Twitter and Me


The two Davids, among others, have been encouraging me to join the Twitter community and I have done so, with some trepidation, under the user name @mblumenthal.

Who do you follow in the Local space and why? What kinds of information do you find most valuable?

Margaret Shulock publishes her comics individually and as one of the SixChix, a group of 6 women that write a single comic strip that is syndicated by Kings Feature. She lives down the road and the above cartoon was used with her permission. You can read more about her work at the SixChix Blog.

Google Maps: Category Mapspam

category-spam2Google recently revised their listing guidelines for Maps. They specifically added several sections on appropriate category use.

Why? Well because while you and I are stressing over the details like legitimate business naming practices to comply with the guidelines, the spammers long ago went after the long tail of category search very aggressively to maximize ranking benefit. Here are the specific sections of the new Google Listing Guidelines relating to categories:

When entering categories, use only those that directly describe your business. Do not submit related categories that do not define your business. For example, a taxi company might properly categorize itself as “Airport Transportation”, but it would be inaccurate to also use the category “Airport”.

Also, please use each category field to enter a single category. Do not list multiple categories or keywords in one field.

Use the description and custom attribute fields to include additional information about your listing. This type of content should never appear in your business’s title, address or category fields.

If you look at the search results in Maps (Clean Hotels NY NY) to the left you will see that most listings seemed to have engaged in some form of category abuse.

The “Chem-Dry Cleaners” results provide an incredible visual of field stuffing. Obviously the field length limits are quite high and while it should be easy to recognize the stuffing upon data entry in the LBC, Google seems to have not yet done so.

One can presume that the “Good Hotel” folks, listing spam in its own right from affiliate spammers, have used the phrase “clean hotel” as a category. 

To a large extent category spam has flown under the radar as it is usually the out of sight, out of mind kind of spam and it  is a little harder to spot by someone without more access to the index.

Why Google shows some category listings and not always others is not totally clear. It seems that the category information shows up when the algo is not positive that the result belongs in the result due to the ambiguity of search intent.

Reputation Management and Local Name Changes

abbevilleMuch has been written about reputation management in the Local arena that focuses on tracking internet wide mentions of your company and dealing with negative reviews. As Miriam Ellis points out, communication with the unhappy party can go a long way towards resolving many  online reputation issues.

But what if you are unable to track the negative change and unable to find or communicate with the unhappy “soul” who is responsible?

Since Google has opened up Maps to community edits there is a new reputation management risk that is very hard to track, community edit company name changes. In November of 2008 I noted in When will Maps Edit Wars go Postal?

When will politics enter the wiki world of Google Maps hijacking? In the not too distant future, the next frontier for use of the Maps community edit feature could very well be as a virtual reflection of real politics. The disputes of the world often shift to the internet as the broad reach of the platform creates opportunity for widespread impact and the anonminity provides cover to the perpetrators.

This post in the forum lead me to realize that that the capability to affect reputation in Maps has become grass roots and is now reaching into the deepest corners of the country.

Continue reading Reputation Management and Local Name Changes

What is Location Prominence?

click for a slideshow on Location Prominence

In the local space a number of us have reported on and studied factors that affect ranking in Google Maps. One factor that has been difficult for us to qualify, much less quantify, is that of “Location Prominence.”
In the organic world all are familiar with the concept of PageRank, a reiterative view of the web that ranks a website based on the strength of the links coming into a site. Google wanted to fundamentally change how local had been done in the 2004-5 timeframe and looked to create a similar system to evaluate and rank business listings in the Maps index. Whereas PageRank is a heuristic number used to rank websites, in the system that Google engineers came up with, they termed the analogous collection of Local data points the “Location Prominence Score” to rank local business listings.
In some ways it is perhaps a more robust deployment of the PageRank concept into the geo spatial world of business listings. It seems to embrace all that PageRank was intended to be, and added a significant component of geo references to the mix. PageRank scores commonly available today represent a general indication of the strength of website. The Location Prominence Score, if we could see its value, of a business listing would probably provide a similar insight as it relates to that listing.

For those of you that have not read the patent here is a salient summary of the concept from the conclusion of Google’s patent filing on Scoring local search results based on location prominence. Here is a relevant description of Location Prominence from the patent filing:

Further, it has been described that a location prominence score may be generated based on a set of factors that includes one or more of the following factors: a score associated with an authoritative document, the total number of documents referring to a business associated with the document, the highest score of documents referring to the business, the number of documents with reviews of the business, and the number of information documents that mention the business. In another implementation, the set of factors may include additional or different factors. Continue reading What is Location Prominence?

Google Maps offers up new Logo

How do you know that you have been looking at Maps too long? When you wake up one morning fire up your screen, head on over to Maps and you notice that something just doesn’t feel right.

Well sometime just before falling off to sleep it came to me, the logo was new. Not exactly sure when the logo change occurred but the print and mail links were also removed from the deep list view of the business as well.



The send option is visible in the Maps view and (who knows when they added this feature) and offers the ability to send one or all of the results from a search.


Google adds Smart Navigation to Streetview

I have always found StreetView very cool but very frustrating due to the infinite time spent navigating the view. Google has introduced an upgrade that now makes it much more usable. From the Lat-Long Blog announcing the upgrade:

Today, we are really excited to introduce a new mode of navigation which liberates you from the road arrows and gets you where you want to go in just a few clicks. You can now use Street View’s smart navigation to travel to a new place just by double clicking on the place or object you would like to see. We have been able to accomplish this by making a compact representation of the building facade and road geometry for all the Street View panoramas using laser point clouds and differences between consecutive pictures.

As you move your mouse within Street View, you’ll notice that the cursor now has lightly-shaded geometry attached to it – it will show an oval when your mouse is following a road and a rectangle when moving across the facades of buildings. We affectionately refer to this cursor geometry as the “pancake” because it has the appearance of a pancake laying flat to the object where the mouse is pointing. By giving you a sense of depth,it makes the flat image almost feel three-dimensional!

Here is a vide that describes the new feature:

Take a tour of the street of the Frank Llyod Wright designed Martin Darwin House in Buffalo to see how it works:

View Larger Map

Google Maps now offering a Whitelist Bulk Upload Beta for the LBC?

Google has apparently introduced a new service – a Google Whitelist Feeds Beta that allows for information from trusted bulk feeds to be automatically verified.

I had been hearing about a Local Business Center data feed that offered whitelisting and automatic verification from several sources. I have been unable to get confirmation from Google that the service existed but did see this comment by someone apparently participating in the beta. I also recently received this copy of an email invitation from Google to join the program. The other details provided by the correspondent left me confident about the likely authenticity of this communication.

Dear Google Partner,

Being on the Local Business Center (LBC) Whitelist is a way for you to help business listings be accurate on Google Maps. To be whitelisted, you agree to follow the terms of service for Google Maps, as well as the additional terms set forth below. You understand that your LBC listings may be removed from Google products and services, and your user account for the Local Business Center may be terminated if the Google Maps team determines you have not followed these terms. To agree to these terms, please respond to this email, typing the sentence “I agree” in your reply.

Accurate, Specific Data

You agree to provide accurate data for any business listing you submit. The information you supply for each listing must be the undisputed, authoritative, current facts that are specific to that particular business location. For example, provide the primary direct local phone number specific to that business location for th listing rather than a number that serves many locations. Likewise, make the home page the primary web site of the particular business location you submit.

Primary Source

By submitting a business listing to the Local Business Center, you represent that you have the express consent from that business to act as the primary source of business listings data supplied to Google Maps. In obtaining that consent, you also represent that you’ve notified the business that listings on Google Maps are free via Google’s Local Business Center, and that a business may add a listing without working throug an agent or whitelisted partner.

No Spam

You will not engage in deceptive or manipulative behavior intended to game search result ranking.

Thank You,

The Google Maps Team

Last year Carer Maslan spoke of an agency program that would facilitate larger scale interaction with the Local Business Center. Obviously the bulk uploads as they were originally construed led to spam and have been devalued as a source for trusted information. This beta appears to be a response to both the need for facilitating bulk updating of listings as well as guaranteeing better control over the quality of listings. If anyone has more information on the program I would love to hear about it.

Google Clarifies Guidelines on Business Titles for Maps Listing

This post appeared yesterday in the Maps Help Forums in response to my poll and poll results as to how one should name a business for Maps:

Since we rolled out the most recent set of Local Business Center Quality Guidelines, we’ve seen a number of questions about which business titles are appropriate, and which are not. I hope this post will help clarify some of the confusion.

Our current guidelines state: “Represent your business exactly as it appears in the offline world. The name on Google Maps should match the business name.”

A recent post from Mike Blumenthal polled a number of different amalgamations of one business title, with the following results:

A. “Jones Brothers – Dallas Plumbing and Heating” unofficial name with tag line on web & literature
B. “Jones Brothers” official name
C. “Jones Brothers – Plumbing and Heating” unofficial name on website & literature
D. “Jones Brothers – Plumbing and Heating” has a DBA or fictitious name filing
E. “Jones Brothers – Dallas Plumbing & Heating – Air conditioning, Emergency Repairs, Hot Water Heaters” unofficial name with tag line on web & literature

Of all the above choices, the ONLY acceptable one is the one labeled official name (Jones Brothers).

You could, of course change the title of your business, as we’ve known a couple business owners to do. You could officially become “Jones Brothers – Dallas Plumbing and Heating.” If another user flags your listings for violating our guidelines however, we should be able to verify this name change.

So where should the words “Plumbing and Heating” go? You should add them as a category.

Maps Guide Jen

Verification Pin or Pain? Does Phone Verification Work for You?

Recently David Mihm had a very insightful piece on problems with Google Maps, quality, security, complexity and the LBC. One of his criticisms revolved around the phone verification process. He noted:

As if the verification process weren’t cumbersome enough, the exact “flow” of Google’s automated phone message leaves many business owners thinking “What do I do next?”  I haven’t helped a client claim a listing since Google changed PIN entry from touchtone to web last week, but prior to that shift, it was a very poorly constructed message which ended without any confirmation that it had actually worked.  

Another issue–what about phone numbers that ring to an automated central answering center, as in “Thank you for calling Joe’s Plumbing.  Press 1 for Joe, 2 for Sally, 3 for Irene,” etc.?   There’s no reason for that business to have to fight through the postcard verification process.

I would love to hear your experiences and frustrations with the PIN system both old and new. Here is a report back from Joan Van Hilten an operations manager working with Map listings with her details of trying to get pin approval under the new method.

Hi – Well so far I’m batting 500 ( I think that’s the right terminology)  I’ve tried unsuccessfully 4 times to use the new and improved PIN verification process. ….

Continue reading Verification Pin or Pain? Does Phone Verification Work for You?

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