All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Local Links of Interest

Where Will Android Go Next? – Om Malik, GigaOm

When it comes to its new mobile operating system, Android, Google’s dreams go beyond just mobile phones. Indeed, the company is hoping that the open-source version of the software will eventually find its way into a panoply of devices.

Fuch's e-Ticket

iPod Touch serves as a flight ticket – a real e-ticket – Frank Fuchs, Locally Type

Frank covers his first experience with using his portable mobile device for e-ticketing. It works and and the counter attendant was able to scan the ticket directly from his iPod screen.

A Look at Google’s First Phone – David Pogue, NY Times

The new G1 from T-Mobile brings the promise of truly open mobile computing with full browsing capability to the cell phone. The logic of a cell phone purchase, however, is made more difficult by the awkward dance between the hardware, software & provider. It is never an easy decision and Pogue’s review of the new T-Mobile Android based G phone points out why.

The Android software looks, feels and works a lot like the iPhone’s. Not as consistent or as attractive, but smartly designed and, for version 1.0, surprisingly complete. In any case, it’s polished enough to give Windows Mobile an inferiority complex the size of Australia; let’s hope Microsoft has a good therapist.

So there’s your G1 report card: software, A-. Phone, B-. Network, C.

InfoUSA, Urban Mapping announce custom local search product – Christopher Hosford, BtoBOnline 

Through a custom integration agreement, infoUSA customers can link business listings with contextually relevant neighborhood information from Urban Mapping’s database of more than 60,000 U.S. neighborhoods in more than 2,700 cities and towns.

The companies said such enhanced geo-location search capabilities would allow for more precise advertising and higher conversions.

SBB trains live on – Robert,

Take a look at what Google’s Jonathan Rosenberg thinks the future of Mapping looks like.

From the Q3 Earnings Call: One other thing I would actually suggest you try one of the coolest maps applications I saw. Go to to see the precision of Swiss trains in real-time and you will actually get a visceral sense of what it is going to be like for people when all of this stuff works on their browsers and works in mobile devices.

Details Emerge about Motorola’s Android Phone – Greg Sterling

Indeed, notwithstanding the built-in social networking elements, price may be a more effective differentiator for the Motorola Android phone. If there is price competition among the various Android vendors, how might that affect BlackBerry and the iPhone? Both have some insulation against price competition: BlackBerry owns the enterprise market today and the iPhone the high-end consumer market. Yet both could be forced to respond if multiple Android handsets are priced closer to $100 than $200.

And the more prices come down for smartphones, the more that segment of the market will grow. Three of the top five selling phones in the US are smartphones (two BlackBerry phones and the iPhone). That in turn benefits the mobile Internet as we’ve repeatedly seen:

Google Inc. Q3 2008 Earnings Call Transcript Local Highlights

Google’s Q3 Earnings call took place yesterday and here is the full transcript of the call.

For your convenience I have extracted those comments that relate to Maps, Local and Local Mobile. There are a number of juicy nuggets and it is worth the read:

Eric Schmidt
Geo-Mobile another core component and new opportunity for us geographically relevant in location based advertising is valuable to users in our view, who are working, developing advertising products that match ads to geographic data. We think that is a big opportunity for us.

Sergey Brin
First of all, this quarter we significantly increased the size of our index. To put this in perspective now, every four hours we index the same amount of information that is equivalent to the entire US Library of Congress. I would encourage you, by the way, how can you see this? I encourage you to search for information that might not have that many references about on the web, whether it is a neighbor or local place, something like that, and just to see how much more information we have been able to put on the index.

We also have continue to take our other corpuses that are not just web pages, things such as books and videos, and we continue to blend more and more of those into the first page of results, across all of our domains. The numbers of these blended results has increased significantly over the past quarter. I would encourage you to try searching, for example, for Michael Phelps. You will see video of swimming and whatnot.

We have also been investing a lot in geographic and local information and I am sure many or all of you have used Google Maps and Google Earth. They are really big monetization opportunity because they are such a local searches and there are many local businesses. Now we have been able to expand just a data available there, so we can provide a better end user experience by launching Map Maker to over 100 additional countries. This is our product of lets end users create and edit the maps for their own countries and regions and by doing so the users have already added over 50,000 kilometers of roads and 75,000 business listings.

I should mention that an increasing percentage of our local search queries now deliver user generated maps content. We have launched Street View in Japan and Australia, and we saw significant increases in usage there. Of course free tune as now available on BlackBerries, and many Java enabled phones in addition to the other phones that already had it. It can be pretty handy, you know, when you do a search for now business or store, restaurants something like that, you can just click on the Street View and see what it actually looks like and make sure that is the place you want to go.

Q & A follows…
Continue reading Google Inc. Q3 2008 Earnings Call Transcript Local Highlights

Google looses Ohio

Like John Kerry in 2004, Google seems to have lost Ohio. Although this time, rather than being due to political operatives or electronic voting machines, the issues seem to lie with some new bug in the Local Business Center. 

A reader, whose daily livelihood depends on the Local Business Center and who was recently spotted with bald spots where her hair had been pulled out, sent in this screen shot:

Google looses Ohio

Merchant Circle causes revolution amongst SMB’s

MarketWatch noted that MerchantCircle Revolutionizes ‘Feet on the Street’ Sales Force by Tapping Current Business Members.  The subhead read: Local Business Owners Rewarded for Signing Up Business Neighbors to Network. I also read with interest Greg Sterling’s related announcement: MerchantCircle Turns SMBs into Sellers where he noted:

In a clever twist, MerchantCircle is seeking to turn its thousands of SMB “members” (it now claims 630K) into a sales channel that will sell its services to other small businesses.

 I could imagine a headline that said instead: Merchant Circle implements new plan to turn neighbor against neighbor.

I can already see Matt McGee, moaning loudly, when he receives his first automated phone call from his local Plumber (Joe?) who mentions in the prerecorded call, that his daughter saw a bad review about Matt’s SEM services, and that Matt better scurry on line to MC for some reputation management and to verify his business.

While I think that the plan is brilliant, the “devil” as they say is in the details and I am sure that Merchant Circle will bring their very special view of marketing to the equation. Any local merchant would be well advised to not be the first one on the block to take up the offer until the details of their marketing strategy become clearer.

You wouldn’t want to be the first merchant to project Merchant Circle’s brand of marketing into your local neighborhood. It may be too clever by half as neighbors have long memories and the revolution of which MarketWatch speaks may not be the one that they envisioned.

Google Maps: Long Term LBC problem fixed promptly

For those of you that didn’t notice, Maps Guide Jen has noted in the comments on my Local Business Center System Errors post:

Looks like the team was able to get a fix through faster than expected. Most people who were experiencing this error should find that it’s resolved. There may be some people who are still seeing a server error. Those people should file a reinclusion request for their account.

It is great that Google has fixed the problem and that there is a mechanism to report a lingering problem in a structured format.

It is strange, however, that if a business is still experiencing the problem that they would need to notify Google of the fact that their account if broken via the reinclusion form. 

By submitting this request, I acknowledge that:
  • I have read and understand Google’s business listing quality guidelines.
  • My business listings do not violate Google’s business listing quality guidelines.
  • I agree to abide by Google’s business listing quality guidelines in the future.
Details: Tell us more about your business:    

  • What actions might have led to any penalties?
  • What corrective actions have been taken?

One has to wonder exactly why they were being called down to the principal’s office. Did he really notice that little transgression from last month in math class? Man, my mom’s gonna kill me.

Google Maps: Today its Mapspam, tomorrow I retire, I promise

Oneboxes for Credit Repair Mapspam
How do you get 13 Authoritative Oneboxes across the US with a one page website and take the afternoon off earlier? Google Mapspam, of course.

I am such a glutton for the gritty details I could not resist following the trail laid down in the Google Groups for Business Mapspam report yesterday. I think I am in need of joining Mapspam Annonymous.

This particular case demonstrates the least amount of work for the return that I have seen in a while using the same technique pioneered in the Payday loan business last year. There is more than a little irony that with the collapse of credit, the affiliate spammers have moved on to exploiting people needing credit recovery as their targets.

It is particularly galling because Google has awarded them so many Authoritative OneBoxes and it clearly demonstrates the principal that if Google is going to make the job of deceptive affiliate marketing easier and there are no significant penalties to any of the participants, why not?
Continue reading Google Maps: Today its Mapspam, tomorrow I retire, I promise

Google Maps: Short term fix and long term problems in LBC

Update 6:00 pm 10/15/08

Maps Guide Jen has commented below:

Looks like the team was able to get a fix through faster than expected. Most people who were experiencing this error should find that it’s resolved. There may be some people who are still seeing a server error. Those people should file a reinclusion request for their account.


Today, Google’s Maps Guide Jen has announced a short term fix to the recurring system error in the Local Business Center. She notes that Google will provide a fix to anyone reporting the problem in the Group while they work on a longer term repair. If you are experiencing the dreaded System Error report it to Google in this thread and they will take care of it.

TOPIC: System Error accessing Local Business Center
== 1 of 1 ==
Date: Tues, Oct 14 2008 4:39 pm
From: “Maps Guide Jen”

Hi All,

I know this update was a long time coming. The issue is spread throughout the Local Business Center. Because of this, we’re trying to implement a wider-spread fix. In the meantime, we’ll be working to restore access for those who have reported receiving a System Error in this and other threads throughout the group. If you’re still seeing this error next Monday, feel free to push back and let us know.

Thanks for your patience,

Google Maps: Hijackers hit Major Brands

Searchengineland has published my newest installment in the ongoing series on hijackings at Google Maps: Problems Continue With Google Local Business Listings. The same hijackers that hit the florist industry hijacked the local listings of major brands like Mariott, Hertz, Avis and Thrifty changing location, url and business name. The change of business name was such that the listings achieved Authoritative OneBox status with searches like: Orlando HotelsMiami Discount Car Rental & Dallas Discount Car Rental.

It is an interesting story which leads to as many questions as answers, not the least of which being: Why would Google not shut these spammers down after they had hijacked the florists?

You can Sphinn this story here.

Google Maps: relative value of a OneBox vs top organic results

Steve Espinosa has some interesting preliminary research on the relative click thru rates of a #1 listing in the Local 10-Pack and a simultaneous #1 listing in organic. The organic listing showed 1.6x the click thru of the the Local 10 Pack listing. As it is preliminary research and only looked at click thru not call in or other measures of action, it is an important piece of research but doesn’t speak to ultimate customer action.

According to TMP’s  Local Search Usage Study : Following online local searches, consumers most often contact a business over the telephone (39%), visit the business in-person (32%) or contact the business online (12%).

If one works out the combined math of the two studies (a not very reliable number I assure you), in the end the top local ranking would still provide more client contacts either via phone or in person than the organic ranking.

At the end of the day, Steve’s research can not be viewed as a reason to not focus on local but rather as a call to action on the organic side. I think he would agree that, in the excitement around local, you can’t forget organic’s power and that in an ideal world a business would use every tool available to them. However, many times, due to the nature of a business, a business may not be able to legitimately play in the Local space and their only recourse is to optimize their website for local phrases. 

Another interesting outcome of Steve’s initial research was “the fact is that the majority of the users who got to the site via the natural link had resolution above 1024×768 and the majority of users who visited via the Onebox result had resoultion of 1024×768 or under.”

As Steve pointed out, this could be do the greater real estate visible to those with larger screens and thus greater visibility of organic listings above the fold. It could also, however, be due to the differences in font size with which Google represents the results. Steve has also done some interesting research on the value of visual authority and in this case the user might be attracted to the greater font size of the organic listing and wandered away from the smaller type faces presented in the 10-Pack. I have seen some recent heatmaps that seem to indicate that more users are moving further down the page when presented with a Local 10-Pack.

Great area for further research! If anyone has the heatmap info I would love to see it or if anyone is doing the research I would love to hear about it. Your thoughts? Does anyone have a recent heatmap?

Google Maps: LBC broken and more

This posting from yesterday’s Google Maps Business Owners Group was of interest to me.

The Local Business Center has been broken for several weeks, preventing many business owners from updating listings. There have been numerous reports in the Groups of this problem.

As noted in the comment, when a business attempts to update an LBC record, the following message is frequently recieved:

System Error
We’re sorry, but we are unable to serve your request at this time.

Google acknowledged the error on October 1 and it was reported of and on since late August. Google has not identified a timeframe for its repair.

TOPIC: Unable to list my listings on google map.

== 1 of 1 ==
Date: Sat, Oct 11 2008 2:46 am
From: “”

Hello, I am a freelancer from india and working from home. I currently
got job for adding 1400 google business listings of uk restaurants and
each listings needs to be added under individual google account. The
verification method i have to choose is verification by post card. So
that those individual restaurants can receive confirmation pin code at
their end and they can login to google with their account and can
confirm their listing.

I am able to create 10 listings until now under 10 individual
accounts, but now i am not able to add more listings, I am receiving
below mentioned error.

“System Error
We’re sorry, but we are unable to serve your request at this time.
Please try back in a few minutes.”

But this error doesn’t shows when i login from my personal account to
check same if also i am getting the same error.!

I know i am not spamming google, its the genuine work which i am
doing. Those people in foreign doesn’t have time for such tasks and
thus they had hired me.

Any help on this issue is very much expected and welcome!

The Indian subcontractor aspect of the post also intrigues me. Think locally, but act globally appears to be the new motto for Map data entry. It is an interesting development that low cost Indian workers are getting involved in Maps and that companies are choosing this route versus the bulk upload choice. It indicates to me that, as it is currently designed, the bulk upload option is not perceived as functional enough. For example, listings entered that way can still be modified via community edits (in the US) and often do not have the authority of a manually entered and verified record. I am quite sure that WalMart doesn’t want their listing fiddled with.

This posting is an interesting contrast to my earlier post about an Indian IT firm that outsourced local US mapspam to-itself.

It clearly demonstrates the growing perception of value of having a Local OneBox listing. I wonder how much it costs to have a sub contractor on the sub continent of India, enter these records manually. Can anyone enlighten me?