Category Archives: Google Places (Maps & Local)

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

It’s Time for Google Places to Treat Reviews Like a Grown Up

The recent use of Google’s review platform in Alabama to lambast a local deli’s Place page with hate reviews (and the attendant backlash) is but one example of why Google needs to implement better control over the reviews appearing on the Places pages.

Here is another. Earlier this week, one reviewer, Samantha, left 15 reviews in one day. Fourteen of them were 1 and 2 star reviews and One was a 5 star review. All for lawyers in Philadelphia. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist nor a sophisticated algo to recognize that these reviews are bogus. Samantha you naughty girl.

Google needs to act like an adult and put in place processes to stop allowing a business’s Place Page being used like as substitute for a Voodoo doll in doing damage to a business.

 

411Locals In the Spotlight Again


In May, Linda Buquet reported on what turned out to be apparent sabotage of Places business listings by the local search firm 411Local. Here is a recent screen shot of a search in Maps still showing the Places listing defacements.

Well 411Local is back in the spotlight today. This post appeared in the Google Places Forums:

411locals is threatening to remove my places account

vbluguitar

Level 1
10/24/11
Topic of your question (reviews, categories, duplicate listing, etc.):  I have been getting call from 411 locals threatening to remove my places page.
Your business name as it is in your Google Places account:ArtKat Photography
Your business type/category (e.g. photographer, hospital, etc.): Photography
URL(s) if applicable:www.artkatphotography.com

Update:
2 years ago I did a 1 month trial with 411locals.net.  They got everything wrong and I cancelled after 1 month of service.  Since then I have made many updates to my places account and now, 2 years later, 411locals is calling and telling me “we have been updating your account and if you don’t sign up again we will remove it”  Since I maintain it myself, I know this is not the case, but they have my PIN so I am afraid of the damage they will do to my places page.  Any suggestions? 10/24/11

Google Places Reputation Management: From G to X Rated in No Time Flat

One of the basic tenets of reputation management in local is that regular visits to your Google Places page are necessary to prevent (or perhaps mitigate) disaster. You never know when a competitor, an ex-employee, an unethical SEO or a prankster might just deface the page. And of course you no have idea when Google, The Machine from Mars, might take a shot at the page as well.

Google Places has been on a push to include more photographs on the Place pages, grabbing photos from all over the web and placing them prominently on the Place Page. In the case of Center for Restorative Breast Surgery in New Orleans, LA, Google dug deep into their website for photos that the owner obviously felt were not meant to be any place but… deep on their website.

As Google scrapes sites for photos far afield from the managed environs of the directories and review sites these sorts of problems will increase in frequency. Fortunately the account is managed by Paula Keller at SearchInfluence and her response was swift. She immediately reported the images as inappropriate via the Google link and more importantly uploaded a raft of new photos to the Places dashboard to push the offending images off the page.

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING IMAGES MAY NOT BE APPROPRIATE FOR ALL VIEWING AUDIENCES

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Minor Update to Guidelines RE Classes & Meeting Locations

Google has made a minor update to their guideline update disallowing a listing for an ongoing service, class, or meeting:

Last Week’s Update This Week’s Update
You also can’t create a Places listing for an ongoing service, class, or meeting at a location that you don’t own or have the authority to represent. Please coordinate with your host to have your information displayed on their Place page as a custom attribute or within their Description field. You also can’t create a Places listing for an ongoing service, class, or meeting at a location that you don’t own or have the authority to represent. Please coordinate with your host to have your information displayed on their Place Page within their Description field.

As I noted at the time of the update last week: Using the now hidden extra details as Google suggests would be useless and there is not enough space in the 200 character description. Not a helpful suggestion at all. 

Now there is even less recommended choice. 200 Character space available to describe a business is barely adequate to describe a business. Asking either the location or the renter to split that space is not really a solution.

Half Truths and Local SEO

I found this post in the Google Places forum of interest. I hear many stories in the Local SEO world of half truths being used to confuse or obfuscate what is being done. What is your take in this case?

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Can ezlocal delete my places page when I stop using their services even though I am the one that created it prior?
cmoo

Level 1
10/18/11
Topic of your question (reviews, categories, duplicate listing, etc.):I am a small business owner and I had created a places page a couple years ago.  last year I hired ezlocal to manage it, but want to stop using their services now.  They informed me that if I terminate with them, they will delete my account and I will have to start my places page all over.Can they do this even though it was created by me with my username/pw long prior to me allowing them to manage it?Is there anyway to prevent them from deleting my account without having to basically pay them off every month?

Thanks

CM Continue reading

Geo Sitemap Generator Adds New Features

The “grand daddy” of geo sitemap generators has recently included some new features. Geo Sitemap Generator, first released by Arjan Snaterse in 2009, has added the ability to generate either a schema.org file or a microformatted file of your contact information. In addition to the features in the geo sitemap tool from 51Blocks that I reviewed last week, Geo Sitemap Generator supports multiple locations and now provides a preview of the KML file locations on a Map.

The benefits of multiple locations are obvious if you need them. The benefits of the map preview are not so obvious but very real. KML files require a mapping API to generate the lat long info included in the file. Sometimes the information from the API, even from the same map provider, renders the location differently than reality or differently than the public mapping program. It has always been a good idea to check the KML file’s lat-long accuracy by loading it into something like Google Earth to be sure that it pins the locations correctly. Now Geo Sitemap Generator previews the pins on a Map for you when you go to download your files saving you a necessary step.
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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Places Automatic Updates

Thursday’s announcement that Google Places would autmatically update Places data more quickly if Google thought they had more trusted information generated a fair bit of dismay. The words used to describe Google’s action, while occassionaly positive in nature, generally reflected fear and anger:

Unnecessary, Bugs me
Headache, Impending doom
REALLY CONCERNS ME
BACK ASSWORDS!!!!, STUPID!!!! STUPID!!!! STUPID!!!!
Clusterf***, Very dangerous
This is terrible, Absolutely scary, insane decision

Like death and taxes their is a certain inexorable nature to Google. I have noted in the past that most SMBs are from Venus and Google is from Mars and so it is easy to misinterpret Google’s intent. Sometimes you can fight the reality they have created but usually it is wasted energy. On occasions such as this it might be worth plugging in the universal translator and trying to not just understand what the machine is saying but seeing what you can learn from it.

The computational machine that is Google Places doesn’t pull data out of thin air. The data that Google has in their cluster about your business comes from someplace. In this case it is coming from a source that Google trusts more than they trust you or at least they trust enough to want to corroborate it with you. Whenever Google is willing to share that information with us, there are insights to be gained.

OK, you say, what can I possibly learn from Google mucking with my listing? Well lets look at a few scenarios. Continue reading

SIRI is Exceptional, except at Local search

I speculated that Siri, or something similar, would become the norm for interfacing with smart phones and in doing so it would define the future of local search (and everything else). Well it seems to have succeeded on the everything front but just not on the local search front. The Siri natural language interface is a metaphor for interaction that will supplant the need for typing and can provide a hands free way to interact with smaller devices when typing is dangerous (ie driving) or awkward (ie all the time).

It works incredibly well and as John Gruber noted: “I wouldn’t say I can’t live without Siri. But I can say that I don’t want to.” It is that good.

It is hands down the best way to speedily create and send text messages regardless of whether you are driving or sitting. It is the best way to get driving directions detailed on the iPhone Google Map app. It is the best way to search the web whether you want to use Google, Yahoo or Bing. In fact it even fixes what was so miserably wrong with voice search in the Google app.

Its ability to understand what you want and what you are saying is uncanny. Even with background noise. I am a convert and while I will most definitely use it while driving, it may very well become my preferred interface for many other things as well.

It truly is a harbinger of a new level of functionality for interacting with your phone (and any small device for that matter). I won’t leave home without it.

EXCEPT FOR LOCAL SEARCH.

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Google Places Now Updating Your Listing Automatically

Yesterday Google Places announced on the LatLong Blog that they would automatically update claimed listings more quickly with information from trusted third parties and end users if Google thought the information was more accurate than information that was in the Places Dashboard. They noted:

But now, if a user provides new information about a business they know — or if our system identifies information from another source on the web that may be more recent than the data the business owner provided via Google Places — the organic listing will automatically be updated and the business owner will be sent an email notification about the change.

The policy of changing claimed listings to match what Google claims is more accurate information is not new. They implmented this program late last year with a 60 day window. Now however the speed with which Google will do the update apparently is.

The previous letters, which also would included notification of impending status changes like “Permanently closed”, were not sent reliably.

Here is a copy of the letter that is being sent. In this example, it appears that the only information change is to add the last 4 digits of the zip+4 number. In another instance I received, Google was suggesting changing the listing to an 800 instead of the local number that was in the Places dashboard:

Your listing on Google Places will soon be updated
Dear Google Places user,Google will soon update your listing data on our consumer properties such as Google and Google Maps to more accurately reflect the latest information we have about your business.We use many sources to determine the accuracy of our listing data and to provide the best possible experience for business owners and consumers who use Google and Google Maps to find local information.

Below is a summary of what your listing(s) will contain once it’s updated in the next few weeks. This will be visible on your Place page and listings across Google properties, but it will not be reflected in your Google Places account:

Blumenthals.com

201 North Union St # 307, Olean, New York, 14760-2740, US

+1 7163724008

http://www.blumenthals.com/

If the above information is not accurate, please sign in to Google Places. You may prevent any of these changes from being made on your Place page and listing by selecting “Edit”, and then pressing the “Submit” button to confirm the correct information about your business.

If you submit data to Google via a feed, please ensure that the data in your feed is accurate and current. Note that you must update listing data in your feed to prevent changes from being made to the above listings.

Note that if you are an AdWords or AdWords Express customer, your ads will be unaffected by this change and will continue to display the listing information you have provided in Google Places. To manage your online advertisements, please sign into Google Places or Google AdWords.

For more information about updates to claimed listings, please visit: http://www.google.com/support/places/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1318197

Sincerely,

The Google Places Team

(c) 2011 Google Inc. 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043

You have received this mandatory email service announcement to update you about important changes to your Google Places product or account.

The program’s goal is to improve index quality. If implemented carefully it can work. It is not clear how abuse proof the program is and how much trust Google will put in end user edits. Obviously many of those, if not properly vetted, could create a whole new spate malicious activity.

There is also some irony that a Google forced change to a listing could occur significantly faster than an owner change to the description or category fields.

I for one though will be grateful to stop receicing those stupid emails indicating that a problem I just reported via the report a problem link on my own record might not be updated because:

You should know, however, that XXXX is an owner verified listing and some updates require the approval of the business owner before they can take effect.

How Long Does it Take For A Google Places Description Update

As part of the changes to Google Places that took place in early August, Google’s Jeol Headley noted on Google + (in response to a question by Linda Buquet) that an update to a business’s description could take a long time. It appears possible that the alternate phone number field is under the same regime.

Joel Headley – Aug 12 – Regarding the description not appearing — we did a change that forced descriptions to go through a longer update pipeline than other information on the Place page. So, just like a new listing that doesn’t appear in searches when they’re first added vi Google Places for business, description require a longer update.

Linda – Aug 13 – So does that mean that if edited, a description will take 6 – 10 weeks to show up? Can you confirm that’s the current average update cycle?

Joel Headley – Aug 13 – That’s is correct. We’re working on improve the update cycle now, though.

I was curious exactly how long it would take so I made minor changes on August 16th to my description and started tracking. So as not to have to visit my Place page every day, I set up an Page2RSS feed of the Place page that showed any changes to the page directly in my email InBox where I could take a quick peek to see what was new. (The Page2RSS  set-up also spots new reviews, sentiment snippet changes and other updates but it generates a lot noise and gibberish every day).

So how long did it take? My changes finally showed up on October 4th, exactly 7 weeks to the day after the change was made to the description content.

So the question is what is the Google filter  for that Joel H speaks of? And why does it take so long? We know that if Google wants to a change to a Places page that new content can show up almost immediately (think the “Share an update on your place page” feature).

My guess is that in addition to running the description through some sort of quality assessment Google added a time delay to slow down abuses by black hat local SEOs.

I doubt that many legitimate businesses are negatively affected by the change. Once the description goes live, most SMBs change it infrequently if at all. If you are doing Places on behalf of a client, the only negative is that it is necessary to let them know of the delay.

I am curious if anyone else has tracked the time for the update to occur and if so how long it took.