All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Yahoo Local Mapspam now appearing near you

I have not paid much attention to Yahoo Local over the past few months. It isn’t as interesting to me as Google, it lacks the intriguing technology of the Local Business Center, its algorythms seem simpler and it generates less traffic and thus plays less of a role in my client’s sites.

The simpler input and verification procedures make it painless and quick for a business to get listed in the Yahoo Local database and rank fairly highly. Apparently though, that simplicity can lead to Mapspam as well. While the Mapspam on Yahoo is not as widely spread as Google’s was, it is harder to spot, there are fewer options for reporting it, and Yahoo seems less willing to pull it down.

The folks at the FloristDetective.com have been doing a number of pieces on the tricks and tactics of non local order takers in the florist business. Many of those practices are border line actions that imply that a florist is local without actually stating it…like getting a local exchange phone number that transfer to a head office who knows where. These are clearly deceptive practices but once they get the local phone number, the data flows through the phone company to Google and Yahoo and the presumption on the engines’ part is that they are legitimate local listings. They will frequently show up in Google with a pin but no address associated with the listing.

Recently though, RealFlorist.Flowerchat.com have uncovered more obviously deceptive listings in Yahoo where the entity will fabricate an address that is close to the city center (gaining ranking cred), provide a very relevant fabricated business title with City + Florist in the title (gaining more ranking cred) and adding a number of reviews (gaining still more ranking cred) to jump to the top of the local rankings for a popular search term in the larger cities like New York Florist, Los Angeles Florist or San Francisco Florist.

In each of the above cases there is clear evidence on the web that the local address is fake. In the spirit of journalistic integrity I called a number of other local florists close to the listed florist to see if there was a florist located at any of the above addresses and uniformly the answer was: No.

Here is the evidence for just one of the bogus listings, on the search for New York florist at Yahoo (note the distance, name and phone for the first local result): Continue reading

Local Links of Interest

In-car Google Local Search Google continues to push Maps to new platforms and venues. I see this type of market penetration as a way to achieve monopoly status ala the iPod.
Segmenting Local Mobile Search

Good article from Gerg Sterling at SearchEngineLand categorizing and documenting the fragmented nature of local mobile search. As he points out, what he calls “mobile Internet is really four separate silos that will eventually blend to varying degrees.

At this point the only players in all the silos are Google, MSN & Yahoo. With the Telcos, Ask, Local.com, Jingle and others participating in one or two categories. He points out that “we can expect to see increasing integration of the types of functionality that are currently largely separated — the blending of voice interfaces, text and WAP and, potentially, applications that come preloaded on phones (e.g., Google Maps on the iPhone).

Handheld shootout! Google Maps vs. Windows Live Search reviews two Local Mobile Apps mentioned in Greg’s article and concludes that “I’m not a big fan of Microsoft’s search offerings, but this one beats Google’s hands down. It almost makes me forget the raw coolness of Google Maps on the iPhone. Almost.”

Catering to couch Potatoes at the Ballpark

In Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, Russell Adams reports on the increased use of wireless devices of all stripes at Major League Baseball games (and other professional sports venues) for viewing stats, instant replays, ordering food and participating in game time promotions.

At some venues wireless devices can be rented for $25 per event. The Mariners (who are owned by Nintendo) rent Nintendo devices while the SF Giants’ AT&T Park offers free wireless access.

The following quote from the article intrigued me:

The quest for new forms of in-seat entertainment is being powered by the rise of mobile devices that function as a phone, television and computer. The number of people with a high-speed Internet connection on their mobile wireless device jumped to 11 million from 3.1 million in the first six months of 2006, according to the latest figures available from the Federal Communications Commission. Just in the almost two months since Apple released the iPhone, the number of fans at the Giants’ AT&T Park using its free wireless service to get stats and take part in trivia contests has jumped 50%; in a few games, that figure has reached about 700 fans, according to the team.

This uber-local use goes hand in hand with acceleration of the broader use of wireless devices and by my way of thinking, increased usage of Google Maps and other local data resources. Short term( 1-2 years) I believe that the main beneficiaries will be restaurants and other local tourist services. Long haul (3-5 years), whether other types of businesses will benefit remains to be seen.

Google makes it easier to embed Maps AND generates new Maps traffic

Google’s new upgrade to easily allow Maps to be embedded on a web page has been widely reported.

I figure the test of any new “easy to use” technology and whether it will propagate widely is the “Mike Test”. That is, if I can figure out how to use it in 5 minutes or less with minimal instructions and without calling my programmer. Google’s new embed Map feature passes that test with flying colors.

The ease with which a map and driving instructions can be added to a website will lead to a rapid adoption rate of this technology across the web on many different types of websites. (Adding custom maps is only slightly more difficult.) The result? More traffic to Google Maps. Each of these maps include upwards of 5 new links into Google Maps. The most significant of which (in terms of driving new business searches) is the “search nearby” link.

For most of last year and into January of this year, Google Maps provided little real traffic to most websites. With the advent of the Local OneBox, Google focused attention on their local data that lead to a significant increase in Maps traffic. The same seems to be true of Google Maps on the iPhone as well. Now it appears that almost every website will provide the same. (One wonders whether placing a map on a directions page will influence Map rankings in any way.)

Google has, with the flick of a technological switch, once again put in place a feature that will lead to a significant increase in Maps use. Their ability to drive this kind of traffic to their local product demonstrates why they will be so difficult to beat in the race to dominate this market.

Links of Local Interest

Google says mobile usage has surged this summer The Local OneBox has put local on the maps (so to speak). In terms of real traffic to real websites it has had a significant impact as a way to generate traffic in local and regional markets. That being said, Maps is still a poor step cousin to the organic search results. When we all have the $100 iPhone is when Maps and techniques to optimize for it will become incredibly important.

Putting Your Small Business On The Map – good ideas by Christine Churchill at SearchEngineLand.

What should Google do about Mapspam?

The recent spate of mapspam at Google left a lot of questions about the future of local:

•Will spam define local’s future?
•How should Google respond to verified reports of Mapspam?
•Is Google’s abuse reporting mechanism adequate?
•When and what technical changes will Google make to prevent future abuse?
•How can the integrity of maps data be guaranteed?
•How should the growing number of small businesses using search marketers pick the right company and interact with them?
•How effective is maps-based marketing?
•Can Google maps expand to fulfill the legitimate business need expressed in spam?

It is this last question I address at SearchEngineland: What should Google about Mapspam?

To Sphinn this article, go here: SphinnIt

Some links of interest in Local

Comparison of Google Maps on the iPhone and N95

Google Maps and the Onebox Hate Advertising Agencies!! EarlPearl has found some interesting aberant results on Google Maps at SEORefugee

Local Housing Gets OneBox Treatment from Google  Miriam has noted the replacement of the Local Onebox with GoogleBase results. This seems to be a trend in some local results that I noted last March in a different search.

comScore Introduces Expanded U.S., Global Search Measurement And Methodology by Greg Sterling at SearchEngine Land. Maybe now we can get some meaningful local numbers. This has been an area that has mostly been filled with speculation and inference.

The many voices of Goog411, dude!

Audio recording of the many voices of Goog411Some seem to adore Goog-411 (like the folks at the Goog-411 Group), Google’s voice activated directory service that uses Map data and some like Chris from NaturalSearch panned it.I fall in between those extremes and while I understand Chris’s criticism about Goog-411′s failings I use the service on a somewhat regular basis despite its annoyances:

•It completes my calls thus offering hands free phone use

•It’s free

•It works more than 80% of the time

•It’s fun

It is fascinating to me to see Google’s Map data set being pushed out over a totally distinct network in a useful fashion although I doubt that the public will start using voice activated directory assistance for category searches in any great volume over the near term.

My usage habits are very entrenched in the city, business name model of directory assistance and I assume most consumers are as well. I suppose there is a certain cool factor that the service has and that the folks at the Goog-411 group go gaga over.Google seems to be making a bid to cater to that cool factor. They have recently changed their intro to the service which announces Goog-411 from a single male voice to a large variety of voices.

Some of them can be heard in the following compendium of voices recently recorded from dialing in to Goog 411:Audio recording of the many voices of Goog411

RentaGeek responds to accusation of Mapspam

Several weeks ago, I reported on the first cases of large scale mapspam at Google Maps. It was followed up with an interesting interview with one of the companies involved. Yesterday, on the Google-Maps-For-Business-Owners blog, the other company (apparently) responded:

TOPIC: Why am I being blacklisted when I have techs in every metro area nationwide? ============================================================================== == 1 of 2 ==

Date: Tues, Aug 14 2007 4:52 pm

From: “rentageekinc.com”

Rent A Geek is a nationwide computer repair company, and has techs all over the whole United States. We had a local business listing in each city, and a couple of other business owners in the area decided to complain, most likely because they cannot compete with our rates, and Google pulled all of our ads. Why is that? If we scour the Google Local Business listing and start complaining about every one of our other competitors, is Google going to be equally as liberal in taking these peoples ads down as well? I feel that Google is being very prejudiced towards our business, and would like to know what can be done to resolve the issue?

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While it is arguable that RentaGeek has a legitimate business need to promote their extensive coverage, it is hard to argue that it should be done with obviously faked addresses in every zip code and even harder to argue that Google is being prejudicial in their actions by taking them down for posting obviously wrong information.