Google Maps UI upgrade: Places page replaces Tabbed Interface

Google Maps is rolling out a new UI upgrade, the “Places” page, worldwide to replace the tabbed interface text view in Maps. The rollout, beginning today, will take place over the next week.

The new interface provides a single page where all information about a “Place” is visible in well, one place. Google has taken all of the information that previously  resided under the tabs plus a range of new information and is presenting it in a single page view. Note for example this Places page for the Verrazano Narrows Bridge contains a SketchUp3D image (lower right).

The upgrade, according to Ron Lior, Maps product manager, not only presents more information about a particular business or place but offers improved internal ranking so that the most relevant information about a Place is displayed.

Not limited to just businesses Google’s vision is somewhat grander. They want to create a Places page for every place in the world (click to see examples), every business, historic site, city, geographic feature, neighborhood and transit point. In the near future real estate listings will also be shown this way. (Note as these roll out, the URL’s may or may not work reliably.) Each “Place” will also have a human readable place identifier in the form: http://maps.google.com/places/us/new-york-city .

I will be writing up a more extensive analysis of the Places Page in a subsequent post.

Those marked in red include new information:

Google Places Page

To see the old tabbed view: Continue reading Google Maps UI upgrade: Places page replaces Tabbed Interface

Is Google Showing the Authoritative OneBox More Often?

One of the less than ideal aspects of Google showing Local Universal results is the display of an Authoritative OneBox for a broad local search like “Las Vegas Computer Repair“.

However,since mid August, there have been a number of reports (here, here, here, here) in both the forums and in communications from Local Search Marketers Dev Basu and Mike Ramsey that Google has been increasingly presenting the Authoritative OneBox on more general searches that until recently showed the 10 Pack.

Google Onebox on General Search

While is it every Local SEO’s desire to achieve this result, it is very frustrating for businesses and searchers alike when a general service + geo search returns a singular result. Businesses that were previously shown in the 10-Pack disappear leaving the business owner wondering why and experiencing a significant drop in exposure and income. The user is left wondering how to get broader results as they are not even given an option to see additional businesses. Inexplicably from a usability point of view, this is a feature that is available with the 10 Pack.

Here is a typical angry, small business response to the phenomena that you see in the forums. Clearly he thinks that Google is on the take or experiencing technical flaws: Continue reading Is Google Showing the Authoritative OneBox More Often?

Google Maps and Hospital Hell Soon Coming to an End? Three Cheers!

Google Maps and the Local Business Center have been hell for hospitals. Virtually everything that could go wrong with Maps has gone wrong when it comes to hospitals getting their many listings correct in the LBC and the Maps index with the technical issues compounded by the lack of customer support. This has been an on-going problem and was first reported as long ago as March, 2007.

That being said it appears that Google is in the process of a formalized solution that could very well solve the problem: hospitals would be come eligible for whitelisting of bulk uploads.

Last week, in my article “Is Google Maps the Portal to Bizarro World?“, I wrote about the difficulties of a hospital being banned while attempting to mange the complex process of getting their many listings squared away. With hospitals, records are merged sending folks to the wrong address for the emergency room or inundating an internist’s office with calls meant for the main switch board. Typically phone verification in the LBC does not work for most hospitals due to their PBX’s and receipt of a post card in the right hands is more difficult to come by than single payer health care. The job of the hospital trying to gain control of their listings has often proven nearly impossible.

Given the critical public nature of the service that they provide, sending phone calls off to the wrong department, having the wrong address or phone number for the emergency room can lead to disaster. It points out the social problems that can affect us all when critical public information is left to the devices of an imperfect algorithm.

Historically Google had a dedicated form for hospitals to gain assistance from Google in getting their records squared away but that option had disappeared leaving many with no real solution and Google’s only advice to hospitals being the totally unsatisfactory & pitiful “check your mail system and make sure the mail doesn’t get lost”.

This recent post in the Help Forums captures the essence of the hospital issues:

I didn’t get the postcard… Must change Phone number ASAP!

John at Madigan
9/14/09

I am a systems administrator, and Webmaster for the Madigan Army Medical Center. I have tried to update our Phone Number (the correct number is 253 968-1110 all the other numbers are wrong… there are 3 listed) using the post card option. I did not get the postcard, not absolutely surprising as we are a LARGE facility with over 5000 employees. The phone number option is not viable, as the number listed is incorrect. It goes to our Pain clinic, who is UNINDATED with calls that they have to forward to the main switchboard. I MUST get this number changed IMMEDIATELY. Please Help!

John

It appears that Google, in response to Jeff Wiley of Hospital Bizarro World fame, has begun to formalize a solution not just for him but that will work for every hospital. He (and hopefully all) is being brought into the Bulk Upload Whitelist program. This should offer a real solution to any and every health care facility. From the post:

Hi Jeff,

I have good news. Your LBC account should be active now. I took a look and I suggest you submit a bulk upload for all your hospital listings so you do not have to individually verify each listing. After you create your bulk upload and it complies with our Local Business Center Quality Guidelines then you may submit a request to have it verified and listed on Google Maps by submitting your info here: http://maps.google.com/support/bin/request.py?contact_type=feeds_verify.

Please let me know if you have questions. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Cheers,
Linda

I may be premature on this but Grand Kudos to Google on moving to solve a pressing public safety issue.

For this solution to really work, it needs to be taken to the next level of operational and communication support. Google needs to back up the possibility of white listing with real people to approve the requests in a timely fashion. As long as Google is in the solution mood, lets hope that they communicate the solution broadly and publicly document this possibility so that every hospital can learn of it and take advantage of it. It is of such importance in my book that Google should initiate a focused outreach to every medical facility in the county.

This holds the promise of a great solution to a sticky problem… three cheers!

Google Maps + MickyD’s =s McIrritating

mcdonalds

Google Maps Local Business Center has a few quirks.

One of those is how it handles names with two capital letters. Businesses sometimes spend millions projecting their names and are meticulous about how they appear in any media. It must be discouraging to firms like McAdams Floral in Victoria, TX and McDonald’s that Google Maps does not properly handle their names.

Cathy Rhulloda, of Avante Garden Florals Unique, pointed out this particular quirk and the attendant posts in the forums that is has generated. If a business name has too many caps, the listing will be flagged and put in the queue for a content check. If however it only has one or two caps in unexpected places, like the middle of the word, it will just change the business name to all lower case.

The alternatives are to accept the lower case auto change or to separate the name into two parts. Irish names have this attribute and a certain number of high tech firms do as well. Some of the posts indicated that the problem has been fixed but but it appears that the “feature” is still afflicting some users.

Does Google Maps Discriminate Against Women When Merging Businesses?

I am fascinated by the intersection of Local and our every day lives. The Internet has moved from the era of local questions and world wide answers to the era of local answers to world wide queries.

Google Maps, because of its immense reach, is at the center of this confluence. Real people with real concerns are affected in both positive and not so positive ways by its increasing presence in our daily lives and communities. This confluence is changing how we see the world and interact with our neighbors.

The negative outcomes are highlighted and amplified in the forums. The positive aspects of this change are not so readily obvious as they are buried in folk’s balance sheets or kept as secrets in the unpublished tactics of a Local SEO. But the negatives always intrigue me and include events such as disputes between nearby competitors, thefts, the threat of violence, the possibility of gun use against trespassers and even, apparently, real life confrontations all stemming in one way or another from Google Maps and its consequences “on the ground”.

Often, folks assign malicious intent to Google’s all too impersonal algorithmic way of doing things which they lay at the feet of Google or the competitor or the trespasser. I was cruising the forums where I found this post from Sue, a physician in the UK, who seems to think that Google is discriminating against women:

sue.f 9/10/09

My local listing seems to have been merged with my husbands. He is an osteopath, I am a podiatrist. OK we are married, we live in the same house so have the same home address – this is I suspect not unusual. We have different telephone numbers (although we share a fax number), we work different hours, we see different patients, we do different jobs. We need to be separated again (from a Google point of view that is). We have 2 separate entries in Local Business Center. www.billferguson.co.uk and www.sueferguson.co.uk . At the moment when you search for him you get my website, and when you search for me you get his website. It’s very confusing. If a husband and wife are not allowed 2 local listings then I have to get rid of mine I suppose.
***
All replies
sue.f 9/11/09

Any response from Google?
***
sue.f 4:30 AM 9/12/09

This is just making the Google map search look useless and inaccurate. How can I fix this? This is discrimination. I need an answer – are a husband and wife allowed separate entries and if not why not. What would happen if the husband was a garage mechanic and the wife was a beauty therapist – would they have to share a local/map entry?

It makes it worse that a local competitor has an entry for each therapist and one for the clinic as well giving them masses of local exposure.
***

My answer to Sue: Continue reading Does Google Maps Discriminate Against Women When Merging Businesses?

Google Maps & Categories

As David Mihm pointed out in his recent Search Engine Land article summarizing some of the issues with local categories, there has been a lot of discussion about categorization in Google Maps. A number of suggestions for ways that Google might facilitate SMB interaction with the Local Business Center were offered.

In addition to penalties for businesses using geo phrases in the category fields, Google has made several minor but interesting changes to their categorization feature in the LBC that have flown under the radar for the last month.

Somewhere around mid August, Google started requiring that at least the first field be a category chosen from their drop down list. It will generate an error message if it is not from the list. The remaining four fields may be either suggestions from the list or custom choices. If a custom category is chosen, the user is alerted that it is in fact not a standard category.

categories

The requirement of at least one formal category gives Google a much better idea of the general activities of the business and a clue about classification. It might also give Google a better idea of certain types of spamming. I presume that the custom category alert might force users to take a second look at the standard categories to see if any apply.

Update 9/12/09
One additional category upgrade that I failed to mention is that Google Maps now displays custom category content in the Maps listing. This improved transparency gives all a better of idea what category is being used and if guideline violation is happening. Another positive move by Google ( I have been just gushing lately).

PS I also find it interesting that even this new relatively simple interface can cause legitimate confusion for some people. Here is a posting in the Forums:

Don’t understand error message on business category-
I’m a Long Term Care insurance professional. I selected Long Term Care insurance as a category & received – “Select at least 1 category that matches suggestions as you type”. What does that mean?

Google UK now offering Internet Stats Lite

Ahmed Farooq alerted me to a new featurette of Google UK, a collection of the latest Internet stats. The page offers up a series of factoids gleaned from a number of resources in a “range of topics from macroscopic economic and media trends to how consumer behaviour and technology are changing over time”.

For example under the category Media Consumption: Demographic Usage you can learn:

According to a study done by OTX, 33% of young people (12 – 24 year olds) globally (UK, US, Germany, India and Japan) are contactable at all times, even in their sleep.

I love facts, I am not so sure about facts lite.

Google new Adwords Campaign to small businesses via data obtained from the Local Business Center

My wife’s business, whose business data was not widely distributed across the internet or offline but is in the Local Business Center, has received the following offer in a direct mail piece from Google:

googleadwordspromo

The offer, which drops to $75 after September 30 and expires on November 30th, offers this 6 Step program for her to start an ad campaign:
5easysteps

While Google has promoted AdWords to SMB’s in the past, this piece is clearly targeted at a business whose data came from the Local Business Center. Google Maps and the Local Business Center offers a treasure trove of marketing information that up to now has not been widely used by Google.

In July, Google kicked off their Favorite Places Campaign with an event in San Francisco that featured product demos and speakers to educate smb’s about Maps and Adwords. They also introduced videos and ads that targeted SMBs in an effort to transition them from Maps to Adwords and become paying customers.

The strategy is sound, only impeded by the still immature nature of the Local Business Center. As a first introduction to Google it might scare off more SMB’s than it attracts.

Is Google Maps the Portal to Bizarro World?

Do you remember Bizarro World from Superman?

A Wikipedia refresher: In the Bizarro world of “Htrae” (“Earth” spelled backwards), society is ruled by the Bizarro Code which states “Us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!”. In one episode, for example, a salesman is doing a brisk trade selling Bizarro bonds: “Guaranteed to lose money for you”. Later, the mayor appoints Bizarro No. 1 to investigate a crime, “Because you are stupider than the entire Bizarro police force put together”. This is intended and taken as a great compliment.

My current working theory is that Google Maps is a secret entrance to the Bizarro world of Superman although the bond scenario noted above is spookingly prescient of our world. My thinking here is buttressed by Google Map’s “System Error” message presented to those that have been banned for who knows how long from the Local Business Center for suspected spamming:

System Error
We’re sorry, but we are unable to serve your request at this time. Please try back in a few minutes.

It is one of the most bizarre, perhaps sadistic messages in all computing history. Asking the suspected spammer to check back in a few minutes is a very weird touch.

As further proof that Google Maps is a portal to Bizarro World, I relay this tale that was received yesterday as a comment on my post: System Error, Googlespeak for Banned?
********

Mike, We’ve run into a brick wall with Google. I’ve followed some of your posts and response on the Maps forums and your blog here. I agree with your conclusions on Google’s inane policy of banning. I believe we’ve been banned by this exact “System Error” since February (more than 6 months).

I’ve posted in the Maps help forum and I’ve filed 6 reinclusion requests – pretty much one a month. I’ve never heard anything back from anyone at Google. Our other Google services still work (including our non-profit-status YouTube channel), but we are banned / blocked from the LBC.

We are a regional health system, with 4000+ employees, two hospitals, a third medical campus, and many clinics, departments, facilities, physician practices, services, joint-ventures, medical offices, etc. Our facilities have a wide variety of names, but all are part of our health system.

Most of our facilities are in one of two towns – Town A and Town B. But, we often also have multiple locations for a specific service. For example, our seniors services has a building in Town A near Hospital A, and a second location in Town B in Hospital B. Our Rehabilitation Services has four locations, two stand-alone in Town A, one stand-alone in Town B, and one in Hospital B in Town B.

Because there are multiple services in one building (or campus), many have the same address. But, senior services, birthing services, and volunteers and the charity foundation are all very different entities that are in the same building (or 3-building campus) and the same mailing address. Before we started claiming listings, there were already over 100 listings for all of our services and facilities in Goggle Maps.

However, several were incorrect – wrong phone number, wrong location, old location, no street address (just the town), missing locations, etc. – and there were several duplicates. We don’t use any SEO company or anyone else – it’s just me, a one-man show for our web services. I started claiming all of those listings, which was its own monumental feat. I couldn’t verify most of them by phone, because I couldn’t get to all of those locations and talk to the employee who might answer it first.

We did postcards for most of them, but that took a concerted effort to try to get the mailrooms and all of the locations to forward those to me, as they had no idea what the post cards were. I was trying to clean up and simplify our listings, including removing any duplicates. That worked for a while, and then one day we were banned (I assume) with the “System Error.”

Now, all of those listings are gone and many items have been removed from Maps and I still have a stack of post cards that I’m ready to enter to verify the listings. I’ve read the Business Listing Guidelines several times, and we were not blatantly violating any of those, and none of them intentionally.

But, it’s possible Google thought we were based on their interpretation of our listings, even if their interpretation is wrong (such as multiple locations, as I mentioned above). Any ideas? We’re stuck, and meanwhile there are wrong numbers and addresses out there that patients and the public are calling or visiting, and I can’t do anything to fix it.

Author : Jeff Wiley
E-mail : jgw1 at the following domain – pvhs.org
URL : http://www.pvhs.org

*****

I have no idea whether Jeff has sinned or been sinned against, no idea whether he is caught in Bizarro World or being properly punished for some heinous act.

I do know that he deserves a straight answer from Google as to what he did, what he needs to do to be reinstated and when he might expect that to occur.

I also am of the strongly held belief that Google should be capable of designing error messages that are honest and communicative, messages that are from this world and not from some alternative universe.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search