All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Living Presidents Speak Out About Google Fake Listings & Research

Google recently released and touted their research on fake listings in Google Maps. While their may have been a few problems with the research and quibbling about the details, I wanted authoritative voices as to its worth. I reached out to the living past and soon to be past presidents1 and asked2 them.

“It depends on your definition of fake, but I found the research very interesting”.

 

 

 “The research was very, very special and very, very nice. We have some bad hombres here and with my help Google’s gonna get ’em out”.

 

“Intelligence gathered by this and other Google research leaves no doubt that the fake listings possessed and concealed some of the most awful spam ever devised. Google has been been very candid about their past. They found the weapons causing this abuse and destroyed them”.

“Read my lips, if Google says no new spam, it means no new spam”.

 

 

“I’ve looked on a lot of spam with lust. I’ve created fake listings in my heart many times. I am glad it was just in my heart or Google would have suspended me. Or maybe not since I was a lawyer”.

 

“During my administration, Google signed into effect the biggest fake listing cut in history”.

 

 

1 – Who knew that Bush One was still alive?  I had to do this search Is Is George Bush 1 still alive and verified that he was by reading  Wikipedia. There is a even a Snopes article on the topic George H.W. Bush Death Hoax  and a piece  in the Onion: Bush Dies Peacefully In His Sleep covering his demise. 

2 – OK I didn’t really. But if you are going to be in the fake news business I figure go big or stay at home. I always thought that it was the famous propagandist Goebbels who noted “the bigger the lie the better” but apparently that was not the case. It has been falsely attributed to him. This fake stuff is hard to keep track of.  There is a certain “meta-ness” to discovering that a quote by the most famous fake news master is fake while researching and writing a fake news article about a fake story on fake listings. 

Google Finally Adds Menu Link Option for Smaller Restaurants to GMB

The Google My Business Dashboard now allows restaurants to add menu URL. Last December, Google updated the GMB API to allow for a menu URL attribute to be added. Yesterday they announced that the feature is now available to regular dashboard users via the Google My Business New Features Page.

GMB interface to add menu URL

Many restaurants use PDF file formats for their menu but this is apparently not accepted. And there is only one URL space for a menu. Most restaurants offer up multiple menu pages for lunch, dinner and desserts so a business needs to make a choice as to which menu to share.

Last December when I had spotted an early version of the feature I noted: Giving this feature directly to the small business owner will solve one of the persistent and annoying problems that crops up in the GMB forums IF owners are given enough control over their menus AND 3rd party order options that Google auto loads. Few businesses want an outdated SingPlatform page as a default, uncontrollable link in their Knowledge Panel.

Google guidelines delineate two types of menus:

  • A menu for an eating and drinking establishment (like restaurants or cocktail bars) that lists the complete set of food and drink items that are available at the business.
  • A menu for a service business like a barber, spa, or car repair shop that lists the complete set of services that are available at the business.

However it appears that the interface does not yet support a service page and automatically prevents its inclusion:

Although the feature description implies that they will accept something beyond restaurant menus: Enter URL attributes for your business to add links to more kinds of information, like a restaurant’s menu.

Single location restaurants will appreciate the opportunity to directly control this feature as many are tired of Google’s previous insistence to include a 3rd party menu no matter how old and crusty it might have been.

Mike B Around the Local Web

In case you didn’t get enough of me this week here on my blog, you can overindulge in local  until you puke at these other fine publications:

Ductape Marketing: How to Get Found Using Ever-Changing Local SEO Tactics I have a fun conversation about Local with one of my favorite marketers, John Jantsch. We talk about all things local and how Google’s ranking algo works.

Streetfightmag.com: What Happens When Google Can Manipulate the Very News It Seeks to Protect? where “I howl against SkyNet’s wind”.

LocalU: Video Deep Dive: How Google determines authority of local entities a conversation with Mary Bowling about local entity authority. Also now available as a podcast:

LocalU: Video: Last Week in Local with Mary Bowling for the week ending April 10th. Also available on a weekly basis as both a podcast and an email newsletter.

 

The State of Internet Marketing for The SMB: Frustrated

Credits: Peter Alfred, under Creative Commons 2

I recently received this comment from poster Frustrated.  And it rang so true that I decided to track the writer down.

Frustrated is Marc Reisner of Reisner Construction in northern Michigan. He has moved around a bit; Colorado, Seattle and finally landed in Port Sanilac, MI. Turns out he had relatives from the Olean area so we had a long talk. He wants nothing more than to move out of home construction and into making custom furniture full time.

He thought he could do that with internet marketing. But the lack of knowledge opens up small businesses to this sort of problem that he writes about. They are vulnerable  while thinking that they are missing something that the cold caller is promising to deliver.

It is interesting that Google, by association, was tarnished with the same brush. It is not surprising that the over promising and under performing digital marketing hype plus the hard sell scammers, ended up hurting Google as well as everyone else in the space.

Here is Marc’s story:

*****

Marc Reisner’s (Reisner Construction) custom furniture

I was contacted by Yodle, then Townsquare Interactive, then Yelp. All 3 within a year.

Wanting to sell custom made furniture via the Internet, I fell for Yodle with anticipation of what they promised. After an initial discounted 6 months, no results….account closed and listing was pulled off the internet.

A week later TS calls. Their sales pitch was similar to Yodel, but they do not hold you to a predetermined period of time. 3 months, one call. I closed that account & lost a website.

Then, Yelp called. I explained to them my results with the first two and was lead to believe they were more established with a BBB rating and would create more business. I fell for it. They assured me they were the best. (I took notes on every conversation.) An initial monthly fee + $6 per click……meaning anyone calling my number listed on the internet I got charged $6/call. The number of calls that supposedly were dropped my me was unbelievable and I complained about it.

In looking at the actual phone numbers, I’d call the numbers Yelp listed and got the other side to answer with a recording, “The number you have called is not a working number.” The $425/month hit…..one contact via by one person, which looks like one real client.

It was a pain to actually close the account with Yelp with a closing fee of $450. They said they’d leave the account active for 2 months thinking I’d reconsider. One thing to do is set up your account with a credit card that is front loaded….put money into the card so you know how much will get spent, it’s like a debit card, but more protected from hackers. I closed the account.

Today, Google called to list my company for $600, but offered a one time discount dropping the fee to $399 for life….One time offer. I’d heard that before from them. I told them up front I’m not agreeing to sending any money today, I got this ‘that’s okay, I’ll just finish your company information’.

When done he went for the money via Cc #. I refused, so he said “I’ll get our finance manager on the line, he can help you. As soon as he said that, Bryce pipes in saying he had been listening to the call and could offer a better deal, $299 for life. I told him I didn’t have the money today…they hung up.

Word of mouth is the best advertising I’ve experienced over 35 years. Using the internet sounded appealing, so I figured I’d give it try hoping to find a good company to work with. I’ve not found one yet. I’ve learned a lesson that hopefully no one else will have to learn.

****

In a subsequent conversation where I asked if I could publish his name he noted:

As to the use of my name in your blog, I don’t see it as much of a problem.

It’s one of those “buyer beware” reality checks I think a lot of potential customers need when considering using an online advertising company that sells anyone the idea that “within 90 days you’re business will increase beyond expectation.”

Selling positive hype, rather than reality, should come with something only Townsquare Interactive gave, no contract.  I’ll give them credit for that.

I am very disappointed with the promises Yelp gave.  Deception at it’s best.

Spam In, Garbage Out – Why Google’s Recent Paper on Map Spam is Flawed

The claim made by Google that “…fewer than 0.5% of local searches lead to fake listings” in Google search is NOT a conclusion that can be drawn from Google’s recently published paper. This number understates the number of local searches that lead to the visibility of fake listings due to its assumptions and flawed methodology. And it may do so by a large margin.

The paper, Pinning Down Abuse on Google Maps,  while providing interesting insights into Map spam from 2014 and 2015 is  fundamentally flawed in its approach to the question of fake listings in Google Local and in no way warrants the optimistic conclusion that Google noted1  on their blog.

Definitions

First you need to understand what Google defines as a fake listing for the purposes of this study. It only includes listings that were in gross violation of the guidelines and caught by their algo or human curation and suspended..  This  excludes any listing that manipulated its name or any listing that had manipulated their reviews2.  And more importantly it excludes fake listings that their algo didn’t catch.

Then you also need to understand what Google means when they say that “0.5% of local searches lead to fake listings”. They are not saying, like I erroneously thought, that only .5% of the listings are fake. They are saying that the listings that were fake & suspended were up for an average of X days and only seen Y times during that time. I.E. Compared to total searches,  fake listings constituted .5% of the user’s impressions in search and Maps. But as I will detail even the visibility assumption is flawed.

The Good, The Bad & The (very) Ugly of the Google Research & Blog : Continue reading Spam In, Garbage Out – Why Google’s Recent Paper on Map Spam is Flawed

Google Announces Study Looking at Abuses in Google Maps – What Does it Mean?

Google posted on their research blog today some summary data from a study Pinning Down Abuse on Google Maps that is being presented tomorrow at the  International World Wide Web Conference.

The study details released today, while an interesting necessity on the step to cleaning up  Maps, leaves many questions unanswered.

Our study shows that fewer than 0.5% of local searches lead to fake listings. We’ve also improved how we verify new businesses, which has reduced the number of fake listings by 70% from its all-time peak back in June 2015 

Previous indications from Google were that they had 16.8 million business listings in the local index. If that number is roughly true then they currently are logging roughly 87,000 fake listings in the index today. That means that as of June 2015 they had 280,000 fake listings in the index.

Bad actors posing as locksmiths, plumbers, electricians, and other contractors were the most common source of abuse—roughly 2 out of 5 fake listings.

Another 1 in 10 fake listings belonged to real businesses that bad actors had improperly claimed ownership over, such as hotels and restaurants. 

OK that accounts for 5 out of the 10 that they studied. What were the other half made up of?

And exactly what constitutes a fake listing? Does it mean anything that violates the Guidelines? Or anything that creates a listing that is wrongly at an address? Those are different things.

It must exclude fake names at real businesses in the criteria otherwise the number would have to be higher.

They note that they have improved the verification process and are testing even more rigorous processes in the form of advanced verification of locksmiths and plumber.

They note:

Combined, here’s how these defenses stack up:

  • We detect and disable 85% of fake listings before they even appear on Google Maps.
  • We’ve reduced the number of abusive listings by 70% from its peak back in June 2015.
  • We’ve also reduced the number of impressions to abusive listings by 70%.

It’s interesting that Google is publicly releasing data about the quality issues in Google Maps. The data provides some reason for hope but goes nowhere near far enough in helping the industry or public understand the scope of the problem.

As local marketers with a critical in high value industries where spam is more likely to been see, we see the many abuses first hand. The pov may jaundice our perspective as to the overall quality of the index but if these 84,000 fake listings are limited to 5 or 10 key markets then the averages don’t really mean much. And there is in fact still a quality problem in local.

And if the definition of fake listings doesn’t include everything that degrades them not just fake addresses but fake names as well then Google has undercounted the problem.

Then again, because of our unique point of view maybe we over count.

In a sense it doesn’t matter. Google has a perception issue (see Danny Sullivan’s A deep look at Google’s biggest-ever search quality crisis) and local has long been at the forefront of that problem.

It’s great that Google is studying the issue, its even better that they are being somewhat transparent and sharing their results.

But that still isn’t enough. The quality, at least in those heavily impacted industries, needs to improve. The definition of fake needs to be expanded to bogus naming if it hasn’t been.

And there needs to be increased transparency of google’s efforts in the arena.

Only then can Google overcome the current crisis of confidence that they are experiencing.  Google has become, by hook or by crook, the utility that provides the bulk of driving directions and business discovery.

The public needs to know that they can trust Google 100%.  Given that in come markets the problem is likely much more widespread,  it seems that in this context even 99.5% isn’t quite enough.

My Recent Posts Elsewhere

I have been busy. Here are my posts from an assortment of sites:

4/5 LocalU: Video Deep Dive: Local Ranking Factors, Making Sense Of It All (now also available as a regular podcast)

4/3 StreetFight: The Coming DIY Cataclysm

4/3 LocalU: Video: Last Week in Local April 3rd, 2017 (now also available as a regular podcast)

3/31 GetFiveStars: Understanding Google Schema Guidelines: Review Snippets vs. Critic Reviews       

3/29 LocalU: Video Deep Dive: How reviews positively and negatively impact client satisfaction (now available as a regular podcast)

3/29 GetFiveStars: Basketball Referee Calls Lead To Death Threats & Fake Reviews