresses. They are not fond of actual P.O. Boxes though.

    The thing is there have been various businesses using these kinds of pseudo-addresses for various reasons for many years longer than Google Maps has been in existence. Some too have used, and still use PO Boxes. Not sure exactly the distinction Google is making between a PO Box and a UPS address, other than the PO Box has no direct geo-location information tied to it, other than the post office itself knowing where that is physically located. Hard for Google to place a marker on a map for a PO Box, I guess.

  19. The reality is that these virtual locations exist on a continuum from PO Box, to the UPS addresses, to virtual suites where you get your own phone number and x number of hours use of the conference room and on up to a receptionist.

    These virtual suites have been used in high end service industries for years as a way to get listed in the local phone book and the occasional use of an office if it is ever needed.

    The difficulty is that Google Maps becomes less useful as a direction tool the more that these proliferate in the market.

    I would agree with Stever though, other than the deprication of the PO Box, that all of the other strategies have not been discouraged by Google.

  20. I reread this article and focused on the links in paragraph 3. Those examples, wherein the frustration and problems caused by errors and egregious lack of customer service are unbelievable.

    Let me get this straight. Google gets directions wrong. Somebody might be shot.

    Google won’t fix problems as identified in google groups for business owners. Somebody gets a threat of arrest.

    Sooner or later these stories are going to break and Google is going to get amazing egg all over its face.

    But maybe it will be worse. One of these problems will cause someone harm or worse….and the cause will be Google Maps.

    I wonder…..what the hell does it take to get some bodies into Google Customer Service?

  21. If we all donate our lunch money for a month??? Or give up our Starbucks … perhaps we can kick start this movement.

  22. Mike:

    The last thing Google needs is contributions. PPC makes them plenty of money!! (LOL)

    Maybe you noticed I went into a bit of a rant yesterday in one social media source. I fielded a call from a google rep that was informing us (one of our accts) about google’s new keyword tool.

    Hey, from a business perspective….it wasn’t bad. It hit some phrases I wasn’t hitting. Actually experience tells me some of them are conversion phrases. The rep also confirmed a question about ppc quality scores. Its probably been written about somewhere…but I hadn’t seen it.

    She was generally helpful.

    Hey look the purpose of her call, not unlike the emails that you referenced that are going out to smbs w/ lbc records…are ultimately made to encourage more expenditures with PPC. Hey its not because their is an intrinsic sweetness and altruism (a la Mother Teresa),and bonafied offer to be helpful to smbs. They want more expenditures in PPC.

    They don’t need contributions.

    Okay…so I ranted to her about problems in Google groups for business owners. She acknowledged that she had heard these comments before.

    OH? Some other people/small business owners are having problems with wrong information and no effort to fix the problems by Google?

    Recently we had a couple of problems with a couple of our smbs. We diddled in fixing them. One of the best lessons we have learned is fix the problems ASAP. Cure them. Don’t let them dawdle. Its great for maintaining excellent reputation.

    That is even more important today where any business can be ripped apart on the web.

    But google is ignoring that lesson. Something very ugly is going to occur. Lack of customer service in Google groups for business owners will be the cause.

    tsk tsk tsk

  23. @Earl

    Joan has the idea. You on the other hand have no political imagination. :) What a great gonzo campaign…very viral…vote for customer service…put your money where you mouth is…if we don’t raise enough to hire an employee we give it all to charity…

  24. Amen, Amen… I’m having issue with Google over structure of my PPC accounts. I set up multiple accounts one for each city (5) and then a MY Client Center to manage them.. all use the same credit card but serve different cities and websites.. They say… I’m in violation but won’t tell me why or how to fix it…
    Any thoughts??

  25. Vedran, Im absolutely in. It’s unbelievable that the big G doesn’t put the right time and efforts to address the many issues that Google local users have. Its platform is not working well. Every time there is a new error. Frustrating!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Comments links could be nofollow free.