September 18, 2009
Google Maps and the Local Business Center have been hell for hospitals. Virtually everything that could go wrong with Maps has gone wrong when it comes to hospitals getting their many listings correct in the LBC and the Maps index with the technical issues compounded by the lack of customer support. This has been an on-going problem and was first reported as long ago as March, 2007.
That being said it appears that Google is in the process of a formalized solution that could very well solve the problem: hospitals would be come eligible for whitelisting of bulk uploads.
Last week, in my article “Is Google Maps the Portal to Bizarro World?“, I wrote about the difficulties of a hospital being banned while attempting to mange the complex process of getting their many listings squared away. With hospitals, records are merged sending folks to the wrong address for the emergency room or inundating an internist’s office with calls meant for the main switch board. Typically phone verification in the LBC does not work for most hospitals due to their PBX’s and receipt of a post card in the right hands is more difficult to come by than single payer health care. The job of the hospital trying to gain control of their listings has often proven nearly impossible.
Given the critical public nature of the service that they provide, sending phone calls off to the wrong department, having the wrong address or phone number for the emergency room can lead to disaster. It points out the social problems that can affect us all when critical public information is left to the devices of an imperfect algorithm.
Historically Google had a dedicated form for hospitals to gain assistance from Google in getting their records squared away but that option had disappeared leaving many with no real solution and Google’s only advice to hospitals being the totally unsatisfactory & pitiful “check your mail system and make sure the mail doesn’t get lost”.
This recent post in the Help Forums captures the essence of the hospital issues:
I didn’t get the postcard… Must change Phone number ASAP!
John at Madigan
I am a systems administrator, and Webmaster for the Madigan Army Medical Center. I have tried to update our Phone Number (the correct number is 253 968-1110 all the other numbers are wrong… there are 3 listed) using the post card option. I did not get the postcard, not absolutely surprising as we are a LARGE facility with over 5000 employees. The phone number option is not viable, as the number listed is incorrect. It goes to our Pain clinic, who is UNINDATED with calls that they have to forward to the main switchboard. I MUST get this number changed IMMEDIATELY. Please Help!
It appears that Google, in response to Jeff Wiley of Hospital Bizarro World fame, has begun to formalize a solution not just for him but that will work for every hospital. He (and hopefully all) is being brought into the Bulk Upload Whitelist program. This should offer a real solution to any and every health care facility. From the post:
I have good news. Your LBC account should be active now. I took a look and I suggest you submit a bulk upload for all your hospital listings so you do not have to individually verify each listing. After you create your bulk upload and it complies with our Local Business Center Quality Guidelines then you may submit a request to have it verified and listed on Google Maps by submitting your info here: http://maps.google.com/support/bin/request.py?contact_type=feeds_verify.
Please let me know if you have questions. Sorry for the inconvenience.
I may be premature on this but Grand Kudos to Google on moving to solve a pressing public safety issue.
For this solution to really work, it needs to be taken to the next level of operational and communication support. Google needs to back up the possibility of white listing with real people to approve the requests in a timely fashion. As long as Google is in the solution mood, lets hope that they communicate the solution broadly and publicly document this possibility so that every hospital can learn of it and take advantage of it. It is of such importance in my book that Google should initiate a focused outreach to every medical facility in the county.
This holds the promise of a great solution to a sticky problem… three cheers!
August 14, 2009
I received this feedback from Joel Headley, Consumer Operations at Google, via Google Reader in answer to some of my questions about the newly announced Bulk Upload Whitelisting for the local business center:
MB: Will the entry (submitted via the whitelisted upload) still be editable via community edit?
MB: Will the stats of the data rich dash board be available to whitelisted uploads?
Joel: Not yet – it will have the same features as all other feeds.
MB: What is the smallest whitelist size that will be approved?
Joel: 10. For the other questions – I’ll have to wait until I’m back from vacation.
A message to Joel…you are on vacation for God’s sake!
Here is the content of the Bulk Upload Whitelist Request form:
Get Verified in Google Maps Local Business Center
* Required field
Generally, the best way to verify that you own a business is by receiving a phone call or postcard with a PIN. However, we understand this gets tricky if you have say, over 100 business locations, and most likely well before you get that far. If you have a minimum of 10 locations, you can submit a bulk upload. However, a bulk upload isn’t verified and so we can’t guarantee that it’ll show up on Google Maps.
That’s why we’re opening up a new verification process for business owners with feeds that satisfy the following requirements:
- Accurate and up-to-date data
- Full compliance with our Local Business Center Quality Guidelines
- Submitted by the owner of all businesses in the feed
- Feed has only been submitted by a single user
You must make sure to update your bulk upload whenever anything changes. We’ll review your account periodically for freshness of data, and listings will become unverified it if we find it doesn’t meet the requirements.
In order to have your feed considered for verification, you must fill out the form below and agree to our Feed Verification Policy. Please note that we will not respond to all requests.
Terms for submitting a store location file to the Local Business Center (LBC)
By submitting your store location data, you agree to follow the Terms of Service for Google Maps, as well as the additional terms set forth below. You understand that your LBC listings may be removed from Google products and services, and your Local Business Center account may be terminated if you do not comply with these terms.
Accurate, Specific Data
You agree to provide accurate data for any business listing that you submit. The information you supply for each listing must be undisputed, authoritative, and current to the particular business location. For example, be sure to include the direct, local phone number specific to the business location, instead of a number that serves many locations. Likewise, please include the homepage of your business’s primary website for the particular business location that you submit.
By submitting a business listing to the Local Business Center, you are confirming that you are the business owner.
You will not engage in deceptive or manipulative behavior intended to alter search result ranking.
The whitelisting is a positive development for larger businesses with multiple locations and or brands making a previously untenable process potentially more friendly. Clearly the listings will be verified and not susceptible to community edits. It is still unclear how small of an upload will be approved and what timeframes a business will be looking at.
That being said, it appears that the process requires human intervention on Google’s part. Hopefully Google has allocated the human resources necessary to staff the many requests that will come in.
This new process does very little to facilitate agency interactions with the LBC or Google. While it appears that the option will be available to agencies to upload on behalf of their clients, it is not clear how cumbersome that additional layer of approval will be as the agency “must first be ‘approved’ by a representative of the company itself”.
The whitelisting appears to offer Google the benefit of fresher, better maintained listings for corporate and franchise entities but in the end its success will be predicated on Google’s execution of the process.
Update: Here is the link to the whitelist request form: http://maps.google.com/support/bin/request.py?contact_type=feeds_verify
David Mihm reports from the LSS Q&A Session that Google is rolling out the Bulk Upload Whitelist reported here in early June and confirmed by Google several weeks ago.
From David Mihm’s Local Search blog:
Now onto the good stuff. Ari Bezman, the product manager for the Local Business Center just confirmed that the Whitelist functionality that Carter Maslan announced via Mike Blumenthal last week should now be live in the Local Business Center. It involves a contact form directly off of the current bulk upload area of the LBC.
Google will manually review these contact submissions (it sounds like especially for really large uploads–1000+?) and decide whether to reject or accept the upload as a whitelist.
Franchise owners and corporate marketing departments will need to work out beforehand who is going to be responsible for submitting that particular location, because Google only wants to see a whitelisted location from one feed.
Chris Travers of UniversalBusinessListing asked a very important follow-up: how will Google treat whitelist requests from agencies? To his credit, Ari responded with a very straightforward answer: agency whitelist requests will be strongly considered but must first be “approved” by a representative of the company itself.
Uploads via this new feature will be considered “almost as trusted” as if a location/business owner verifies by PIN.
The link does not yet appear to be live in my LBC but
it apparently will be shortly but here is the link to the request form.
Will the entry still be editable via community edit?
Will the stats of the data rich dash board be available to whitelisted uploads?
What is the approval timeframe?
Will there be a communication feedback loop from Google staffed by people?
What is the smallest whitelist size that will be approved?
August 6, 2009
In early June, reports surfaced of a new beta program that allows a Local Business Center account’s bulk uploads to be whitelisted after approval by Google. Google has confirmed this program and estimates that it will be live in the Local Business Center in several months.
Here a correspondence from last week with Carter Maslan, VP of Maps:
MB: I have received several emails concerning Google’s whitelisting of bulk uploads for use in the Maps index. Would you be able to share program details and specifics as to how an agency might get approved under this program?
Carter: We’re still working out the process for whitelisting, but we should be able to start introducing it soon (within a couple months). It is geared towards people that are acting as sole agent of a single business in publishing locations (typically an employee of the business supplying a feed of chain/office locations, but perhaps also a person that the business has contracted). So whitelisting is not at the Agency-level; instead it’s at the individual business level where that business may have hired an employee or SEM consultant to do its work.
Does that make sense?
MB: Are you saying that it will be an LBC level procedure? If so what is involved in obtaining the status?
Carter: Yes. For example, if you’re signed-in to the LBC account that contains the bulk upload of all the Acme Widget Company locations, then you’d request whitelisting of that feed in that account.
MB: So you are saying that it will be a brand by brand, case by case level approval? Will the request structure be formalized within the LBC or will it stay the “figure out if you can” sort of thing?
Carter: Maybe not quite brand by brand. For example, if a parent corporation has multiple brands and they’ve hired someone to handle all their various franchise locations, we *may* want to enable whitelisting of the corporation’s feed; we haven’t finished working that out exactly. But generally, we want the user account to correspond to a single business brand to help ensure quality/accuracy.
In terms of process, we’re still working through that; but there will likely be a link in LBC to request whitelisting.
It is unclear if the beta program is still open and how one would join. Regardless, an improved and secure bulk upload would be a welcome change.
June 4, 2009
Google has apparently introduced a new service – a Google Whitelist Feeds Beta that allows for information from trusted bulk feeds to be automatically verified.
I had been hearing about a Local Business Center data feed that offered whitelisting and automatic verification from several sources. I have been unable to get confirmation from Google that the service existed but did see this comment by someone apparently participating in the beta. I also recently received this copy of an email invitation from Google to join the program. The other details provided by the correspondent left me confident about the likely authenticity of this communication.
Dear Google Partner,
Being on the Local Business Center (LBC) Whitelist is a way for you to help business listings be accurate on Google Maps. To be whitelisted, you agree to follow the terms of service for Google Maps, as well as the additional terms set forth below. You understand that your LBC listings may be removed from Google products and services, and your user account for the Local Business Center may be terminated if the Google Maps team determines you have not followed these terms. To agree to these terms, please respond to this email, typing the sentence “I agree” in your reply.
Accurate, Specific Data
You agree to provide accurate data for any business listing you submit. The information you supply for each listing must be the undisputed, authoritative, current facts that are specific to that particular business location. For example, provide the primary direct local phone number specific to that business location for th listing rather than a number that serves many locations. Likewise, make the home page the primary web site of the particular business location you submit.
By submitting a business listing to the Local Business Center, you represent that you have the express consent from that business to act as the primary source of business listings data supplied to Google Maps. In obtaining that consent, you also represent that you’ve notified the business that listings on Google Maps are free via Google’s Local Business Center, and that a business may add a listing without working throug an agent or whitelisted partner.
You will not engage in deceptive or manipulative behavior intended to game search result ranking.
The Google Maps Team
Last year Carer Maslan spoke of an agency program that would facilitate larger scale interaction with the Local Business Center. Obviously the bulk uploads as they were originally construed led to spam and have been devalued as a source for trusted information. This beta appears to be a response to both the need for facilitating bulk updating of listings as well as guaranteeing better control over the quality of listings. If anyone has more information on the program I would love to hear about it.