Category Archives: Google Places (Maps & Local)

Comments, research and information about Google Maps (Google Local)

Today’s Google Mapspam report – 70% chance of rain


There has been an increase of late in reports of MapSpam in the Google Maps for Business Group with three reports in the last day. As Mapsguide Jen, our intrepid guide to the netherworld of MapSpam, had warned us in August: “these types of issues may also become more prevalent”.

Some of these Mapspam exploits are subtle and one has to marvel at the intricacies of their elegant implementation. However with some instances of Mapspam one can only marvel at the crassness and apparent unsophisticated nature of the attempt.

Of note in that regard is the newly reported mapspam exploit by the Gurus2go Onsite Computer Service. They have recently (?) created 1188 entries to Google Maps throughout the US.

Unlike TechPros in the original mapspam, they didn’t bother using addresses in most of their listings. Does Google Bulk Upload not require addresses? Did Google close one bulk upload crack and open another?

The on-site computer repair business seems to be a magnet for these types of efforts. Maybe the same SEM firm is selling the same trick multiple times to unsuspecting (?) clients. Hey for all I know its the same on-site repair guys, I haven’t really checked.

The forecast for tomorrow? Let me know what you think the future of mapspam holds in 2008 and beyond.

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Google Maps API Terms of Use- no stalking in autonomous vehicles


Sometimes legal documents have a way of tickling one’s funny bone. Lawyers have no clue how funny they can be. Here was a section from Google’s Maps API Terms of Service:

1.4 Appropriate Conduct and Prohibited Uses. The Service may be used only for services that are generally accessible to consumers without charge.


In addition, except where you have been specifically licensed by Google to do so, You may not use the Service with any products, systems, or applications installed or otherwise connected to or in communication with vehicles for or in connection with: (a) real time route guidance (including without limitation, turn-by-turn route guidance and other routing that is enabled through the use of a sensor); (b) any systems or functions for automatic or autonomous control of vehicle behavior; or (c) dispatch, fleet management or similar applications.

You agree that You are responsible for your own conduct and content while using the Service and for any consequences thereof. You agree to use the Service only for purposes that are legal, proper and in accordance with these Terms of Service and any applicable policies or guidelines. By way of example, and not as a limitation, You agree that when using the Service, You will not:


•defame, abuse, harass, stalk, threaten or otherwise violate the legal rights (such as rights of privacy and publicity) of others;

I guess this means you can’t take an autonomous vehicle and while using Google Maps for directions to stalk someone. Go figure! They sure know how to spoil my programmers fun.

Mapspam Update


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:

• 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)
• Obtain a domain name for each city with a relevant “location + service” domain
• Create a website that returns an optimized “location + service” page for the domain
• Enter the businesses in the Google Local Business Center or Yahoo Local
• 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:
(888) 342-0634

(888) 587-7057

(888) 482-1878

(888) 326-2568

877-867-7326

888-743-4130

888-447-6857

888-865-3016

888-799-5812

888-478-6679

888-587-4756

888-723-7314

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?
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Google Maps Reviews- Was this review useful?


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.

reviewratings.jpg

The Case of the Missing Google Reviews (cont’d)


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 work…

I will play the devil’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 haven’t poked around to look but that should be something we can ferret out.

I also like Matt’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: “Something is happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear”…

I would encourage others with ideas to join the discussion at ConvertOffline and help figure this out.

Local Links of Interest


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 Kleppmann  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.

Google’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. 

Google Maps now promoting Google Maps


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.
google Maps Promo

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.

Google, Local Search entrepreneurs & sleeping with elephants


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):

Map API
Co-op
Map insert
My Maps

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”.

Google responds to a recent local mapspam report


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,
Jen

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
> Hall
>
>
> http://maps.google.com/maps?f=l&abauth=96173e12%3A5flz0VneqLN9IaRtOrI-C2ziXSI&view=text&hl=en&q=webster+hall&near=New+York%2C+NY&btnG=Search+Businesses
>
> 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.

More Mapspam


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.