December 17, 2007
Several weeks ago I reported in detail new techniques that were taking mapspamming to the next level in Google Maps and Yahoo Local.
The basic technique was simple:
â€¢ Rent a mailing address with forwarding in every major market near the centroid of the city (UPS is one of many that offer this service)
â€¢ Obtain a domain name for each city with a relevant “location + service” domain
â€¢ Create a website that returns an optimized “location + service” page for the domain
â€¢ Enter the businesses in the Google Local Business Center or Yahoo Local
â€¢ Enter the PIN numbers when they are forwarded to you (if using google)
One area that I didn’t explore in the original article was the use of 800#’s in the on-going spammy promotional effort. The power of Google Maps search can play a significant role in discovering more spam. By searching on the spammer’s phone number(s) you can more easily ascertain the depth of the activity. The power of this research technique was brought to my attention by a new post at the Google’s Maps For Business Group detailing another instance of mapspam.
In an effort to avoid detection (and perhaps for other reasons) the Cash Advance Payday Loans folks used each of their #800s for only 3 Google Maps Local Business Center listings. Here are the numbers that I uncovered and the cities for which they operate via a Google Maps search:
The one search that demonstrates this is when searching on the #800 number used on their website as this returns 3 local listings + all of the other listings that reference their website :
(888) 345-8598 (it shows 37 total listings referring back to their website and master #800)
Have the spammers identified a Google threshold that causes increased scrutiny? Or is there some other reason for the plethora of numbers? What are the economics of the enterprise and the 800# deployment?
December 15, 2007
Google Maps is now soliciting input from users as to whether reviews that are listed for a business are useful.
There has been an on-going discussion at convertoffline.com whether the recent purging of CitySearch reviews reflects a new effort by Google could to develop a way of indentifying more trust worthy reviews based on the number of reviews that a reviewer has provided. While that may or may not be the case Google appears to definitely be making an effort to determine review quality from user input by soliciting that information directly.
In the past Google has used review quantity not review quality as a critical ranking factor. Maybe that is changing.
December 14, 2007
Tim Coleman from ConvertOffline.com has written an interesting speculative piece: Is Google Filtering Reviews or Reviewers? in response to my piece last week noting the loss of CitySearch reviews from Google Maps. Tim did some interesting research on the volume of each reviewer’s reviews and theorized that Google might be attempting to filter out “spammy” reviews on this basis. There was also some interesting discussion from David Mihm, Matt McGee & Miriam Ellis and others about this and other theories (Matt asked whether it might be age based) to explain the decline in reviews.
What is known is that CitySearch reviews seem to have disappeared but it also seems that some of Google’s own reviews (see here) have as well.
My comments summarized the questions outstanding on the dissapearance of reviews:
Certainly it makes sense if Google could actually develop a way of indentifying more trust worthy reviews and your idea might actually workâ€¦
I will play the devilâ€™s advocate. If Google were doing that (ie keeping reviews from more active reviewers) then we could assume that some CitySearch reviews would still be in their index. I havenâ€™t poked around to look but that should be something we can ferret out.
I also like Mattâ€™s idea of time as a criteria. Certainly reviews become stale and worth less over time as businesses change. The bugaboo with that theory is that Google removed some their own reviews as well which are all very recent. But it would be interesting to look and see if the review dates are more recent than they were. To quote from an old Buffalo Springfield song: â€œSomething is happening here, what it is ainâ€™t exactly clearâ€â€¦
I would encourage others with ideas to join the discussion at ConvertOffline and help figure this out.
December 13, 2007
More GoogleClick News: Influential Congressman (Very Publicly) Asks a TON of Interesting Questions (John Betelle – BatellMedia.com)
Lots of interesting questions are asked of Google in the context of the Doubleclick merger. One that caught my attention:
Please explain how Google uses the information or data described in Question 1(a) – (l), including, but not limited to, the following uses: perfecting Google’s search algorithm; operating Google’s advertising programs such as AdWords and AdSense; and research or analysis of user activity on www.google.com.
… 5. In particular, please explain whether Google Maps directs advertisements to IP addresses based on that user’s Google Maps search query history.
Increasing user satisfaction on the mobile web: Technical considerations and a white paper on user satisfaction on the mobile (Martin KleppmannÂ Yes/No/Cancel)
The use of internet and web services on mobile devices is expected to revolutionise our attitude to information and communication in the near future. However, in order to attract mainstream adoption, the mobile web must overcome some fundamental user experience problems. In this white paper we approach the user experience from a technical point of view, explaining reasons for deficiencies of the current approaches, and introduce some technical means for improving the user experience.
Googleâ€™s Online (Local) Marketing Challenge (via Greg Sterling)
Student groups will receive US$200 of free online advertising and then work with local businesses to devise effective online marketing campaigns. They will outline a strategy, run their campaign, assess their results and provide the business with recommendations to further develop their online marketing.Â
Google has done little forward facing promotion over the years so even when they use their own products to promote themselves it stands out.They have started promoting a full range of their map based products on the main map’s page.
Previously business owners had to dig to find the button to the local business center. Its about time that businesses were presented with the opportunity to edit their business without having to dig so hard for it. I am holding my breath for its appearance on the main serps page.
Yesterday Greg Sterlng’s blog Screenwerk hosted an interesting guest post: Google should Power the Local Web by Daniel Bower, who is part of welovelocal.com in the UK. He eloquently argues that due to the complex nature of true local, Google should focus on providing tools for local rather than going after Local Search themselves.
His post is well worth a read and provides insight into the reality of local if it is to be meaningful in our lives. That being said I don’t agree with his conclusions that Google should (or rather would):
…further organise the sea of data and to continue to provide highly relevant ads. By abandoning its current centralised local strategy in favour such a decentralised model, it could firm up its position in the space for some time to come.
It appears to me that Google is doing both and that they have a need to do both. They are establishing their leadership in general (centralized) local search & mapping while simultaneously building out tools that can be used to “Power the Local Web” and the mobile web in the niches of the decentralized world.
The market will not be look to Google for those hyper local tools unless and until they have a dominant position in the general local search arena (maps, business search etc). Users won’t give Google the dominant position in General local search unless they feel the same warm and fuzzy about local that they do about general search. This latter state will be achieved via Google being in all aspects of their search consciousness. An example of that is Goog-411.
Some examples of Google’s tool powering the local web currently in many ways (there are more):
They are rolling these tools out regularly and have not yet hit their stride. Yet you can see the results in the many local vertical mashups and tools that have developed around the google Maps api.
If their goal is to dominate (which is the goal of every good capitalist) then they would need to do so on both fronts. If they don’t continue to make these gains, someone else will. It is the nature of the beast: Gobble up or be gobbled. It is naive to think otherwise. The difference in Local and local mobile search is that they are up against a broader and deeper range of equally voracious competitors (ATT, Nokia, Verizon, Microsoft as well as the GPS makers etc, etc.) than in the general search arena who want to be the gobblers as opposed to the gobbled.
Powering the local web with tools after and while they dominate the general local search categories mirrors their strategy for achieving dominant monopoly position with broader web search. Whether they can leverage their position in general web search to achieve total success (both in general local search and local tools) in local is really the question. Will they be able to hit the jackpot twice? If Greg Sterling’s recent informal survey is any indication they are off to a good start in local mobile search. You can also bet that none of the above named companies are rooting for them and that it would be unlikely for Google to “abandon… its current centralised local strategy”.
I don’t know how this will end up but it will be fun watching titans battle. For any smaller players in the local search field my advice would be: “Be careful sleeping with elephants, its very awkward when they roll over”.
December 12, 2007
Maps Guide Jen responded today to one of the reports of Mapspam in NYC:
TOPIC: Scam Using Google Local http://groups.google.com/group/Google-Maps-For-Business-Owners/browse_thread/thread/2ec66a24df6021b4?hl=en
== 1 of 1 ==
Date: Tues, Dec 11 2007 2:37 pm
From: “Maps Guide Jen”
We’re looking into this and will take appropriate steps to make sure the
businesses on Google Maps are represented fairly.
Thanks for letting us know,
On Nov 30, 2007 3:10 PM, Chris wrote:
> It recently came to my attention that a certain website
> (www.newyearseve.com) recently registered about a hundred different
> “businesses” on Google Local with different major nightclub, names all
> using variations of the same address:
> 133 West 25th Street New York, NY 10001
> They don’t actually own any of these nightclubs, it’s just a scam to
> trick users to buy tickets from them. An example of this is Webster
> One of these is the real Webster Hall, the other is a trick. Can
> anything be done about this type of scam? These types of tactics are
> hurting legitimate businesses.
December 11, 2007
I have done some reporting on a new, more sophisticated occurrence of MapSpam on Google and Yahoo in an article at SearchEngineLand: MapSpammers Getting More Sophisticated. The story was based on techniques originally described in a post at oooff.com. This newest approach integrates all of the previous ideas of listing a business at a central po box/ mail distribution center, naming the business and domain with your search phrase + location for each of the major markets and linking them back to a website that presents a home page based on those variables.
There have been additional on-going reports in Google Groups-Maps for Business of a more local type of spam where a business will list itself at numerous locations or more likely numerous names at one location. Here is one of the posts:
I work for a company who owns www.NewYears.com. A competing company(newyearseve.com) has recently registered hundreds of fake”businesses” using the address “Suite 7W, 133 West 25th Street, NewYork, NY” and the phone number (212) 724-3900 all with the keyword”New Years” in the title using different variations of the address.
They’ve done this to fool Google into including them at the top of allsearch results that have local information associated with it. Thismust be some kind of new SEO scam and its definitely working. Thesebusinesses do not exist and are taking away from the website thatactually have decent SEO. Is there some way I can report this Google?If its happening to us, I’m sure its happening to others as well.
You can test this by going to google.com and searching for “new yearseve nyc”
It appears that Google has recently removed these listings and the original thread but it is interesting that the mapspam in now appears in specific local markets as well as nationally driven local spam in the major markets. Local has arrived.
December 8, 2007
Ads on Google Maps for Mobile (& Goog-411?) Coming Next Year (Greg Sterling – LocalMobile Search from the recent Google Local Symposium)
* Performance of mobile ads â€œis excellentâ€
* Google has discussed ads on Goog411 and will likely add them but not before the company feels comfortable with the user experience
* The response to MyLocation has been very strong
* Google will likely be introducing local business ads (which currently appear on Google Maps) on Google Maps for Mobile (the application) in the first half next year. MyLocation will enable them to be much more targeted than currently can be accomplished on the desktop.
iPhone Tops Windows Mobile Devices in Web Browsing (Market Share by Net Applications)
We’ve been tracking iPhone usage since its launch. Total web browsing on the iPhone has topped the web browsing on all Windows Mobile devices combined, as this report shows. This report is a listing of the top operating system versions in use. It is not a measure of units sold, but the share of users browsing the internet with the devices. The iPhone has had a dramatic rise in usage share in its short time on the market
Adapt Or Die: Debating The Future of The Mobile Web & The User Experience; Why The World Wide Wait Could Wreck Mobile Search & What To Do About It (Peggy Ann Salz – msearchgrove.com)
While there are some unsettling question marks around Googleâ€™s motives, the outcome to watch is how the new interest (translated: rhetoric) in openness will likely whet user appetite for more control over their search experiences and results. Brendan is also betting that users will gravitate to a variety of sources for the answers they need, a shift that will require operators to combine and expose results from storefronts, the Internet and the mobile Web. Any vendor spin aside (InfoSpace of course offers a federated mobile search solution that brings together results from a variety of sources), Brendan does have a point. If open is the flavor of the day, then operators will have to put up or shut up.
Jill Aldort, Senior Analyst, Consumer Mobility Applications, Yankee Group, who led our Internet World roundtable discussion, revealed that her research shows 13 percent of users surf the mobile Internet, up from 6 percent last year.
December 7, 2007
I have an old Nokia 3650 cell phone with a pre-columbian Java and an even older Symbian OS rev. Although it might just as well be called the Simian OS for all the good that my opposable thumbs do me. While it basically sucks I have learned how to take advantage of its many Web 0.5 features like WAP browsing.
I have experimented with most aspects of mobile internet, mobile local and mobile search on my phone. Most web implementations and search options for this generation of technology are either useless or so difficult to use that they might as well be. They do however tend to highlight interface issues with using mobile devices for browsing, emailing, reading etc. and when it does work it is awe inspiring. There is still something very Buck Rogerish about reading Bill Slawski’s recent post on Google Health & Privacy while heading down the highway (my wife IS driving of course).
Any task that requires significant input like internet searching, extensive email responses and Google SMS local search get used only when the “pain is worth the gain”. Other activities like Goog-411 that are not only painless but “fun” get used more regularly.
The one surprising thing that my antiquated cell phone does well is allow me to read. Virtually all of the uses that I have found for it include active reading with little or no input….I read emails (then call the client), read my kids text messages (then fume ) and most significantly keep abreast of my Google Reader list of “must read” local search news for the day.
Reading “Mobile web design is so different from the desktop web” (Martin Kleppmann of www.yes-no-cancel.co.uk) clarified my understanding of why some things work and some don’t on my ancient mobile browsing environment.
Google in their WAP mobile Google Reader implementation demonstrates Martin’s point:
For mobile users it is even more important than for normal web users that the designer has figured out exactly what the most frequently needed aspects of his site are, and made those aspects immediately and very easily accessible. This means that a mobile page can contain far fewer navigational elements (links) than a page intended for desktop viewing.