Late last week, the widespread highjacking of business listings in the florist industry for the purpose of affiliate mapspam was reported, confirmed and documented. There had been rumors for several months in the groups of these hijackings but specifics had been difficult to come by.
According to the Real Florists Blog by FlowerChat Blog the hijackings affected some of the “most respected florists in the US – including Lehrer’s and Veldkamp’s of Denver,Podesta Baldocchi and Church Street Flowers of San Francisco, Starbright Floral Designof New York City, Phoenix Flower Shops and numerous other major city floral operations.”
The technique, apparently in widespread use in the Locksmith, PayDay Loan and other industries, exploited weaknesses in Google’s User Edit capability. I had previously reported on PayDay Loan user edit abuses. In this newly reported case in the floral industry, Affiliate Mapspamers would target high ranking florists in major markets that had NOT CLAIMED their business listings in the Local Business Center so as to be able to benefit from an existing business’ ranking and reviews.
The spammers, using the end user edit tools, would change the phone number to another local number, change the location of the business slightly and then proceed to add a category, the URL and ultimately the name of the business. Apparently the small move in location convinced Google’s system that all subsequent changes were legitimate. The listing would retain the ranking and reviews of the actual business but redirect to a Canadian Florist fulfillment house via the affiliate’s website.
Some florists have succeeded in cleaning and claiming their listings but not all. In conversations with folks in the Florist industry, the many independant florists were in tears over the incidents and the attendant loss of sales. All were totally unaware that it had been necessary for them to claim their listings.
Today Google Maps has introduced quality guidelines for business listings in the Google Maps. Google has also now provided a reinclusion option. Both are available via the Google Maps Help Center.
The following items outline practices that could result in your business listings being permanently removed from Google Maps. While they cover the most common practices to avoid, Google may respond negatively to other practices not listed here. If you have any question about whether or not a tactic is deceptive, we recommend you stand on the side of caution.
- Represent your business exactly as it appears in real life. The name on Google Maps should match the business name, as should the address, phone number and website.
- List information that provides as direct a path to the business as you can. Given the choice, you may want to list individual location phone numbers over a central phone line, official website pages rather than a directory page, and as exact of an address as you can.
- Only include listings for businesses that you represent.
- Don’t participate in any behavior with the intention or result of listing your business more times than it exists. Service area businesses, for example, should not create a listing for every town they service. Likewise, law firms or doctors should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties.
- Use the description and custom attribute fields to include additional information about your listing. This type of content should never appear in your business’s title or address fields.
The guidelines are a first real indication of Google’s standards for defining a real business listing from a spammy one. Previously the only known criteria was the single location/single listing rule. However the guideline still offer some ambiguity as to what is spam and what isn’t. For example are affiliate florist’s phone numbers that are listed in local phone books like Superpages using local exchanges but having no actual address considered spam?
For the first time Google has made an authoritative statement about keyword stuffing of business title. This type of content should never appear in your business’s title or address fields. The word never indicates that it is a clear and unambiguous reason for being delisted but as I have found in the small business world there already is ambiguity as to naming of businesses. This reality creates a fairly broad area of both discretion for Google and unclearness for small businesses.
The reinclusion request takes on a certain confessional aspect with required self reflection and identification of the SEO firm that may have precipitated the problem.
Kudos to Google for clarifying their rules and creating an opportunity for reinclusion when appropriate. These rules provide much clearer guidance about what can and can not be done.
One of the struggles of researching local marketing is the fact that I frequently misspell the word Restaurant. I am obviously not the only one. I searched today for Pittsburgh Pa RestuarantsÂ to find this Authoritative OneBox:
The record has not been claimed by the business owner as of yet but it made me curious how widely the error had penetrated the Internet. On the searchÂ “Arby’s Roast Beef Restuarants” it cropped up 33 times including Yelp and Allpages.com amongst others.
This search result put several issues in sharp relief for me:
1-Google’s Authoritative Onebox is far less than perfect and predicates its results too heavily on business title.
2- Once an error like this crops into one electronic directory, it crops into many. It will be an annoying problem for the business owner to solve.
3- Now more than ever, it is critical to double check your marketing message before you hit the return key!
Eric Enge has an informative and detailed interview today with Frazier Miller and Shailesh Bhat on the inner workings of Yahoo Local.
There were many items in the interview of interest and a number of notable contrasts with Google’s fully automated system.
Some of the highlights:
– Yahoo Local relies very heavily on the licensed feeds that they get through data providers like InfoUSA, Acxiom, and Localeze and these should be the primary sources for maintaing data accuracy in your Yahoo record.
– They “have human and manual moderation that goes on for changes, so … submissions all go through a moderation process where we look for patterns and we actually do validation of data to make sure it is accurate”. Google could learn from this approach!
– Categorization and consistency of keywords across data sources and your listing are key to ranking
For more key points from the interview ….
Continue reading Eric Enge: Frazier Miller and Shailesh Bhat Interview on Yahoo Local
Mozilla Labs introduced Ubiquity today. What is Ubiquity? Not really sure but it seems to be/do the following:
-It is a natural language command interface for Firefox.
-Words invoke commands that interact with API’s and social networks
-A cool way to create mashups on the fly that communicate your intent
-A new way to interact with Local information
It appears that like all command driven interfaces you need to learn something and that will slow adoption. As Robert Scobie points out it is only for the passionate users who want to be more productive. He says: What is it? Itâ€™s a box that lets you ask different questions and get answers. Itâ€™s sort of like search. But far more powerful.
But here are the examples that caught my eye:
The ability to create a personalized map with directions on the fly without doing the heavy lifting of going to Google Maps, entering the address etc etc appeals to me. A one stop shop to share local information with your friends and social network.
Hmm, what do you think? Will it, or something like it, gain widespread adoption? Will it lead the way to increased integration of social networks and local into our every day routines of communication? Or will it just be too much commitment for most people to learn?
U.S. on Track to Top Mobile Net Market, Study Says – Steve McClellan, AdWeek.com
Why the change? Kerr cites several reasons, including the fact that U.S. mobile carriers are rapidly building out 3G networks, which facilitate the transmission of mobile Web-based video at faster rates, something that U.K. and other European-based carriers did years ago. Plus, newer handsets available in the U.S. offer higher quality reception of video and music and cheaper subscriber plans have boosted sign-ups among consumers, he said.
The most highly trafficked sites tend to be those offering news, sports and weather, with spikes occurring during rush hour and lunch breaks. “Growth in the U.S. has really come on strong in the last two years,” he said.
VoIP Goes Mobile – Olga Kharif, BusinessWeek.com
Gorilla, iCall, and a growing number of other services rely on what’s known as Voice over Internet Protocol technology that delivers speech via the Internet in much the same way as e-mail. VoIP calling is already raising a ruckus in telecommunications, putting pressure on the price of land-line calling and luring subscribers toward upstarts like Vonage (VG) and Comcast (CMCSA) away from incumbents such as AT&T, and Verizon (VZ). Now, the technology threatens to erode sales for mobile-phone service providers too.
Load Your User’s Location on the Map!Â – Pamela Fox, GooglegeoDevelopers
Wouldn’t it be better if the map could automatically center to my location without me lifting one of my precious fingers? The answer is yes, and now it’s easier to do than ever with the introduction of IP-based location information in the AJAX APIs framework
Location-based services now hotter than hot?Â – Martijn Beijk,Â Â martijnbeijk.com
Location-based services are hot. Now hotter than before. Because Google just launched theirÂ Geolocation API.Â What does this mean in general for software or services we are going to see?
Well imagine opening up your browser or software application on your mobile phone or laptop and do a search for restaurants. No need to fill in where you are, the software will determine this using the geolocation API.
Visualizing Restaurant SearchingÂ -Â Andrew Turner,Â highearthorbit.com
Context mining of mobile devices, combined with geographic location – and especially viaÂ inferredÂ geographic information instead of directlyÂ volunteeredÂ information can yield interesting trends on ambient behaviors. Imagine ifÂ UrbanSpoonÂ could also collect the number of people in the group by detecting other repeatedly seen nearby bluetooth/wifi devices, previous meals of the day, and the ultimate destination and distance to the chosen restaurant.
2008 SEOmoz Expert Seminar RecapÂ – David Mihm
Urbanspoon’s iPhone application is a fun, engaging app that uses the features of the iPhone and location awareness to create a unique local discovery experience.
They are now showing a heatmap (thanks to High Earth Orbit) showing where the shakes have been taking place for the last 24 hours:
According to Urbanspoon:
300,000 iPhones have downloaded the application
1,000 shakes a minute at peak
20 shakes per iPhone
10 days so far
This guest article is written by Erek Dyskant, a database analyst, who has written a number of apps that interface with Google Maps and Yahoo Local. It provides an interesting look at the inner workings of the Google Maps database.
As I’ve been reading about some of the discrepancies between the Google Maps business directory and the Local Onebox, I thought that I’d shed some light on the likely architectural differences between the two approaches.
Google’s main search is highly distributed, based on the approach that search results need to be both quick and impervious to natural disaster. However, it’s not important that the main search results be identical across all their datacenters. If a specific site is 5th in one datacenter, but 9th in another, or one has a more recently updated version of a site than another, that’s not a major concern to Google.
However, the Google Maps Business Directory has different priorities. Data consistency is much more important as they’re dealing with structured data submitted by trusted data sources, and general purpose databases are more suited to the task at hand. While I don’t have any information to back this up, I expect that they’re using Oracle or MySQL as the datastore for the Business Directory. Continue reading Comparing the Local Onebox with the Maps business directory: an architectural view
Update 8:00 am EDT 8/24/08: As of this morning Google seems to have pulled the main page OneBox results noted below but the deceptive listings still appear in Maps. The search phrase local STD testing, Tulsa is still returning a Local Onebox.
Update 8/25/08 10:00 am EDT: Google has stopped showing local results on the search phraseÂ local STD testing, TulsaÂ but the bogus listings are still in Maps.
Google Mapspam has been an ongoing problem for Google. In attempting to allow easy listing of large numbers of locations via bulk upload, Google Maps has allowed a large number of exploitive listings to appear. These listings are annoying when they unfairly compete with legitimate local business. They are down right troublesome when they exploit folks in need of help.
To Google’s credit, they recently started a public forum for reporting of Mapspam. On August 19th, a posting to that forum caught my eye as it demonstrated all that is problematic with Mapspam in its use to exploit vulnerable populations with less than forthright information. To Google’s shame, they have not acted on these reports in a timely fashion.
This particular mapspam shows up on the phrase “local HIV testing + Locale” throughout the west, midwest and south often dominating the Local OneBoxes. Here is the Mapspam in question on the search local Hiv Testing Tulsa:
I asked Charles Loosen, an HIV educator in Washington State what his ethical concerns were with these types of listings. His answer ranged the gamut of concerns from selling a needed public service that is usually free/low cost to privacy issues. Here is his repsonse:
Continue reading Google Mapspam – a violated Public Trust?