Tectonic Shifts Altering The Terrain At Google Maps- an Interview with Mike Dobson

Of the many new features in Google Maps of late, none seemed more important than the recent change in underlying data providers and Google taking over these tasks themselves. This change shows in Maps visually with the inclusion of new land & property parcel data, the change of the copyright message in US maps and a new 30 days to fix, “Report an Error” capability easily accessible from within Maps. These changes were significant in their own right.

However, they also carry with them a mirror of all the technological, competitive and societal dynamics associated with the rising importance of geo-spatial data in our lives. And of course, with that, the continuing rise of Google to dominance in gathering and managing these critical foundational data. It is this change that so intrigued me.

You can “read all about it” in a new piece at SearchEnginland, Tectonic Shifts Altering The Terrain At Google Maps, where I interview Mike Dobson of TeleMapics, a mapping industry veteran.

The bottom line? Google is succeeding in mapping the planet. This information, gathered in a range of different ways, is enhanced, in typical Google fashion, by users the world over. The article explores both the technical basis for these technologies and the competitive implications of Google’s moves.

Geospatial information is the building block for the whole next generation of user experience from smart phones to virtual reality. Hopefully the interview will help you form an understanding of this important technology. I know that it did for me.

Let me know what you think.

Google Maps: Six reasons why your listing might “go South” & some tips to cope

It has been a time of great change in Google Maps with new technology and processes rolling out at a torrid pace. Part of that change has apparently resulted in some shakeups in the rankings. I have received a number of inquiries as to why a certain listing has dropped or disappeared from view in the Local One Box  or Maps.

It is the kind of query that requires some study and reflection and usually can’t be answered in a Twitter stream nor as a comment in the blog. Minimally it requires an in-depth contextual understanding of the listing, its history and the exact nature of the problem.

That being said here are 6 possibilities that I consider when looking at a record that has “gone south”…. Continue reading Google Maps: Six reasons why your listing might “go South” & some tips to cope

Flagged Waiting for Content Check Redux

Now that the message “System Error – We’re sorry, but we are unable to serve your request at this time. Please try back in a few minutes.” has ridden into the sunset (does that seem to be a too terribly clichèd metaphor?) I can focus on my second least favorite error message in the world (yes the world not just the LBC). It appears on a business listing in the LBC for using abusive, sexist and racist words and occasionally it seems to appear just for fun: Flagged – Waiting for Content Check.

When you parse the message grammatically is has two major components:
1-Flagged
2-Waiting for content check

Lets deal with the second part first. While not as misleading as “Please try back in a few minutes.” (which essentially meant never) it is not particularly reflective of any known reality. Given that the LBC is algo based and customer service is virtually nonexistent, it is not clear, when or if, a content check will ever occur as part of some on-going listing approval process. I have heard of one (yes one) patient soul who finally had his flag checked after 6 months.

The only others that I know to have ever been checked in the forums were highlighted by forum top contributors (i.e. me) and specifically pointed out to the forum staff. They usually required a few pings and followup as well. So it is safe to say that “Waiting for Content Check” is a bit of a misnomer and not a welled oil approval machine.

So when your listing is Flagged, the best bet is to buckle down and follow the brute force method outlined previously. It can help point out some interesting (for example you can’t use the word Google anywhere in the listing even if you have a Google Sites website ) and humorous (a scaffolding company was prevented from using the word erection) specifics.

Sometimes though even the brute force method does not clarify the problem. I recently ran into a case of John, the LASIK Surgeon, who was struggling to get his listing unflagged. I knew that the LBC did not like too many caps so I suggested that he remove them from his listing. He claimed to have done so. Even so his listing remained Flagged. As a top contributor I alerted Google who intervened and yet it still it remained flagged. He desperately and persistently posted again. How many folks just give up?

He assumed that just because Google offered up the primary category “LASIK Surgeon” as a choice that it wouldn’t trigger the dreaded message if he was so bold as to actually choose it as his category. He also didn’t understand that, while it might be the trigger, he could override the default category with a custom category like “Lasik Surgeon”. But trigger the message it did and override he didn’t. After numerous struggles, he succeeded in getting his listing approved.

OK, I understand that Google perceives a need for secrecy in what causes a flagging, otherwise the listings would more quickly descend into pornography or worse as the scammers carefully studied which “nasty” words that Google had forgotten to flag and tested which ones brought more clients.

Perhaps though the message should read: “Flagged – Guess what the problem is if you can….Mhahaha”…or “Flagged – you are the 3,734 lister in queue. Estimated time to content check 167 days”.

Besides refining the message, would it not make sense to be sure that default categories not trigger the problem? And if they are going to offer up the possibility of a content check, could they not offer up a meaningful timeframe?

Visitation Stats Showing Gains for Chrome and Severe Share Loss for IE Amongst the Local Crowd

I know that I have a skewed readership (in more ways than one…). As my programmer said to me: “Wow. Go IE! Go far, far away!”

It appears that Local Geeks don’t use IE but I still find these browser stats telling none the less as I like to think of us the “vanguard”:

1.

Firefox

September 12, 2009 – October 12, 2009

9,974

48.20%

August 12, 2009 – September 11, 2009

6,795

49.10%

2.

Internet Explorer

September 12, 2009 – October 12, 2009

6,002

29.00%

August 12, 2009 – September 11, 2009

4,536

32.77%

3.

Chrome

September 12, 2009 – October 12, 2009

2,479

11.98%

August 12, 2009 – September 11, 2009

1,230

8.89%

4.

Safari

September 12, 2009 – October 12, 2009

1,792

8.66%

August 12, 2009 – September 11, 2009

1,001

7.23%

5.

Opera

September 12, 2009 – October 12, 2009

211

1.02%

August 12, 2009 – September 11, 2009

140

1.01%

Google Replaces Tele Atlas Data in US with Google StreetView Data

There has been a lot of activity of late in Google Maps with rollout of Places and its attendant controversy, tests of the new Local Listing Ads, Ads in the iPhone, Streetview in Canada & the Czech Republic and lots, lots more. I was at SMX East when Google Maps announced both more detailed Maps and the new Maps error reporting and updating tool.

That announcement in the LatLong Blog though was as interesting for what it didn’t include as what it did. One tidbit that has flown under the radar and was not mentioned in the blog post is that Google Maps has replaced their primary geospatial data provider in the United States, Tele Atlas, with their own data gathered from their StreetView cars.

According to the DirectionsMag.com article a Tele Atlas spokesperson provided this statement on rumors that were floating around the Location Intelligence Conference last week:

“Tele Atlas confirms that Google has decided to stop using Tele Atlas map data for the U.S. Google will now use its own map data. Our relationship with Google for map coverage continues outside of the U.S. in dozens of geographies.”

It was only last year that Tele Atlas and Google signed a long term deal for Tele Atlas to replace Navteq as Google’s sole third party road data provider. In January of this year, after the late 2008 widespread expansion of Streetview in the US I theorized that Google could very well be on the road to replacing TeleAtlas as their supplier.

It is interesting to speculate on the move. Certainly, Tele Atlas’s data quality in the US has not been very high. Complaints about map quality in the forums, which started immediately upon Google using Tele Atlas data, were frequent and have continued. Reports of wrong street names, missing townships and use of very old mapping information were not uncommon. Despite powerful new feedback systems by Tele Atlas, time to repair these errors has often been 6 to 8 months, if ever, leading to additional complaints. It appears that Google’s new map error reporting mechanism can lead to map fixes within 24 hours. The forums, while picking up on the recently changed data, have been surprisingly quiet, given the magnitude of the change. It is also interesting to speculate on why Google was not forthright about this change.

This action speaks very loudly to both Google’s long term intentions in the Maps environment and provides interesting clues as to their immediate capabilities. It portends shakeups in the mapping business and positions Google as a major worldwide player in both delivery Map data and collecting it. It took Google roughly 10 months from rollout of their expanded US Streetview data to delivery of a fully functional Mapping product with routing. Can the rest of the world be far behind?

I hope to have a more in depth look at the implications of this move in another post.

streetview-coverage

Google Local Listing Ads: Summary of articles & resources

Here is a summary of articles and resources on Google’s new Local Ad Listing test program in San Diego and San Francisco:

10/9/09
David Mihm: My Thoughts on Google Local Listing Ads
Greg Sterling: Local Listing Ads and 7-Pack Live
Mike B: Google Local Listing Ads: Random Thoughts
Mike B: Google Answers Some Local Listing Ad Questions

10/08/09
Greg Sterling:More Info on Google Local Listing Ads

10/07/09
Taylor Cimala: Google to Start Offering Flat Rate Local Listing Ads
Learmonth/AdAge: Google Lures Local Advertisers by Subverting Its Own Search Policies
Mike B: Support to Be Available to Local Listing Ad Customers

10/06/08
Greg Sterling: Google Offers New ‘Simple’ Ads for SMBs
MB: Google Intros Local Listing Ads to LBC in Limited Markets

10/05/08
Greg Sterling (SEL): Google Creates A New, Simplified Ad Unit For Local Business

Google Resources:
Introducing Local Listing Ads Video
Help/Information pages
What are Local Listing Ads?
How are Local Listing Ads different from AdWords?
How much do Local Listing Ads cost?

If you want to get notification on when it’s available in your area, you can sign up here (via –Taylor Cimala):
Google Local Listing Ads Sign Up Form

Google Local Listing Ads: Random Thoughts

I was able to capture several variations of Local Listing Ad displays and captured them on a 1280 X 960 screen to get a sense of how many organic listings might show. I chose 1280px screen resolution as it is the display type of roughly 50% of current users. I removed tabs from my browser assuming that many users do not use them and ran the browser screen to full size.

Note that on some ad presentations there are very few organic listings visible above the fold and even with no Adwords at the top only two organic listings are shown.

Google Local Listing Ad Display Variations

A number of folks have pointed out, and rightfully so, that for this program to be really successful Google would need to actively “sell” the ads to SMBs. In a sense I believe that this is absolutely true. However, my back of paper estimates are that roughly 10% of US businesses have claimed their LBC record with NO significant marketing on Google’s part. Let’s assume that with no marketing of the product, 10% of those choose to use the Local Listing Ad. Lets also assume that the average monthly spend is a modest $50.

In the US you are looking at roughly 15 million businesses x 10% LBC take up x 10% Local Listing Ad adoption x $50/mo. = 150,000 SMBs x $50/mo. That would equal $7.5 million per month or $90 million per year. As Everett Dirkson once said, a million here, a million there and it soon adds up to some real money. With Google’s scale a low adoption rate still leads to significant profits. There would be additional world adoption and other benefits and spill over to Google’s Adwords product as well.

As far as I know, while we have seen ad examples, no one has yet seen the LBC tab out in the wild. Either the test group is very limited or Google has placed the ads to test layouts and response prior to releasing the interface widely.

Google Answers Some Local Listing Ad Questions

Picture 19The newly announced Local listing ads are starting to appear on a limited basis in the wilds of San Francisco. David Mihm, the talented Local Search Expert, and I submitted a number of questions about this new trial to Google.

What will the range of prices be for a given market and category?
Will the pricing be transparent to all, across all markets?

Regarding your pricing questions:
Since various industries have different levels of saturation and search popularity by business category and location, those are the factors upon which we decided to base our variable flat fees. Part of this beta is testing the pricing structure and trying to find a good balance between advertiser ROI and flat fees. That being the case, please understand that we’re not able to share the range of flat fees.

Will the business be allowed to advertise in more than 1 category?

Picture 20Regarding your category questions:
We’re only announcing an initial version of the beta at this time, so advertisers are currently only able to choose one category. As we continue to develop this product, this may change. Ad placement per category is currently determined on a rotating basis. However, we’re constantly testing new ad formats and placements, and we may make changes and refinements to our current experiment in the future.

How long is the test period?

Regarding your rollout questions:
As you know, Local Listing Ads are currently only available to businesses located in San Francisco and San Diego. There is no set testing period for gathering feedback and data, but we can’t speculate on future product development or roll out.

Will these ads get a set amount of “square footage” on the screen, or will they push national advertisers’ standard Adwords largely off the page for geo?
Will the price have a relationship to the adwords pricing and will that relationship be transparent?

Picture 21Regarding your placement questions:
Local Listing Ads may appear either above the organic search results or on the right hand side of Google.com, or in the left panel of Google Maps. When they appear above the organic search results on Google.com, up to 4 ads may be shown. When they appear on the right hand side on Google.com, up to 4 ads may be shown. And on Google Maps, one ad may be shown for any given query. Please keep in mind, however, that we’re constantly testing new placements, and we may choose to make changes to the current experiment in the future. Also, Local Listing Ads do not compete in the auction and instead are slotted in new ad inventory spots that have been created on Google search results pages and Google Maps.

What type of support structure will be in place for businesses who have trouble setting this up? Will it be managed through the LBC Help Forums or will there be a dedicated person or team to handle inquiries?

Regarding your support questions:
Advertisers who sign up for Local Listing Ads will be able to contact us, and Help Center content is also available here: http://maps.google.com/support/bin/topic.py?hl=en&topic=23543

Below are a list of the questions that were asked but not answered directly and some additional questions that have cropped up:
Continue reading Google Answers Some Local Listing Ad Questions

Google is rolling out LBC Dashboard across Europe

Update 9/9/09: Viewers have spotted in India(!), Italy & UK as well. But still no reports from Canada 🙁

Martijn Beijk (Local Search Optimization) and Arjan Snaterse (Technical SEO Blog) have informed me that Google, starting late yesterday, has been rolling out the Local Business Center data rich Dashboard across Europe. Martijn noted on Twitter that he had seen “listings in Netherlands and Spain and they were active 4 both of these countries. Usually this means a big rollout.”
Schermafbeelding 2009-10-08 om 19.28.17

The data rich dashboard for the LBC was rolled out in June of this year in the US. Since that time stats have been missing outside the US since that time. Can Canada be far behind?

Developing Knowledge about Local Search