Category Archives: Google Places (Maps & Local)

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

Google Places International Category Tool Now Available

Did you know that the Google category synonym “all you can eat” is associated with Chinese & Japanese restaurants in the US but only with Japanese restaurants in Australia? That and other amazing facts can be gleaned from a recent upgrade adding international categories to our Google Places Category Tool

We have finally added categories for some of the international country and language combinations available in the Google Places dashboard.

This is a work in progress and there is still addiitonal work to upgrade the interface so that it is clearer which countries the results are from and there are a country/language combos still missing. Please let us know of any other bugs or quirks you find and which countries you most would like to added next.

The new functionality is easy to access. Using the Category Search Tool, simply select the language and country from the drop down menu to change to any of the following international categories.

The countries/languages for which you can find Google Places Categories:
US English (US)
CA English (CA)
AU English (AU)
IE English (IE)
GB English (GB)
NZ English (NZ)
MX English (MX)
DK Danish (DK)
DE German (DE)
AT German (AT)
CA French (CA)
FR French (FR)
NL Dutch (NL)
NO Norwegian (NO)
BR Portuguese (BR)
PT Portuguese (PT)
RU Russian (RU)
ES Spanish (ES)
MX Spanish (MX)
SE Swedish (SE)

We have also implemented an API to access the data so let me know if you are interested in using it.

Netflix Bags Separate Website

I just received this email from Netflix. Hmm… lets change, piss everyone off and back off…

Dear Michael,

It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs.

This means no change: one website, one account, one password…in other words, no Qwikster.

While the July price change was necessary, we are now done with price changes.

We’re constantly improving our streaming selection. We’ve recently added hundreds of movies from Paramount, Sony, Universal, Fox, Warner Bros., Lionsgate, MGM and Miramax. Plus, in the last couple of weeks alone, we’ve added over 3,500 TV episodes from ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, USA, E!, Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, ABC Family, Discovery Channel, TLC, SyFy, A&E, History, and PBS.

We value you as a member, and we are committed to making Netflix the best place to get your movies & TV shows.

Respectfully,

The Netflix Team

Google Places Quality Guidelines Update -Ongoing Classes at a Different Location are Ineligible

Nyagoslav of Optilocal was first to highlight this recent Google Places Quality Guideline 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.

The driving class that meets at the local club, the AA meeting at the local church, the Yoga class that meets at community centers, the Lamaz birthing class that meets at the medical center, the farmer’s market at the Mall parking lot…even if independently owned and operated are now explicitly prohibited from having a Places page.

Does the rule make sense? Certainly these types of businesses fall into a grey area and have long been a problem in Google Places. Is Google Places about a Place or about a business?

Given that Google has long contended that Places is supposed to be about a place then I suppose the rule has a logic to it. It is the same logic that would dictate a computer service organization that makes regular visits to the local university should not claim the university as an address.

That being said it points out another hole in Google’s ability to service this whole category of business.  Google’s suggestion to leverage the Place page of the location where a class is held to mention your event makes little sense, particularly since the Place page has become much more sparse. The only real opportunity to highlight a service like this on the location’s Place page would be the “Share an update feature”. Unfortunately that is as buried as the coupon feature. 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.

The other question that comes up is how is this sort of business different than a container business (ie an independent eye glass store that is located within a Walmart)? I think that Google would contend that the container business has a permanent presence and physical infrastructure reflecting their brand where the mobile class does not.

While I feel for the sort of business that is affected by this decision, on average I agree with it and look forward to Google developing a better way for a business that operates like this to present themselves.

Related Places Moving to Main Search Results?

It appears that on certain search results that Related Places, that have been typically showing at the bottom of a business’s Places page, are being moved to the main search results and showing up under “similar pages” results at the bottom of the page.

The new results are not widely returned. I was only able to see local “Pages similar to” on a limited number of locally branded searches for bed and breakfasts in St Augustine & San Francisco but not on similar searches in other markets. Whether this is a test or a permanent feature is unclear.

The searches for Chateau Tivoli Bed & Breakfast San Francisco and Bayfront Marin House St. Augustine both show the Related Places removed from the respective Places page (here & here) and have them turning up at the bottom of the main results. Searching for other specific B&Bs in SF and St Augustine returned similarly missing related places on their Place’s Page. But similar searches in many other markets do not.

Continue reading Related Places Moving to Main Search Results?

Google Places Alert: Another Ugly Bug That Could Nuke Your Listing

There is a reported service area bug in the Google Places Dashboard that has an easy work around but terrible results if you aren’t aware of it. (Thanks to Steve King of Simpartners for also highlighting the issue to me.)

When a business selects service area the “Do not show my business address on my Maps listing” check defaults to checked EVERY time you go in an edit your record. Thus it is necessary to deselect the check box or you will suffer the outcome associated with hiding your address. YOUR LISTING WILL DROP OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH (As defined by Maps).

Eye Tracking Study

SEOMoz was given a chance to test a Mirmetrix eye tracking device. The used the opportunity to analyze the impact of Universal results generated by Blended results, the 7-pack, shopping and videos inserted in the SERPS. I was of course most interested in the Local results. Their conclusion?

These results also suggest that the in-page Local/Places results are having a strong impact, even if they fall in the middle of the page. In these limited cases, they seemed to pull attention away from the top organic spots.

Siri – A Metaphor That Defines The Future Of Local Search (And Everything Else)

This is not a tribute to Steve Jobs directly. Although in the end it may be one of his greatest legacies. Will Siri become the new Qwerty?

I have been in the technology field for over 30 years. I have seen a number of radical changes that became metaphors for how things were supposed to be done. Many, but certainly not all, of these metaphors were created at the hands of Steve Jobs.

QWERTY defined the keyboard. The Apple II defined a generation of PCs. Sony defined what the home video recorder should be. The Mac defined what a Window and Window based programs should behave like. The iPhone defined how touch functions on a smartphone and what a smartphone is.

These defining products and the companies that produce them don’t always win the battle in the market place for various reasons but the idea sticks. The technology becomes iconic and lays the path for others to follow. Sometimes the followers overtake the creators, sometimes the creators win. The market is a brutal overseer.

Siri, the natural language interface for the new iPhone 4s, is one such product. It may not be the product that wins the battle in the market place, it may not be the specific product feature that everybody has to have in their pockets in 2015 but if it isn’t, whatever is there will be like Siri.

Imagine a world where you say to your phone: Find me the best Asian restaurant within 25 miles. Or: Text my wife to meet me at 21. Or: Schedule an appointment for me with Joe the PR Guy and send him a text. Or: Tell my friends on Facebook that our team won!

All of the sudden the only thing that matters is the answer. Nothing else. You won’t be looking at a search box, you won’t be landing on someone’s home page, you won’t be looking at an ad…In fact you won’t be looking at anything.

You won’t need to. Not all of your interaction will be voice driven but depending on your mobile needs a large portion of it could be. You no longer need to look at your phone to enter a query in a search box. You just ask for the answer and it will just give it to you.

The answer can come from a single source or a range of sources. The brand of search engine is no longer important, the brand of phone that you are asking the question on is. Your only relationship is with the phone. Either it works or it doesn’t. Search engines and web brands could potentially fade in importance.

The winner in this next interface battle gets to pick where and who it gets the answer from. If Siri needs three data sources, it uses three data sources. If it needs four, it looks at four. That complexity is all hidden and the user not only doesn’t need to visit multiple websites, the user doesn’t even need a special app. Siri, or something like it, becomes the great equalizer for data sources. An OS for voice as it were. It handles the complexities. You just need to ask it.

Will it do what Apple says it will? There was a time when you couldn’t trust what Apple or any technology firm said. You had to have it proven to you. Even though this is a new Apple, one molded by the demanding perfectionism of Steve Jobs, this is one of those times when you will need to know that the natural language interface works and it works seamlessly.

If it does, it becomes THE WAY that you want to interact with the device. The new QWERTY as it were. Maybe not all all the time but certainly with mobile search and more frequently than not with mobile local search.

It also becomes the great disintermediator in mobile. It may be the greatest disintermediator of all time. If it works.

Will Siri Change the Face of Local Search?

With Apple’s announcement of the release of the new iPhone 4s and iOS5 came the expected announcement of the tight hardware and software integration of their Siri natural speech technology. It appears to be integrated at the highest level of the user interface.

Mobile search on the iPhone has been broken. Google offers up voice search but it is by no means a hands free affair and takes way too much screen interaction to provide a result. Google’s product has been quirky and buggy on the iPhone and crashes frequently. Since the discontinuation of Goog-411, the 411 service on the iPhone has been only marginally functional due to a weak data sources for even the simple task of call completion.

Hopefully tight integration of voice with the phone will change all of that. The voice recognition system will read back texts, allow you to schedule an appointment AND do local search.

How does it do with local search? And where will it get its data?

The answer to the first question is that voice search on the existing Siri app is far better than Google’s voice product or the built in 411. That is a step in the right direction but passing the hurdle set by Google on the iPhone is not that difficult. It does a good job on the recognition side and it currently has an easy to use interface which will improve with integration and returns reasonable results.

Interestingly the current Siri app pulls data from a wide range of data sources to answer your questions. That is true with business listing data as well. Depending on the local search it might show results from Yelp, Yahoo, CityGrid, Localeze or BooRah. I presume that it uses even more sources than I have so far discovered and it appears to be agnostic as to where it gets its data. Siri also seems to mix and match sources when necessary.

Ultimately local will be almost 100% about mobile. That battle, at least for now, is Google vs. Apple. In local data that appears to mean Google vs. Everybody else (that Apple partners with). Does Siri solve the mobile search problem?

It is in the very early stages and users behaviors are not yet defined. Testing and time will tell if it offers up enough substance to be fluidly integrated into every day phone activity and local search. Here’s hoping.

Google Places Dashboard Call for Help

To reinforce the critques in the article I republished from March 2009 about the Google Places customer service experience, I wanted to show a typical, current Dashboard screen shot. The screenshot demonstrates both the lack of meaningful help and the problems that still exist with seeking it out by the small business person.

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I am glad that Google has improved their Help system with a guided approach to solving problems. Google refers to these steps as “escalators”. I think that they will be helpful to many BUT there is still much that could be done in creating a customer service environment that is customer friendly. Much could be done even if a self help only approach to customer service was the only support Google desires to provide.

The contextual help in the dashboard, while present, is not as thorough or as helpful as it could be. The single Help link at the top of the page quickly scrolls off the screen in favor of other Google products. If you do click on the Help link, it is still at least 4 clicks to an answer and the answer is not totally informative.

And this screen shot just deals with the help that is provided INSIDE the dashboard. What about the many forms of support that can only be achieved by a link on the Places page. Why should an SMB need to go to two places for help? But then there are certain support issues that can only be dealt with in the forums? Why should they need to go to a 3rd place for support? And of course, if you do end up in the help forums filling out one of the new forms, will any one answer?

I think Google can do much better. They could do better in contextual, automated help and they could do better designing a comprehensive customer service experience….if they wanted to.

The problem is that I have been saying this same thing for as long as I have been writing this blog. These issues have been ongong for 5 years. While these new help files are a step, and a good step, in the right direction, the still inadequate help environment strongly suggests that they don’t want to.