David has just created an update to the great chart describing the mishegas that is the Local Search ecosystem. The chart elegantly captures the flow of data from the top tier data suppliers through the directories and into Google and the other search engines. The complete set of charts detailing the relations can be found at A Closer Look at the Local Search Data Providers.
If you ever wondered why it takes so long for a citation to show up in Google, this should answer the question.
The PlusBox is now once again being seen more widely in the search results. When Google strated manipulating local search results by reducing their footprint and removing the description several weeks ago, the PlusBox feature appeared with increasing frequency. I have received a number of emails alerting me to the “new feature” so I assume that many of you are not familiar with it.
The PlusBox is a local interface convention first introduced into the main search results in December of 2006. It really was the first “blended result” and it essentially added geo information and an optional map to an organic search result. Even though Matt Cutts indicated at the time that its data could come from the Places Dashboard (then known as the Local Business Center), it was typically algo generated and frequently showed erroneous information that was difficult to fix.
Bill Slawski first covered the PlusBox patent application in 2007 (and again in 2011) and it was a fairly common feature at the time. As Google pushed more 7-packs and then the Blended Places results into the main search results, the PlusBox was rarely seen over the past 2 years.
In many ways, the “new” PlusBox display is preferable to the new “no description” local display and begs the question whether a business owner can “do something” to cause its appearance instead of the currently sparse local result. The answer: I don’t know.
The PlusBox has always gotten its geo clues from a range of sources but it often appeared to be most influenced by website associated with a geo location rather than the Places Dashboard. It makes sense, if you want it to show, to be sure that your site gives the Google bots as many geo signals (kml files, rich snippet address formatting, location specific pages, geo rich contact us and about us pages, claimed listing) as possible. If I were a betting man, I would put my money on a KML file and geositemap as a very trusted signal but there are likely multiple signals that Google can use to generate the result.
As you can see from this screen capture, it has benefit of showing a longer title tag, a robust meta description and an address. Its reappearance highlights the importance of a well crafted description tag that possibly includes the phone number.
Obviously Google Local universal results are in a great deal of flux. Changes have been occurring on a regular basis of late and the only normal seems to be change. The reappearance of the PlusBox is just one change amongst many and who knows if it will last. The integration of search and social has just begun and this may end up just being a way station rather than a destination. That being said, it always makes sense to have a website that uses best local practices and clearly signals the Google machine where you are located.
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.
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.
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. Continue reading
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: Continue reading
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: Continue reading
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.
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!
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? Continue reading