Google MapMaker Update Summary: One Database to Rule Them All

Now that MapMaker is back online, I wanted to understand the recent changes to MapMaker in the bigger context, how the changes related to the Places for Business Dashboard, the G+ Pages for Local and when it still makes sense to use MapMaker.

I asked Dan Austin to write up his understanding of the changes from the top down and to “school” me. That he did. This article is chock full of useful information so print it out and read it while your relatives are watching football games tomorrow. You will be glad you did.

***********************

Recently, with this announcement, Google Map Maker embarked on a project to move their databases into one Maps database, shared by multiple services. Previously, each service (and this is by no means an exhaustive list, just what is publicly facing), including MM (Map Maker), Maps, Google+, and the Dashboard, all ran separate databases, and it was the job of the various sync bots to carry over changes from one database to the next, which they did not always do successfully. While it’s not clear as to how the databases have been integrated, for most changes to the base Maps data, there is now one database that holds these change, and the various UI (user interface) can make visible and affect the data in specific ways, according to the limitations of that particular product. It’s now more appropriate to view the various Maps UI as skins on top of the base Maps data, with various user limitations that control what can be changed. Google still retains much more sophisticated tools to manipulate the data, which, of course, are not publicly available.

Over the long term, as is the case across a lot of Google products (especially with Google+ and a single sign-on and commenting system, most recently seen on YouTube), Google has been working toward adopting a more integrated user interface, to ensure the consistency of user experience and the data they’re attempting to present on Google Maps. To this end, Google has adopted a MM-lite UI for Google+ Edit Details (aka Maps Report a problem), and has slowly been deprecating features on MM that previously gave MM editors discretion as to the popularity and accuracy of geo data. Those options, through lack of use, a misunderstanding as to how features should be presented, and/or a decision by Google to trust their own algorithms, internal processes, and the accuracy of the data as it’s now viewed, are now gone from MM. What we’re left with is a much more simplified MM UI, and we’ll explore some of the changes that might affect SEO operators who work from MM.

The duplicates process has been temporarily disabled while GMM fixes some issues behind-the-scenes. You can still mark dupes by using the Other option during the deletion process or Report this, and GMM will fix it for you.

For the most part, if the listing is claimed, it’s best to make changes from the Dashboard, as this gives the business owner a greater degree of control and implicit trust (instant approval), whereas MM and Maps edits are largely moderated by three groups, Google Listing Editors (GLEs), Google Reviewers (GRs), and Mappers.

GLEs, who are nominally under the supervision of Google Places, are largely responsible for approving edits to claimed listings, regardless of what UI is used. They are the least well-trained of the three groups, have the least amount of experience, have exceedingly high turnover, are the most likely to arbitrarily reject or approve changes outside of the Google Places for Business and MM Quality Guidelines, and usually work during the daylight hours, from India.

Google Reviewers, who are under the supervision of MM, are the best-trained of the groups, have the most experience, have the least turnover, and are the most likely to not only follow guidelines, but ensure the integrity and accuracy of the data. The GRs operate during the ‘night’ (day in India) from Google India, as well as stateside during the day.

Volunteer Mappers can vary, depending on their degree of experience, their familiarity with the rules, their dedication, and/or their desire to assist (or not)—their reviews largely count for nothing, and they can usually only provide feedback on edits that may or may not be helpful.

There’s a sub-group within the Mappers, the RERs (Regional Expert Reviewers), who can approve or deny edits, and have a higher degree of trust within the system, and are more apt to zealously follow the rules than their Google counterparts (who often have a much looser definition of what’s acceptable or not). Since Mappers are volunteers, they also are motivated quite differently than Googlers, who are paid to show up, and the volunteers are more likely to have a higher degree of ownership over their territory. Most Mappers are quite amicable and helpful. Some are not.

Again, whatever changes that you can make from the Dashboard, should be done from there, since it vastly simplifies the review and approval process, and you can always contact Google to work through any issues that can’t be rectified by the Dashboard.

However, MM remains an option, since it has slightly more sophisticated tools for monitoring and making changes that aren’t necessarily available on the Dashboard.

For example, if you have a business that is largely dominated by spammers (locksmiths, garage door suppliers, carpet cleaners, lawyers, flowers, HVAC service, bail bondsmen, or usually any service industry), MM remains an indispensable service for closely monitoring activity in your neighborhood, by tracking keyword changes and new listings, since spammers are always attempting to game the system. And of course, now that it’s ‘all one big happy family’, SAB (Service Area Businesses), that were previously invisible in MM (because they hid their address), are now visible once again, for the time being. Part of the issue with sync bots is that they wouldn’t completely copy data over into the MM database, leaving listings in a limbo state, visible in MM, but uneditable or unreportable. Or data wouldn’t be copied from MM to the Dashboard, causing sync issues to occur that the system would attempt to ‘fix’ (not always to good effect). That issue is now largely fixed. Approved edits now propagate instantly across all products.

Additionally, MM still allows you to add custom categories, so if you want, you can add SEO Locksmith Google HQ 94043 to your listing, if you’re so inclined. Spammers have also been using MM to make an end-run around the Places prohibition on spam locksmith listings, a loophole that has been open since May of this year, which is why you might have seen a huge amount of new cafes, gyms, parking lots, and assorted other features open up on Maps, even though they have no street address and are not the feature they claim to be, and have suspicious names like Locksmith Mountain View (which, incidentally, there’s only two or three legitimate locksmiths in all of Mountain View, unless you believe Google Maps).

If you want to fine tune your geo data, especially if you have a storefront, MM allows you to add building polygons, business boundaries, correct street data and address markers, and tie your marker to either a boundary or to a building polygon.This can be done using either Maps Report a problem or MM, so it’s largely the amount of comfort and familiarity you feel with using either UI. Maps is mostly geared toward one-off fire-and-forget-it edits, whereas MM is suited to constant, broad-based editing.

As for the perennial issue with suites, the same rules still hold true after the changes. MM and Maps have a separate, smartly organized field for suites and other address data (such as building one), whereas the Dashboard has a confusing, free form system that can often lead to unexpected results, such as all the data showing up on one line in MM (even though it appears correctly formatted on Places). Why Places has never fixed the field in the Dashboard is baffling, even though there have longstanding calls to do so. (My note: MM on the other hand ALWAYS puts the Suite BEFORE the street address which is very weird in the US.)

In addition, there appears to be no resolution between the Dashboard and MM regarding Primary categories, which are treated differently. Places has either Boundaries or Establishment/Point of Interest (E/POI) as the Primary category, with the category immediately following (like Restaurant) acting as the “Primary” category, whereas MM has a Primary category that is used to determine the type of icon that appears on Maps.

Last, there’s no longer an option to see changes (or undo them) made from the Dashboard. Previously, MM made most changes (like category or address changes) visible on MM that occurred from the Dashboard, and gave the option to Undo the edit or Undo all edits up to this point. That useful, simplified option is gone (as it allowed you to revert, or undo a series of edits without going in and editing individual fields), and the Rate this edit option for Dashboard changes doesn’t work, either (this gave you the option to communicate feedback on specific edits). Whether this is a bug or just a consequence of the integration of the separate databases isn’t clear, at this point. Regardless, this is likely to be a permanent change.

If you’re familiar with MM and the Dashboard, most of the changes won’t affect you and are largely incremental, inconsequential, and behind-the-scenes:

  • One database to rule them all.
  • Each UI ‘floats’ on top of the database, and has limitations specific to that product.
  • Google is streamlining the GEO products UIs and removing features that they no longer view as useful, or can be carried out by internal processes.
  • Popularity and accuracy have been removed from MM.
  • Duplicates process has been temporarily disabled.
  • Use Dashboard if the listing is claimed.
  • Reviews of Maps and MM edits are handled by different groups with different processes.
  • MM is a slightly more sophisticated product for a more hands-on approach.
  • MM allows you to track changes in your neighborhoods, including spammers.
  • SABs are back in the family, for how long, who knows.
  • Sync issues have been fixed, since there’s no longer any (visible) syncing.
  • You can still add custom categories in MM.
  • Spammers have been taking advantage of a loophole on MM to add more spam, which Google hasn’t fixed.
  • MM has multiple options for fine-tuning your listing.
  • Suites are still messed up.
  • Primary category is still messed up.
  • You can no longer undo edits in MM that are made from the Dashboard.You have to edit it directly.
Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google MapMaker Update Summary: One Database to Rule Them All by

39 thoughts on “Google MapMaker Update Summary: One Database to Rule Them All”

  1. Mike: Nice job. Dan is a great resource, has integrity, and deep experience. I’ve scanned this once. I’ll have to reread to grasp it in full.

  2. @Thanks, Dave.

    I’ll try to answer any questions that anyone has, although I’ll be hitching the wagon later today to make the great Turkey Migration, so it may be a while before I get to them.

  3. I’ve got my Google Glasses on. It’s cool. It says right on the box, “Hands free”, and I trust Google.

    “Google Glass: Snappy comeback.”

  4. Ahh ok Dan – didn’t know what your MM handle was – I’m like I’ve never heard of this guy on the forums!

    Then I checked my mapmaker circle on G+ and sure enough you’re in it. You have my seal of approval – as if you care ;)

  5. Locksmith spammers have threatened to put their stamp of approval on my face! They keep asking me what size concrete shoes I wear, and if I like ‘Swimming with the fishes’. I’m tell them that I only do concrete for countertops and walls, and that I like aquariums and eating salmon.

    That is a joke. Only one moving spammer threatened to blow me up. The locksmith spammers, on the other hand, are quite nice.

  6. Hey Dan: In a local forum (where I live) one of your spam fighting buds (the one to whom you introduced me) got a positive referral from someone and I chimed in. your bud got the business and the person who used the service reported in with satisfaction.

    that was one for the real smb’s and one less for the spammers just thought I’d let you know. happy tgiving.

  7. Dan, thanks for sharing your knowledge here. Great information. I’m particularly interested in this:
    “MM allows you to track changes in your neighborhoods, including spammers.”
    Where do I go to set this up? Do you know of any posts on the topic?

  8. @Darren, here’s a link: https://support.google.com/mapmaker/answer/2840884?hl=en&ref_topic=2819659

    Quick tutorial:
    *Decide on the areas you want to monitor. You can ‘make your own neighborhood’ (with boundaries), or you can enter in city, county, state, entire countries. You can track specific changes in multiple neighborhoods. I track the entire country when it comes to locksmith spam, but the sampling rate (how much of a particular change you’ll see in your neighborhood feeds) can vary.
    *Then you add keywords (only one keyword per neighborhood). So, for example, if you’re tracking locksmiths, you would create one neighborhood each for lock, locksmith, key, safe, vault, etc. Skip the category search–it’s broken. Use lowercase words–I think this helps. Don’t use multiple words (for example, key lock safe for one neighborhood). Same goes for any business model you’re tracking, plumbers, bail bonds, lawyers, etc. Any changes occur will pop up in your neighborhood feeds. The more neighborhoods dedicated to specific keywords, the better your chances of surfacing what you’re looking for.
    *Don’t turn on email notifications, unless you want to go crazy with constant, annoying pinging, or unless you’re tracking something very specific.
    *Everytime you open MM, it opens to your neighborhoods feed, in the sidebar. Check in 1x or more a day to see what activity is occurring. You can also look through individual neighborhoods, or you can see them all, in aggregate. You can roll back through time, although it usually only goes back at most a few months or so, unless they’re pending edits from last year. (Yes, there are pending edits from last year.)

    Why is this useful? If you’re tracking spam, it’s easy to vaporize it, because all the new spam in the sidebar is right there.

    If you want to track all the general changes in a specific area, you can do that, as well. If you want to keep tabs on the competition, you can do that, as well. It might just be easier to check Maps/Google+, as that shows rankings (MM doesn’t), so your results will vary.

    I think it keeps people honest, too, regardless of what profession. It’s just too easy and tempting to spam, because Google doesn’t care, none of their spam algorithms work anyway, and half of their reviewing workforce doesn’t adhere closely to guidelines or common sense.

  9. Whoa Dan, that’s a ton of great, much needed info! Thanks so much for sharing this and thanks to Mike for providing the platform.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all!

  10. Dan, I have another question that I think you might be able to help with.

    One “tactic” that makes sense to me is to report spammers so that they’ll get removed from the pack, which will then help your non-spamming clients move up in the local rankings. The problem is, I’ve never seen this tactic work. Reporting spam seems to be a useless activity because nothing ever happens. The spammers just stay in the pack. I’ve heard the same complaint from other SEOs who have tried to report spammers.

    Do you have any recommendations as to the best route to report Places spam so that something will actually be done about it?

    Thanks!

  11. @Darren:

    Maps Report a problem is irretrievably broken. Despite some assurances from the Local Spam PM, and months of waiting for some action, nothing has ever been done. I think Google hires a contractor who manages the GLE (Google Listing Editor) workforce, and the GLEs are endlessly incompetent. They call the business in question and ask them if they’re spam! Seriously! They do have a multi-point checklist, but they ignore that in favor of expediency, probably because Google wants high speed reviews, so the quality diminishes, and spam reports are ignored.

    I would delete them directly in MM, which is the fastest. I wouldn’t bother with any info. in the comment section. The GLEs will ignore it anyway, and the Google Reviewers from MM (who, in my opinion, are the shining jewel of the GMM universe) know what spam is. The previous lead for the GR team out of India was extremely proficient and resourceful in verifying and removing spam. Now that SABs are available in MM, you can delete them directly from MM as well.

    You’ll probably have to jump through the hoop at least twice, if the GRs don’t review it first. The GLEs will probably deny the deletion, so you’ll need to hit “I object” so a GR will come along and take a look at it, and then re-delete it yourself. Googlers are a bunch of data hoarders, and like to hold on to bad data no matter what.

    The best time to delete is late at night, when the India GRs are working. Chances are, if you’re deleting a lot of spam, you’ll catch a GR wave. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait a few days for them to review your deletions.

    This is a simplification of the whole process. There’s multiple bugs, tricks, procedures that makes it more efficient.

    Gotta go, I’ll try to add more later.

  12. @Darren: Hey, I’m internet famous! Thanks. You also referenced an ‘article’ that I wrote for MM over a year ago. I was approaching spam much more broadly back then, and lately I’ve winnowed it down to locksmith spam, but it contains a lot of helpful tips that are readily applicable to any type of spam.

    I think a few things will help:

    Google needs to significantly reform how they handle spam. Their approach reminds me of how they used to handle disease outbreaks in the ‘good old days’, which is a lot of people got sick and died, and they didn’t have a clue what to do, where it came from, or why it happened. It’s also not ethically (or even legally) defensible to collect AdWords revenues from scammers and pretend that they’re ‘not being evil’, when in fact, they’re basically one of the more significant reasons why the spam persists.

    Local businesses (and SEO specialists) need to be more proactive in monitoring their neighborhoods, removing local spam, and being vocal to Google, law enforcement, and the media that they need to help fix this problem. It’s not insurmountable–it just requires that Google treat it more seriously than they do. For every call that a spammer gets, that’s one less call that a business or client gets, and that’s a lot of money being left on the table. To give you an idea how much, locksmith spammers lift upwards of $1 billion dollars yearly out of the U.S. economy, and that’s just one segment of their industrial model. They’re also operating carpet cleaners, garage door suppliers, Dead Sea beauty supplies, HVAC, and handyman (often from the same call center), and each of those segments is also hollowing out their respective industries, again, upwards of $1 billion each! If spammers aren’t put in check, it dilutes the search results and the quality of Google Maps overall, which means that only ‘suckers’ use Google Maps (or AdWords) for certain business segments, and eventually, everyone ends up spamming just to stay in business (a Cold Spam War, if you will). As the spammers grow (and like any virus, they’re growing), they’re able to employ their blackhat SEO firepower to promote their spam at the expense of your own, and it makes it even harder for the SMB to compete with them.

    There also needs to be a more open discussion of Google’s active role in perpetuating local spam. They’re no longer a neutral party that shows the best search results, not when they position their own products above everything else.

  13. Hi Dan:

    I think we interacted about 1 1/2 years ago when I was asked to do SEO work for an escort service in Las Vegas that kept getting taken off the maps. They had three + listings, and finally admitted to me that in order to protect the girls they were using made up locations. I was intrigued by your name, blissfullight. I had you pegged, at the time, as an ardent Indian ascetic who was waging war against escort services. However, in retrospect, I assume it was the made-up address that was the problem, plus the fact that Google apparently is opposed to advertising for escort services. That was puzzling at the time, also, because I noticed strip joints were acceptable for registration on the maps.

  14. Dan:

    Great comments in post 21. As referenced above I was able to reference and support a local real locksmith (that you introduced me to) to a potential customer. He got the business. Not some spammer. The customer later wrote about the services he provided and appreciated them within a local/regional forum in the greater DC metro area.

    Hopefully that comment will help him get more business and keep it out of the spammers hands. Keep up the good work.

    I’m going to apply that “neighborhood” methodology and see what I can turn up. Thanks for the insights!!

    Dave

  15. @Boruch:

    Hmm. I gave up on the escorts for a few reasons:

    1) Google had a very unclear policy regarding escorts. They initially banned it in MM (but it was still okay in Places), then backpedaled after GMM opened in Europe and mappers started wiping out legal escort service POIs because “Escort services are not allowed”. Then they decided it was okay. Then they decided it wasn’t. Google apparently learned something from the Craigslist fiasco, and decided it was too complicated to support “Barely legal” business models on Maps. (Although it’s still there: http://goo.gl/maps/WknAl and http://goo.gl/maps/RPB5p), because they didn’t want to figure out what was legal and what wasn’t.

    2) I got some vague legal threats. That was unpleasant. Suing me for deleting listings that aren’t “there” and fell afoul of numerous MM policies is…yeah.

    3) Locksmiths eventually consumed all my interest.

    My issue, at the time with escorts, like other spammy businesses, is that, as you pointed out, have to use false addresses to run their business and protect themselves. I found two (two) in the whole US who used their ‘real’ address. One of them (unfortunately due to the innumerable glitches in Google Places) had her real address exposed on Maps and probably didn’t know it. If you’re trusting Google to ‘hide’ your address, that’s, uh, a very bad business decision.

    Almost all of them use a keyword spammy name in lieu of their ‘real’ business name.

    The Asian escort agencies in NYC are basically fronts for sex traffickers run with the assistance of the Triads. So sex slavery and organized crime for the win!

    Nonetheless, it gets puzzling because while those are illegal business models in every sense of the word, the “Asian massage parlors” serve as yet another front for sex trafficking, and yet they have an undeniable physical presence that is mostly legal. So what do you do there?

    It’s a pretty complex problem with no easy solutions, at least not for Google.

    Still, escort services have nothing to fear from me. Spam away!

  16. You’re best reference for legal locksmiths is Fair Trade Locksmiths: https://www.fairtradelocksmiths.com It’s a free directory that is pretty close to being an authoritative resource for legitimate locksmiths. If you’re one of the good guys, you can get on it for free: https://www.fairtradelocksmiths.com/listed It’s run by Mark Baldino of Baldino’s Lock & Key (http://www.baldinos.com) in Virginia, DC, and Maryland. They do a complete background check. I helped run the research team that vetted the locksmiths.

  17. Deleting locksmith spam in MM isn’t easy, either. You have to be very persistent, because the biggest obstacle is Google themselves. They like their spammy parking lots/locksmiths: https://www.google.com/mapmaker?gw=55&editids=TEPSHDBDeiReUyA5Kq&iwloc=0_0&t=h&dtab=history

    Maybe it’s “Parking Below” (underground). Or you can park on the sidewalk. I’m pretty sure the city of Seattle won’t mind at all. And you can get your car unlocked for the Lo, Lo, price of $600!

  18. I wanted to clarify on the Primary category situation. I was working from the old Dashboard when I wrote that section. It appears that the Primary category does sync across Geo products, provided that you’ve been using the new Dashboard and set a primary category. Many POIs, by default, are using the old E/POI (establishment/point of interest) and Boundary cats, especially if they’re unclaimed and their creation (and any editing) predates the database integration. In some instances, I’ve seen claimed listings with E/POI as the primary category still show up in MM, especially spam POIs, but that may be the haste at which they’re constructed, ongoing bugs, or my lack of information on the process of building spam POI networks.

  19. You wrote this article a while ago and I’ve been thinking and thinking about this. I should’ve just written the first thing that came to my mind but that’s long pasted.

    I’ll just say that earlier this year at Google IO there was this talk about Google getting smarter. They have these knowledge graphs where it can find the relative distance between two words and then based on this distance find other related data.

    Say for example Google’s algorithms learn the distance for the relative term: boy is to girl, then without doing any additional work it will start to find things like cat is to dog, green is to color and stuff like these.

    I wonder is moving to a more centralized database structure is a way to have their algorithms pour over all of this data and find pull out more data that they will use.

    It’s just a though and I might be way off base but that’s what I though about when I saw this blog post. Thanks again Mike

  20. I just noticed today — through the old dashboard bulk upload tool, listings with custom categories were rejected. This wasn’t the case as of last week.

    Has anyone else noticed this?

    Looks as though they’ve finally been deprecated (at least for my account).

  21. Great job Dan AKA bliss. As is usual with you informative and interesting. Not an easy accomplishment considering this is all “geek” stuff to me. LOL
    Have a great 2014 and thanks for explaining the unexplainable to the rest of us.

  22. It now appears that SABs have been hidden from MM again. Provided the SAB was properly setup (that is, run through Places rather than MM), it no longer appears in MM. However, this also means that previously deleted (usually spammy) SABs that were removed in MM were not removed in Places, which is a continuation of a previous bug.

    The problem with segregating SABs is that it actually encourages spam, and there’s even less information to determine if the business address is real or not, since you can’t research it. When SABs were visible in MM, you could see the address and do a reverse search. Many, many SABs–not just locksmiths–use virtual offices, UPS Stores, and other addresses that are violations of Google Places Quality Guidelines. If you can’t see the address somewhere, how are you supposed to determine what is or isn’t spam? By making SABs invisible in MM, that cuts off crowdsourcing efforts by MM mappers who almost religiously follow the guidelines and know spam better than Google itself. Hiding SABs from MM seems like a needlessly complicated solution to something that wasn’t actually a problem.

    As for actually hiding the business address, the business address itself, at least in the US, is a matter of public record. It’s one thing to make it less visible on Maps so people don’t show up at your front door when you don’t want them to, and it’s another to try to completely eradicate the address of the business from all public facing geo products. MM is now invisible itself, since the link to it was removed from the new Maps, and I don’t know anyone who uses MM to get around.

    Reporting them through Maps Report a problem is ineffective and hasn’t been for years. For the most part, the workforce in charge of evaluating spam reports on the Places side is poorly trained and have the guiding Google ethos of retain the data at all costs, even if the data is clearly spammy and/or illegal. The local spam team seems a tad obsessed with algorithms at the expense of other resources, and to my knowledge, has never effectively trained any of the frontline reviewers on how to identify spam, even though it fairly easy to do so.

  23. Hi Dan,

    Thanks for your article, very insightful.

    I was wondering if you could talk more about the ability to view past changes in MM. I used to use it from time to time to monitor the “this place is newly added” tag, but that facility doesnt seem to be there anymore? is there any way, either in MM or in the broad Google ecosystem to figure out when a certain POI first made its way into the Google databases.

  24. Any thoughts why Google decided not to allow instant approval for Places, Plus Pages or MM ? Once you get Mail Pin you could be listed on Maps right away. Now my clients have to wait 4-5 days and sometimes never listed. Never had this issue before.

  25. @AdJordan:

    Yeah, because of all the local spam. If the listings are spammy, especially locksmith spammy, they shouldn’t be listed at all. Maybe if spammers wouldn’t spam, this wouldn’t be an issue. But I suppose even organized criminal networks with hundreds of millions of dollar in potential revenue on the line need to eat, too.

  26. @Michael:

    That’s a borderline POI. A ‘meeting point’ is usually what I would term an event, rather than a semi-permanent point of interest. If, however, you feel otherwise, hit “I object” and wait for a MM Google Reviewer to evaluate the listing. The initial review was carried out by a GLE (Google Listing Editor), who works from Places.

    (In MM parlance, you were GLEd: http://goo.gl/nxUjz8)

    Also, I created an issue some time ago regarding an Events layer in Maps, since there’s a lot of borderline POIs (festivals, farmers markets, etc., roving food trucks) that may not qualify for a listing on Local, but are present enough that they should be on Maps in some form: https://code.google.com/p/google-mapmaker/issues/detail?id=2445

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.