April 22, 2008
The City of San Buenaventura, Ca is usually referred to as Ventura. Google Maps correctly substitutes the name of Ventura for San Buenaventura but Yahoo Local seems a tad confused by the use of the name San Buenaventura in a local search query.
For example if you search on Florist+San Buenaventura Ca, it maps the location to just west of the Congo, smack dab in the South Atlantic Ocean about 750 to the west of the African coast, some 6000 or so miles away.
Equally interesting is that the search Florist+San Buenaventura Ca apparently returns every florist in the United States, all 61,035 of them.
Until this bug is fixed the search can provide approximate numbers of total Yahoo listings for any industry. On the search Restaurants + San Buenaventura, CA, Yahoo Local returns 747,782 listings and the number one restaurant is Giordanos Pizzeria in Chicago. I wonder how the pizza is.
Don’t you just love local?
April 6, 2008
During the last week of March, I reported at SearchEngineLand on Yahoo affiliate mapspam first reported by eClick. Perhpas more than 5% of the hotel listings in major markets, had url’s that moved through 2 or 3 affiilate urls prior to being redirected to the business listing in question. On March 25th, Yahoo’s Brian Gil, in an interview with Matt McGee noted:
â€œWe havenâ€™t seen what I would categorize as significant abuse issues. Iâ€™m not going to speak specifically to the hotel thing. That one is a unique case. We have been looking into itâ€¦. Weâ€™ll take the appropriate action, but my gut is telling me that itâ€™s not nearly as suspect as what was written up.
The response struck me at the time as a non denial that was meant to leave the impression that it wasn’t spam while leaving open the possibility that it was just that. We may never really know whether it was in fact mapspam or was something more innocuous. From my point of view it seemed that mapspam had moved from self serving gaming to potential criminal activity in its approach.
Regardless the affiliate links are now gone on all records that I checked.
One then has to wonder:
â€¢If it wasn’t spam why has it been removed?
â€¢If it was spam does a 5% (or more) penetration in one industry not qualify as significant abuse?
â€¢If it was spam who initiated it and managed the spam?
â€¢Was it done manually or automated in someway?
â€¢If it was spam, did it break the law?
â€¢ If it wasn’t spam what are the more benign explanations that Brian was speaking of?
Can anyone think of a use for this multi layer affilate linkng strategy that would be considered benign?
April 4, 2008
Greg Sterling of Screenwerks gets the last word (well other than mine of course) on the topic of whether Local needs to be held to a higher standard.
Greg: Does Local need to be held to a higher standard? Whether or not it should be in a sense it already is â€“ by virtue of the difference between Local and general Web search. With general Web results users have multiple choices in the majority of cases. If the data or answers they seek are missing or inadequate on any one site all they need to do is “click back” and move on to the next publisher.
In Local there are fewer choices typically. In some cases,accordingly, the consumer is without recourse if the data are missing or flawed. If someone is looking for a specific business location and doesn’t find it on the engine, it reflects very negatively on that site (e.g., “I was looking for restaurants and all they had were fast-food places”). Thus I believe that people do hold Local to a higher standard already â€“ because it’s about the “real world” and their daily lives. In many cases the users are the arbiters of truth;they know what’s correct and what should be there, as opposed to general Web searches where they may not.
The central challenge then, as others have mentioned, is getting good data and making sure it’s “fresh” and accurate. This requires a mix of strategies and an approach that’s distinct from the Web crawling done by the major search engines. Getting good Local data and the objective of presenting an optimal Local user experience require much more structure and working with trusted partners. But increasingly it also means getting the distributed mass of users involved.
Google and Yahoo! have essentially opened up their databases in an effort to get the community involved. Users at large can correct inaccurate records â€“ provided this doesn’t open the door for major spamming â€“ and broaden the database considerably as well. Google is finding this with My Maps, where it’s getting lots of additional information, organized in interesting ways, beyond the standard business listings database.
While I don’t subscribe to unrestrained free market capitalism I think there’s a “Darwinian struggle” going on and the better products and approaches in Local will ultimately succeed. The push back to that argument is Google’s position and power in the market and the gravitational force it exercises over search behavior.
Because Google has become so important to many local businesses and because of the well-documented benefits and consequences of “showing up” or “not showing up” in Local results, there’s almost a “moral obligation” on the part of Google to do everything possible to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the database. This burden resides with the others as well. But Google is in a position of higher responsibility because of its power and influence.
March 31, 2008
Given the recent reports (A New Scourge For Yahoo: Affiliate Mapspam) of mapspam at Yahoo that I perceived as possibly criminal, several folks responded that I had overreacted or mischaracterized the event. I started thinking about the legal, social and technical context for Local in our lives and whether if we didn’t hold it to much, much higher standards on all fronts (business, technical, social, legal) it would succeed.
I decided that I would like the opinions of others that I respect. They come from a range of technical and social backgrounds but all have something to contribute to Local Search conversation. The first responses to my question by Danny Sullivan and Chris Silver Smith can be found here.
Ahmed Farooq of iBegin has a unique perspective on the issues confronting Local as he has created a user facing local site for Toronto and currently provides basic business listing data to a number of clients through iBegin.
Here is the question:
As we move forward to what I call the age of the iPhroid with who knows what transactional and social capabilities, does Local need to be held to a higher standard to â€œtrulyâ€ succeed and play a trusted role in our lives?
What is your opinion?
Ahmed: I’ve argued for a while that what gave the YP books context were the ads.
The ads gave you information on each business – are they open 24 hours? Are
they civil or criminal lawyers? Do they have seafood? And so forth and so
Having played both the consumer-side and the business-supplying side, the
reason we decided to stick with ‘core’ data is because I don’t see any way
to normalize enhanced data across the entire US. When customers of base data
(competitors and us included – I don’t claim we are perfect) are always
complaining that core data is not right, how does one even begin to think
about tackling enhanced?
The two [current] approaches both fail:
1. Silo. Buy data from one or two sources, invite communities to
participate, and sit back and watch the profits roll. Problem is that while
the community may be willing to update information, they are almost always
restricted to (1) Base data and (2) ‘Sexy’ businesses (restaurants, clubs,
etc). Updating information on a printing company? Doesn’t happen. It may
work on a micro-level, but it does not work on a macro level.
2. Aggregated. Obtain information from various sources like Google does.
While this means more up to date information, it also means a mess of bad
data mingled in there. All sites have good and bad data – mix them all up
and you end up with a lot of good and bad data!
I have no solutions. I may very well be hurting my business here (always
more profitable to sell the full US than a state), but I do not see any
full-US local search engines attaining proper relevancy and context.
Specialized local search engines per city or even perhaps per state – yes.
So to get to the core question – local needs to be held to a higher
standard, because going to a dead website is nowhere near the same horrible
experience as going to a business that has moved (phone # same, address
changed) or dead. But will there be ever one or two sites that do local well
across the US? I don’t think so.
One last point – I believe the ones best positioned to do something
country-wide are the dominant YP publishers – eg YPG in Canada, and so
forth. Their conundrum of course is that the ‘precise’ context we need only
comes via ads. If the advertiser doesn’t pay, they won’t utilize the extra
relevancy, and the end-user loses out. If they allow that extra context for
free, they lose out greatly in revenue.
Seems like I’m rambling a bit now, hopefully got some new gears moving in
your collective brains
March 28, 2008
I have been thinking about Yahoo lately (big surprise that eh?) and have been mulling over in my head what is what in the world of Local.
Thinking that I needed some more voices to compliment what is rattling around in my brain I wanted to hear what others had to say. I sent the following off to a number of individuals, each having different expertise that they bring to the world of search that I respect, looking for their thoughts.
I asked them if they basically agree or disagree with the premise and if they would answer the following question:
The internet is coming face to face with the communities we live in. Local is at the nexus of this juncture. With the iPhone we now listen to our music, answer our phones, read our email, look at our maps and browse the yellow pages. In the near future we will likely be using our iPhroid (or whatever the device will be called) to replace our wallet, the ATM machine and who knows what else. In the past we have been satisfied with search providing relevant results but we are now in a time when we expect the map and business listings to be not just relevant but correct as well.
As we move forward to what I call the age of the iPhroid with who knows what transactional and social capabilities, does Local need to be held to a higher standard to “truly” succeed and play a trusted role in our lives?
What is your opinion?
Danny Sullivan and Chris Silver Smith responded first so they will be first to go:
Danny: Well, fair to say Mike, I don’t think the standards are very high in local. There seems to be a large degree of trust over community contributions and edits, simply because I don’t think the companies want to expend the people power to clean things up. And I think they also feel most people still look more closely at web wide results, which they pay more attention to. But as local gets used a lot more, I think those standards will have to rise, especially if the players want to gain or keep market share.
Chris: I think it’s a great question. Data quality is one of the biggest issues in local search and IYP, and it seems to not be getting as much play as it really should.
We’re all so dazzled by the whiz-bang interfaces brought to us by Google Maps, iPhones, and other systems that we’re not asking the big questions about whether the data behind it all is reliable. A huge percentage of the time, it simply isn’t.
There have been many times when I’ve sent family and friends to a business, only to find it had closed. I’ve also used online maps many times only to find the pinpoints incorrect — the very worst instance was when I made the maps in printed instructions for my brother’s wedding rehearsal dinner — sending dozens of cars full of hungry friends and family to an incorrect location (streets often have both north and south or east and west numbering systems, and interactive maps sometimes pinpoint them wrong when online addresses don’t include the cardinal qualifier).
It’s all the more ironic if you know that I spent the earlier part of my career as a professional cartographer — I’m at an extreme end of expert users of maps and shouldn’t be messed up by charts and directions as frequently as I have been by online maps. Even knowing the high percentage error rates involved in the services doesn’t help me much — other than if I sense a reason to question a map’s accuracy I may call ahead to get verbal confirmation from a business or other info source.
Quite a number of years ago, John C. Dvorak did a little informal survey of yellow pages results from the major IYPs, and on the basis of it he beat up on Superpages quite a bit for incomplete or erroneous info. At the time, I thought it was pretty unfair because I thought he should’ve taken our data suppliers more to task or should’ve done a broader sampling than one or two searches, but his point was pretty salient and our company beefed up data quality improvement efforts. But, here we are five-plus years out and local search and IYPs would still likely fail his informal test. (Dvorak later stated that he was giving up using 411 and using Superpages instead, so I’d guess he eventually forgave us for sometimes having bad data.)
Inaccuracy in local search info is a really big, complex beast, and there’s no quick cure for it. But, it would likely help if the industry had a lot more transparency as to what they’re doing about it — this is an area where we should have them show their cards in the consumer interest. What if each provider was to set up an info page outlining how they deal with: removal of listings for closed businesses; capturing and updating business info that has changed; criteria for choosing which data source trumps another data source if the two have disagreeing info; computation of map pinpoints; and quality improvement of address locations on interactive maps.
From my perspective, it’s time for each of the major players to stop passing the buck on quality, and work on it more intensively than the cute graphic interfaces.
What if we started rating the various local directory providers by how complete/accurate their data is? It would probably start exposing the fact that the local search emperor has no clothes.
March 26, 2008
Matt McGee has in interview, Yahoo Localâ€™s Affiliate Spam: â€˜A Unique Caseâ€™, with Brian Gil, Director of Product Management for Yahoo! Local in which he responds to the recent affiliate spam articles at SearchEngineLand and eClick:
â€œWe havenâ€™t seen what I would categorize as significant abuse issues. Iâ€™m not going to speak specifically to the hotel thing. That one is a unique case. We have been looking into itâ€¦. Weâ€™ll take the appropriate action, but my gut is telling me that itâ€™s not nearly as suspect as what was written up. â€œ
Matt noted that “Brian did explain that there are times when businesses want to use a unique URL in their business listing for tracking purposes, but this didnâ€™t appear to be one of those cases.”
My response: This activity is either is authorized by the hotels or it isn’t.
If it is authorized then I offer my apologies for the wrong assumptions and any problems I may have caused by reporting it. If isn’t authorized by the hotels then it is suspect. In fact it would be more than suspect and my continuing research indicates that the problem is larger than I originally reported at SEL.
Here is the summary of my research across several markets analyzing the % of affiliate populated hotel records using known affiliate urls:
||Total Yahoo Hotel Listings for City + Hotel in Markets
||Number of links Associated with same affiliate
||New York, NY LA, Ca
||San Antonio, Tx
San Diego, Ca
San Jose, Ca
San Francisco, Ca
Note that particularly in the small market segment, there might be some overlap as they frequently abut the larger markets and it is possible that I counted the same listing twice. However, also note that we are only looking at one affiliate’s urls in one market segment. One assumes that any good blackhat practice doesn’t go unreproduced for long.
As for Brian’s satement: â€œWe havenâ€™t seen what I would categorize as significant abuse issues.” That is like saying “there are 7,540 banks in this country and we only had one robbery last month so it is not a significant problem”. Tell that to the Bank president and tell it to the citizen living down the street.
I suppose that if there are only 862 records out of 16 million that are erroneous it is not in fact a significant problem. But I would also contend that one deceptive record is too many let alone the 862 that showed up in my limited research. I would also contend that Yahoo, Google and the IYP’s need to be more transparent on the issue of mapspam, its reporting and removal.
March 25, 2008
Google’s addition of the Local 10-Pack piqued my curiosity about its affect on Maps visitation. As I reported yesterday, according to Hitwise, visitation has gone up on the order of 21% since January 23rd.
This begged the question of, at whose expense was this market share gain by Google. In the past MapsQuest has suffered in direct proportion as Google has gained market share in the mapping world. Yesterday, Heather Hopkins, Hitwise provided a current chart comparing market share of Mapsquest, Google, Yahoo & MSN:
â€¢Google’s market share has increased 1.98% since the January 5th.
â€¢Mapquest’s share has declined 2.03% in that same time period.
â€¢Yahoo’s share has increased .05%, mostly since March 6th.
Clearly, the 10-Pack had its desired affect for Google of passing more users into Maps and away from Mapquest. That was to be expected and had been seen in most previous Google “upgrades”. The rate of change though, if it continues, is alarming and could portend a Google leadership position in the mapping market sooner rather than later.
More surprising to me was the upward bounce that Yahoo received from their March 6 Local announcement (see: Yahoo! Maps Updated With New Data and Functionality!) and the obvious effect that it has had on MapQuest’s market share.
Yahoo Local had been in a steady market share decline for the previous year. This upward swing indicates that it is still a 3 horse race and that MapQuest needs to be looking over their shoulder for both Google and Yahoo. Perhaps Yahoo can stem the general downward trend in their market share with their promised upgrades in 2008.
A 2% loss of market share in less than 2 months does not bode well for Mapquest maintaining its market leading position if its makert share erodes with every upgrade from both Google and Yahoo.
Here is the January 5th Market share chart from Hitwise chart for comparison:
March 24, 2008
The question that eClick raised in a recent article about affiliate Mapspam at Yahoo: So, how many instances of affiliate spam are there on Yahoo Local?, motivated me to do a little research.Â I have published the results at SearchEngineland today.
This is a cautionary tale for Yahoo, Google or any company that allows user generated content in their local product. These affiliate spammers are deceptively providing a “service” that is unneeded and unwanted. Does it cross the line and become criminal? Read the full story: A New Scourge For Yahoo: Affiliate Mapspam
Sphinn this story
March 4, 2008
KML: HTML for the Geoweb – Christopher Schmidt, TechnicalRamblings
KML has become the â€œHTMLâ€ of the Geographic Web. With limited semantic meaning, a combination of mostly-human understandable XML tags for the majority of the usages, widespread use and abuse for purposes far beyond the original thoughts and intentions of the designers, and more, KML fits well into the geographic version of the niche filled by HTML in more generalized content publishing.
Beneficiaries of UGC in Map and Location Updating – MDob, Exploring
This is part of series on the implication, benefits, winners and loosers in having users updating Mapd and Business listing data.
Yahoo! onePlace Offers Front Door to Mobile Internet – Greg Sterling LocalMobileSearch
One of the many things holding the cell phone back from being a functional internet and search platform in the terrible user experience. This product might solve some of that for non iPhone users.
Do Ratings Matter PartÂ Deux – Greg Sterling, Screenwerk
Yahoo’s response to Greg’s response to Matt’s posting:
- Ratings (stars) always matter and factor into the presentation of ranked local results in Shortcuts/Direct Display and Yahoo! Local.
- Most of the time the local results presented in search results and in Yahoo! Local will be identical (top three) but not 100% of the time.
- Reviews/review text donâ€™t factor as a weighted variable in the algorithm for the presentation of local results via Shortcuts but may, on occasion, play a part in the ordering of results on Yahoo! Local.
February 23, 2008
I ran across this ad for a “Local Search Expert” this morning in the Houston Craig’s List:
This ad intriuged me on a number of levels. One could draw conclusions about the SEM industry, the Local 10-Pack or the need for qualified pros in major markeets.
But the takeaway for me was that Local has arrived. Local is no longer just the province of hotels, restauarants and florists. The percieved value of this type of exposure has reached into the deepest levels of the local business world. For a roofing company to be willing to pay for the service inidcates to me the changing perception and reality that is local.