February 20, 2012
Does the Google Places “Report a Problem” Work to Remove Spam? In the past reporting, spam via this mechanism has been roughly akin to peeing in the ocean… satisfying but hardly ever changing the salinity let alone warming the ocean around your feet. I am curious whether, along with other improvements in service level, “Report a Problem” is now a functional solution for dealing with spam in your marketplace.
Google has been slowly and steadily improving their service in Google Places. Given its very low starting point, service levels could have only gone up and while they are not anywhere near a level that one would call excellent the service situation is clearly better than it was 6 months ago and steadily improving.
The forums are staffed and real solutions are offered. There is now a way to get in touch with staffers in Mt View to solve complex problems created by the system like merges via the Google Place Help troubleshooters. The emergency messaging, needed when Google self inflicts turmoil in the Places index, has improved. Mapmaker, although complex and ugly, has been a help for do-it-yourselfers and “Report a Problem” has been a somewhat successful path on issues like dupes for those that don’t want the excessive complexity and bad UI of Mapmaker.
But spam has been and remains a huge problem in Places and the main way for most to report it has been via the “Report a Problem” process. I am curious: Are you finding that it works to remove the spam that you are seeing?
Have you recently reported spam via this path? Has it proven successful? Was Google’s email correspondence back to you meaningful or non-sensical? Did it still seem like like an exercise in urinary futility or was there a sense that you had actually impacted the outcome?
If you haven’t recently reported spam, I am asking everyone to take part in a grand group experiment. Find an egregious piece of Places spam, report it via “Report a Problem” today and report back if you see any results within the next 10 days.
February 16, 2012
Over the past two days a raft of posters noted in the forums that their listings were now showing the dreaded “We Currently Do Support This Location”. For most of these listings the fix of “poking the listing” with an edit/submit in the dashboard did not return the listing to the index. Google posted this note in the forums and attempted to consolidate the many postings into this post.
At 2:41 AM EST Joel Headley, head of Places customer support posted this update noting that Google had fixed the problem:
Best answer – Joel_H (Google Employee)
We’ve just finished making some changes to restore listings. Sorry for the issue and thanks all for your patience.
Could you check again and let us know if the issue persists?
I think for most listings it is likely that they have returned. A number that I checked had returned but not all.
This is not the only “quirk” in Places and the Places Dashboard this week. There have been many and I presume that there were will be more as Google rolls out incremental changes. I would suggest that you postpone any work you may have in Places for a few days and let the dust settle.
February 15, 2012
Obviously lots is happening both behind the scenes and in front of them in Places. The weird problems of dupes, locations not supported, bugs etc etc have skyrocketed in the forums, usually a foreshadowing of substantial changes.
And it seems that the missing Places description noted first by Mathew Hunt yesterday is the new normal at least for a day or two. The Places search authorship images noted over the weekend are still showing in some searches and there have been a number of new subtle interface tweaks. Actually it is probably better to look at it as a stop over on the journey. Where to I have no clue but we are going someplace.
Yesterday while looking at the new Places results without description with David Mihm, he pointed out the amazing amount of whitespace in the results when viewing in a Chrome browser.
That motivated me to review the Places results in different browsers and states (logged out, in with no personal results and in with person results on) to see if there was a discernible trend. (more…)
February 14, 2012
Mathew Hunt of Small Business Coach pointed out that, starting last night, the meta description snippet associated with Blended results is missing in action. They came and went in my results this morning and are now gone again. Obviously things are flakey and who knows where they will end up. I have also obesrved the reemergence of more of the blended 7 results instead of the four that have been common over the past few weeks.
He also noted the more common appearance of the Plus Box. The Plus Box, despite it not having been seen that much over the past year, was actually first released in December of 2006 and has appeared periodically associated with organic web search results. However since the reduced footprint occurred several weeks ago the Plus Box has become more frequently displayed.
Here is Mathew’s video showing the missing descriptions in Places Search results: (more…)
February 12, 2012
In Australia, Google uses the Australian Yellow Pages as the exclusive primary data source for Places and it is so noted on every page of business listings in the Maps results.
Yet this story from the forums of being able to buy your way into a multitude of Places listings by purchasing locations with the Australia YP rang true. While I have not verified all of the facts independently I have heard reports elsewhere of being able to create a large number of Places entries via the Yellowpages.
If true there is a certain irony in Google’s primary data supplier knowingly spamming Places for as little as $11 a listing. I fully understand that YellowPage’s have long accepted non local listings for the local YP directories as a revenue stream. Perhaps they don’t think of it as spamming. But they must know of Google’s guidelines requiring a real location and yet appear to have proceeded with the explicit acknowledgement of feeding the listings to Google.
Whether 1300 Florists used the Australian YellowPages or not, the Maps index is full of their spammy listings, without address and with the same phone number through out all of Australia.
Here is SweetAngel1988′s post from the forum: (more…)
Having first struggled with rick snippet markup for reviews and having recently struggled with implementing rel=”author” markup on several sites I was pleased to see AJ Kohn’s new Rich Snippets Testing Tool Bookmarklet.
With the tool I was able to check several sites very quickly, find minor problems and get the rel=”author” tag working properly. It makes a somewhat confusing task go more quickly by tightly integrating any webpage with Google’s Rich Snippet tool. If you are working with any of the rich snippet formats this bookmarklet is a boon. Kudos to AJ.
February 10, 2012
We’re up, we’re down. We’re not sure where we are.
Reader & TC Jim Jaggers alerted me to the fact that Google has changed the Google Places PO Box guidelines once again. In this new reading PO Boxes are definitely out. Suite numbers and box numbers are in. The new prohibition against moving the pin (a wide spread spam tactic to get a location in the city center without changing the address) is still in affect.
|Do not create a listing or place your pin marker at a location where the business does not physically exist. P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations. If you operate from a location but receive mail at a P.O. Box there, please list your physical address in Address Line 1, and put your P.O. Box information in Address Line 2.
||Do not create a listing or place your pin marker at a location where the business does not physically exist. P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations. If you operate from a location but receive mail at a mail box there, please list your physical address in Address Line 1, and put your mail box or suite number in Address Line 2.
Clearly this means that PO Boxes of any ilk are still verboten even when they are legitimate. This means that those that in rural areas that don’t get mail deliver will still need to request approval via the Troubleshooters on the Help Pages.
Certainly it is significant that Google is publicly calling out the tactic of the moving the pins and putting folks on alert that have abused the Pin placement. Usually it takes some time for an algo update to the filters to see the new guideline put into action. They can’t occur soon enough in this situation.
Perhaps tomorrow, in addition to filtering out the pin location changing activity, Google will also (and more importantly) deemphasize the value of the centroid!
February 8, 2012
It appears that Google has again increased the search radius for a large number of “search phrase + city” searches
Since the spring of last year, Google has been reducing the radius for displaying results on many local searches. Effectively this meant that businesses outside the smaller radius would no longer show a pinned result. I had investigated this problem in searches as varied as “Jewerly Buffalo NY”, “Personal Injury Attorney Anchorage”, “Bankruptcy Attorney Charlotte”, “New Orleans Divorce” and “DC Accident Attorney” amongst others. In each of these cases businesses that had once shown up in the Google Places Search results were no longer found. Frequently they had dropped as many as 40 or 50 places on their head terms only.
Uniformly it appeared that Google had increased the “location sensitivity” of the search limiting which businesses would be seen. This affect has been noted in a number of industries and Google had spoken about their testing of this on NPR.
Brian Combs of Ionadas.com alerted me that the radius had once again increased to show search results from a much broader map area. In the five cases that I had looked at, the businesses that had been dropped with the decreased radius, once again showed up on the map and in the search.
Here is an screen shot of the map that showed for the search area that presented during last year and the search area presented as of yesterday on the search “Jewerly Buffalo NY“. Note the dramatic increase in distance from the centroid and the number of included pins in the newest results. Under the previous reduced radius only businesses in very close proximity to the centroid were shown. (click to view larger):
Linda Buquet documented the reduced search area in her October post Google Places Algorithm Change – New Proximity Lockout Algo Can Cause Major Ranking Drop. The reduced radius had also been noted by Andrew Shotland in June of 2011. The reduced radius appeared to rollout in different markets at different times but its return has occurred on all of the searches I examined simultaneously.
What is going on? (more…)
Google has once again updated (props to Nyagoslav for first highlighting the change) their Google Places Quality Guideline in regards to the use of PO Boxes in the address field. Once proscribed, they are not again allowed in the second address field only.
Google first added the prohibition on the use of PO Boxes in 2009 after widespread abuses of the feature to create additional locations. In late 2010, after the November 2010 guideline update, they actively began removing rejecting listings that had PO Box in their address. Subsequently they added a nanny bot filter in the Places Dashboard that prevented the use of the words PO Box when creating a new Places listing that gave a Term Not Allowed error if the term were used.
Here is the evolution of the guideline from 2009 till today with the changes highlighted:
|Do not create listings at locations where the business does not physically exist. PO Boxes do not count as physical locations.
||Do not create listings at locations where the business does not physically exist. P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations. Listings submitted with P.O. Box addresses will be removed.
||Do not create a listing or place your pin marker at a location where the business does not physically exist. P.O. Boxes are not considered accurate physical locations. If you operate from a location but receive mail at a P.O. Box there, please list your physical address in Address Line 1, and put your P.O. Box information in Address Line 2.
The new guideline is an accurate reflection of the real world use of PO Boxes. In many rural environments in the US for example there is no rural mail deliver and all mail is delivered by PO Boxes. The change will allow these businesses to more easily get their listings approved without the need for a work around or intervention by a Google staffer via the new Troubleshooters.
This rule clarification was the effective, although unstated guideline that was in affect until 11/17/2010. However creative spammers developed a work around exploit that allowed for the creation of fake listings within the city centers. I described this simple exploit in the post Illusory Laptop Repair – A Most Elegant Google Places Hack.
Certainly the change will be welcomed by legitimate businesses that do not receive mail at their address. It will also relieve the Troubleshooter staff in Mt View of a tedious work freeing them up to solve less tractable problems. Hopefully Google has put in place adequate safeguards to prevent the widespread abuse that previously existed.
February 6, 2012
For the most part Places spam, in all of its forms, gets dispersed throughout the marketplace. The net affect is deleterious but the brunt rarely falls on the same real bricks and mortar shops time after time. Imagine that you lived in a town and worked in a field that has a single (and apparently compulsive) competitor that is willing to go to any lengths to gain a leg up in Google Places. You don’t just suffer a reported closing, or the rare piece of competitor review spam or the odd spam listing but you and all of your honest competitors suffer repeated abuses at scale. A reader in the computer repair industry in Phoenix has experienced just that. Here is his recent letter to me:
About a year ago I wrote you and we had some correspondence back and forth about a local competitor of mine who is spamming Google maps with dozens of fake listings and creating hundreds of fake Google users to give his listings great reviews. He would then turnaround and use the same users to give negative reviews to all of his competitors. Unfortunately this is still going on, it really hasn’t gotten any better, it does seem that Google has removed some of the fake reviews now but the majority stay up. His listings get replaced as fast as they are pulled down.
I do want to thank you for all your help in trying to sort this out. You had suggested that we try legal matters or possibly even taking him to court. After enough frustration I have started forming a group of local computer repair owners so that we have a voice loud enough to be heard. Luckily I’m in Phoenix Arizona city of 6 million people so we already have 10 to 15 shops joining us and e-mails were just sent out this weekend. It seems everyone in town has dealt with this guy and has lost business due to him. We are now going to our local attorney general as a group and for the first time they are finally listening to us. Hopefully something will be done.
In the meantime I have one question for you? It seems the only way that [the spammer has] to retaliate against me as with Google maps reviews. The SEO for my website ranks well for about every keyword we need in this area and on the first page for our best keywords, “computer repair Phoenix”.
What I wanted to ask is if we really need our Google places page? It just combines with our listing showing all of this guy’s fake bad reviews. On top of that the guy seems to have a knack at closing our listing at least monthly. Whenever the list in his closed, my website still ranks highly for a number of pages, so [I feel that I] really don’t need the Google places listing.
I have a question about this. If I suspend my claimed listing but do not delete it, will another one simply import into Google maps allowing this guy to continue his game of fake reviews. At this point with Google’s lack of customer assistance in Google places I’d rather not participate anymore. I don’t gain any extra business by it is my website ranks well anyways. I’d love to hear what you think of this, is there any way to make sure that my business does not show up in Google places. In testing today I went in and suspended my listing but I did not delete it. I will follow it and see what happens.
What would you recommend to a client if this happened to them?