All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Confessions of a Google Enabler: In search of Coupons

Each morning when I rise, I check the RSS feed from the Google Maps Support Forums. I try to answer a few questions from wayward business folks that have no place else to turn. I often feel that in doing so, I am removing from Google the very real burden of providing actual support.

Here is this morning’s helpful response that I gave to a naive business person thinking the Google Coupons might someday be used by a potential customer:

I added a coupon for our various locations yesterday.  The admin center says the coupon is active, but I don’t see the coupon anywhere online?  Where do customers see the coupon?
Thank you.
My answer:
Coupon location is one of the best kept secrets of Google Maps. Even Maps Guide Jen has been known to have trouble locating them. The only entity totally capable of finding them after they have been posted is the GoogleBot. Occassionally they are spotted by humans but only after you have drilled into Maps quite deeply.

-In “Text View” there is a link under the business and there is a tab in the stack detailed view
-In “Map View” select “more info” and then it will show in a tab.
-Links or any other indication of their existence are not visible from the main Google search results page. 

My presumption is that Google is attempting to leave a historical record of life on the planet for distant future archeologists to ponder but that they did not intend for Google Coupons to be used in any manner to which you as a business person or consumer are traditionally accustomed.

Mike B

Will Google’s Streetview Data be used to replace TeleAtlas?

sv_after_beforeWhen Google expanded StreetView coverage for the U.S. in December. I was struck by the visual on their blog.

Google is not a company that often buys data from others. They usually either buy a company or they build it themselves. This map begged the question: Could Streetview Data be used to replace TeleAtlas?

In a Forbes article on the Nokia Navteq deal in late 2007,  Michael T. Jones, chief technologist of Google Earth, Maps and Local, was noted as saying “the company never considered buying Navteq. Instead, Google could simply recreate the data far more cheaply by tapping the mapmaking skills of its hundreds of millions of users — a wiki of maps.” They obviously decided to not buy TeleAtlas either.

While MapMaker could provide some fundamental data in many countries, it could never provide the accuracy and detail for travel routing. So I asked a couple of people who are more familiar with map making than I, if they thought that Google could use Streetview data to replace TeleAtlas.

Both James Fee of SpatiallyAdjusted and Barry Hunter of agreed that it was not only possible but likely at some point in the future that Google could be using Streetview data.

Continue reading Will Google’s Streetview Data be used to replace TeleAtlas?

Local Links of Interest

Cellphones as Credit Cards? Americans Must Wait Leslie Berlin, NY Times

It is almost certain that mobile-phone payments will eventually come to the United States. After all, the technology promises something for everyone involved: Credit-card companies would have a new way to attract and keep customers and would save money by no longer sending cards through the mail. Carriers would enjoy another source of revenue. Retailers would benefit from a faster checkout process, and may find that people buy more when they pay with their phones.

The risk of account fraud from mobile payments is “small,” according to Kevin Fu, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who in 2006 uncovered several security holes in credit cards that are waved rather than swiped…..Mr. Fu is more concerned about privacy. He says that it may be possible to get personal information, like a person’s name, from credit-card account data on a mobile phone. Nonetheless, he predicts that with time, “these N.F.C. phones will become one of the best ways to do mobile payments.”

Mobile Search Guide – Mobile Maven

A guide to mobile search and search optimization with the following sections:
-Why Does Mobile Search Matter?
-How is Mobile Search Different?
-Optimizing for Mobile Search
-Advertising on Mobile Search
-Tracking Mobile Search

Brazilians Wax Lyrical about Satnav Knickers – Katy Guest, The Independant, London

The “Find Me If You Can” range of underwear is the brainchild of lingerie designer Lucia Lorio. The racy set consists of a lace bodice, bikini bottom and a faux (of course) pearl collar, with a GPS tracking device neatly nestled at the waist. Or rather glued on somewhere under the armpit. But it has feminists up in arms. Claudia Burghardt, who purports to be a feminist leader in Berlin, said: “It is nothing more than a chastity belt for insecure men!” But Ms Lorio believes she is missing the point. Even if a woman gives her partner the password to her £500 tracking system, she explains, “she can always turn it off”. This seems to be missing another point: that, even if a woman does give her partner the password to her sat-nav knickers, she can always take them off and leave them in the office.

Hmm…where will local go next?

Local 10 Pack Tweaked – review links removed from listing

Update 1/22/09: Reviews are back in the Local 10 Pack once again

It appears that over the past 48 hours Google has rolled out a tweak to the Local 10 Pack layout that removes the number of reviews and the link to the reviews in Maps and simply has the More link on all listings.

Here is a search today on Florists near Brooklyn:

Here is a screen shot for the same search from September 2008
Florists near Brooklyn

The Semmy Nominations Announced

The Semmy Awards, founded by Matt McGee to honor search marketing content online, has announced the 2008 nominees in the following categories:

Three articles that I wrote this past year: In the Trenches: the reality of SMB Marketing- Bruce’s Sew Handy Interview in the Small Business Category and Ranking Factors in Google Maps – Cracking the Code SMX Local & Microsoft’s listing in Google Maps Hijacked (oops by me) were nominated in the Local Search Category.

Thank you for the recognition and my hat  is off to the many other nominees. I must note that I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t receive any nominations in the Rant category. I guess I need to further refine the curmudgeon parts of me going forward. I am sure the Merchant Circle and Google would both appreciate seeing more of that side of me. 🙂

Google Coupons see Large Decline in Major Markets Amongst SMB’s

There is the old marketing rule of thumb (written of course by marketers) that the time to grab market share is in a down market. The other marketing rule of the thumb is that coupon use goes up in down markets. According to a recent NY Times article In Lean Times, Online Coupons Are Catching On.

Neither adage could be proven by Google Coupon’s lack luster performance compared to last year. Compared to last March, Google Coupons use is down by 31%. Given that the ValPak numbers are roughly the same , one can surmise that self provisioning of coupons by SMB’s in the Local Business Center is the reason for the decline. Given Coupons low visibility and lack of value this is a rational response. Google Coupons is the greatest Google Local idea that has never received the exposure or positioning that they so desperately need. 

Total Coupons for search “City”
Nov. ’07
Total for “City
+ Valpak” Nov. ’07
Total Coupons for search “City”
Mar. ’08
Total for “City
+ Valpak” Mar. ’08
Total Coupons for search “City”
Jan. ’09
Total for “City
+ Valpak” Jan. ’09
New York City 536 410 631 268 527 332
San Francisco 580 200 605 162 463 149
Chicago. 519 165 694 139 325 81
Olean, NY 12 1 8 0 14 0
Totals 1647 776 1938 569 1329 562

On a related and somewhat ironic note Greg Sterling at Local Mobile noted that  Top Google Android Engineer Goes to Coupons Inc., where is hiring 40 new employees before the end of February.

Mapspam Reporting Looses Visibility In Map Support Groups

Update from Google’s Maps Guide Jen: “We’re working on a solution. In the meantime, we’ll try to be extra vigilant about the spam that is reported”.

Google’s recent upgrade to their support forums has a number of pluses and a few minuses.

The tighter integration with their Help System and the ease of locating the forums from within the Local Business center will definitely help more users in finding them. The ability to note that a post has been solved will provide a certain accountability for Google and other users to know if the poster understands the solution. On the negative side, the loss of summary and detailed emails of all postings is a workflow annoyance but one that can be worked around with RSS.

A more disappointing change and one that will frustrate users is the loss of visibility of the Mapspam reporting thread.

For the first half of 2008, Google’s Mapspam reporting was very ad hoc leading to a great deal of frustration on the part of small business owners and LBC users. In July I noted:
It is time for Google to step up to the bar and provide typical business people with an obvious means to report these problems and a clear cut procedure for dealing with it. The time for me to be the industry watchdog has passed and Google needs to accept full responsibility for solving this problem. That means:
1)Providing an obvious reporting mechanism
2)Responding aggressively to reports and removing the reported spam
3)Google should be proactively searching for and removing Mapspam on their own initiative
4)Continue to make it more difficult form Mapspam to enter the index.

However, shortly after my rant, Google added and highlighted the Mapspam reporting link and they “stuck” the reporting thread to the front page of the old forum. This action highlighted the Mapspam issue, made the reporting mechanism more clear AND let people know that Google was paying attention. It seemed to help in many ways.

While the thread for reporting Mapspam still exists in the new help area (you may find it here), only the more experienced users of the forum will find it. This lack of visibility means that the Mapspam posts will not be as centralized in the new support forum. If the proliferating Mapspam posts do not get answered by Google, it will leave the distinct impression that they have been unread by Google. It seems likely that the frustrations levels will once again rise.

Google, for the past 6 months, appeared to be moving down the path outlined above (with the exception of #3 which is long overdue), and this loss of reporting visibility is a definite step backwards in the battle against Mapspam.

Google changes Bulk Uploads to Unverified in LBC – leads to loss of rank?

In an apparent change in the Local Business Center procedure & policy, Google is now classifying most some bulk uploads as “unverified”. This change has led a number of posters in the new support forums (here, here, here & here) to question the new classification and note a significant loss of rank for their listings.

Google’s Maps Guide Brianna offered up this explanation:

Hi all,

Listings that have been submitted and verified (by phone, sms or mail) through the LBC “add listing” process won’t have the unverified label. Listings that have been submitted through the bulk upload process may have the Unverified Listing label, depending on what other data we have about the business.

While we realize this recent change may cause an inconvenience for you, we recommend that you manually verify your listings.

Previously, bulk uploaded listings were noted as verified in the LBC but with a lower trust level than a record that had additionally followed the phone or post card PIN verification process. The new “Unverified Listing” label will force more bulk uploaders to PIN verify. The move appears to be an anti-spam measure that will allow these listings into the index but will lower ranking visibility unless Google has “other data… about the business“.

Google Maps features launched in the last 6 months of 2008


Remembering what happened yesterday is difficult let alone what happened last month. Google Maps changes so quickly and the odds of any one person seeing and knowing every change is quite small. The net result is a frequent banter amongst the Localites (David Mihm, Matt McGee, Steve Espinosa, Martijn Beijk, Will Scott, Miriam Ellis etc) about features that one or the other of us have just discovered but may or may not be new.

The most recent such query was: When did Google Maps start showing Reverse business lookup? This feature allows a searcher to type an address and get back a list of all businesses known to Google at that location. For example one could search on the address 101 West 23RD St, New York, NY? to see all of the businesses located in the UPS Store at that location.

I suppose that this feature could be used as a way to ferret out Mapspam or if you were a creative mapspammer you could ferret out hard to discover central locations as the fake location of your business. Do you think that Google will put a double check in on that one?

Google Maps Guide Jade though, has made our primary game of stump the local chump less challenging by publishing a relatively complete list of all Map features launched in the last 6 months:
Continue reading Google Maps features launched in the last 6 months of 2008

Local in a Ford Near You

As the pricing for GPS and computer chips drop we have seen computers moving into a range of new situations from TV boxes to your iPod. The capability is now moving into automobiles as well and in this context, Local makes lots of sense. Ford is at the forefront of making this technology widely available in its cars with its Sync technology.

David Berkowitz of Clicktoday did a recent interview with Doug VanDagens of Ford Motor Company. It is clear that Ford has made a commitment to making this technology available in every vehicle at a very low price. Just bring your own voice plan. From the interview:

David Berkowitz: Good, thanks? Do you just want to share what you’re doing?

DV: ….What we’re announcing here at the show is an ability to connect to the internet through a normal voice plan. So all you need is your phone, and we can take Sync through Bluetooth, connect to your phone, connect out to Tellme, which is a voice portal – a best in class voice portal, and Microsoft now owns those assets. From there we can direct you to a number of Internet data sources. We can send the GPS information from the vehicle, we can send health report diagnostic information over your voice plan, and then we have traffic, directions, business search, and information, all internet-based.

DB: This seems unusual to me at least. I don’t follow the automotive industry that closely, but it seems that when a new feature comes out, it’s on your premium model.

DV: Correct. So when we first introduced Sync, we introduced it on the Focus, and the young people loved it, right? It’s a connection to an MP3 player, hands-free cellular calling. This is the same thing. It’s free on every one of our vehicles. There’s another automaker that announced some services similar to this, but it’s only available on their high-end luxury cars. This service is going to be available on every one of our vehicles, free for three years.

You’ll have access to the internet information. You can personalize it. If you want news you can go in and say “I want technology news,” “I want business news.” It’ll be read to you. You can get sports, news, weather. Later this year we’re going to introduce movies and stock prices.

You can get navigation information, so you can go out and say, “Find me the closest Starbucks,” and it will go out, based on your location, and find the closest Starbucks to you, analyze the traffic conditions, tell you how to get there the fasest way, and download the directions to your car. The call will end, and now you’ll get turn-by-turn directions. It will say, “Turn right at 200 yards,” “Turn right now,” it will take you anywhere you want to go. It will do business search – you can get the phone number, and all of this is free for three years.

DB: Does this work in conjunction with GPS or more as a replacement?

DV: We’ve added GPS in all of our vehicles. Starting in January, all of our new vehicles will have GPS. So we send the location from the car so we know where you’re at. You can say things like, “Search nearby,” and they’ll find anything that you want nearby. You can do a business search, you can do it by category, you can do it by actual business name, by proximity. So you can say, “Find me an Italian restaurant.”

It will not be long before it will become necessary to optimize your site for viewing at 65 mph while heading down the highway in search of the perfect pizza parlor. Ford, the strongest of the US automakers, has over the past few years been improving their quality and unlike Chrysler or GM, actually leading for a change.

Sign me up!