Google Maps adds Comment/Review Posting Policy

Review spam in Google Maps has been a problem since reviews started being accepted by Google. There has always been a link to tag the review as inappropriate but no clear indication of what was and what was not acceptable nor when or how a review would be removed. Google has at least dealt with the first issue.

They recently (exactly how recent in unclear) have created a specific Comment Posting Policy that delineates specific review practices that are prohibited:

Please follow these policies when making a comment: 

  • Don’t spam or post fake reviews intended to boost or lower ratings.
  • Don’t post or link to content that is sexually explicit or contains profanity.
  • Don’t post or link to content that is abusive or hateful or threatens or harasses others.
  • Don’t post or or link to any file that contains viruses, corrupted files, “Trojan Horses,” or any other contaminating or destructive features that may damage someone else’s computer.
  • Don’t post any material that violates the copyrights or other intellectual property rights of others.
  • Don’t impersonate any person, or falsely state or otherwise misrepresent your affiliation with a person or entity.
  • Don’t violate any other applicable law or regulation.
  • Don’t use comments as a forum for advertisement.

Google notes that they “reserve the right to review and remove commentary that violates our policies”.

Reviews are potentially a positive contributor to a consumers understanding of local information. However, often in the context of Maps, where a Local 10 Pack ranking is so valuable, they have taken on a life of their own that is often unrelated to an actual review process and has everything to do with maximizing a business’s presence. This has led to inflated, business generated reviews as well as wildly inpappropriate reviews. Creating clear posting guidelines is a first, positive step in making the process and product functional.

However Google has a way to go to make reviews really work. Google has two issues in this regard that I have noted previously. Firstly, their scraping and updating of reviews has a very long and unpredictable update cycle. At best, if a review is removed from CitySearch it will be gone from Google in 6 to 8 weeks. But that is a best case scenario and that is not always the case.

Secondly, on Google generated reviews the only review removal request option is a community feature allowing a review to be flagged as inappropriate. There is no indication that Google even looks at this community input on a reliable basis. If they do, there is no feedback to the harmed business. There are no clear guidelines nor consistent action to indicate which reviews, if any, will be taken down.

The suggestion I made in September of last year still would be appropriate and that would be to implement review transparency in the Google review system by turning the Local Business Center into a relationship management tool and show the business owner EVERY review that you have in your index whether scraped or Google entered. Show us which ones are in our Maps listing and let us respond directly to those folks that created the review in Google. If we flag an inappropriate review from within the LBC, guarantee some sort of review process and a timeframe. And provide a response, even if automated!

Review spam and review policy are but once aspect of the review situation at Google. Miriam Ellis has a new post on the many oddities she has confronted in Google’s handling of reviews.

10 Pack Update affects Mom & Pop’s, McDonald’s, Marketers, MC & Mapqust

mcdonalds
Update:: Google Confirms 10 Pack Expansion

Google’s newest showing of Local results on non geo modified phrases will dramatically enhance the role of local data and of branded local data in search. Its impact will be felt every where from the local dentist to the largest retail brands in the US. It offers up the prospect of modifying the behaviors of businesses, searchers and search marketers alike.

From Mumbai to Missoula, from Mom and Pop’s to McDonald’s, from soccer moms to search mavens, from Mapspammers & Merchant Circle to Mapquest, all are going to feel the affect of Google’s recent increase in showing Local results to non geo targeted, but locally relevant phrases.

Yesterday as news of the development spread, local search writers noted the significance of the increased role that local would play in search with descriptions like game changer, large implications, welcome development, reflects real user intent:
Continue reading 10 Pack Update affects Mom & Pop’s, McDonald’s, Marketers, MC & Mapqust

Google Maps: Whitehouse Listing most recent Hijack Victim

For a brief period earlier in the week, the White House listing in Maps was hijacked by a blackhat locksmith. The hijacking, consistent with previous mapjackings, was reported to me by the locksmith “deepthroat” that previously reported the Maps hijacking technique. It was quickly returned to its normal community editable condition by Google.

whitehouse hijacked

In related news, O’Reilly fan PanzerMike, has reported the Obama Whitehouse for Mapspamming for multiple listings at one address and keyword stuffing to achieve higher ranking in Maps. According to PanzerMike: “Its not fair that first every lawyer in LA but me can Map spam and now Democrats can too!”

Google had no comment to these reports.

whitehouse-keyword-stuffing

Google Maps now showing Local 10 Pack on Broad Non Geo Phrase Searches

Google is now showing the Local 10 Pack on broad single phrase searches with obvious local intent (nods to Florist SEO Watch who spotted this on Saturday and Cathy Rhulloda for pointing it out) without geo modifiers. In US searches, the Local 10 Pack appears on phrases such as
plumber
locksmith
dentist
lawyer
doctor
used car
florist
health food
computer repair

but currently not on the phrases new cars, web design or apartment rental. It is not clear how many and which phrases are being used but they are more common than not. The results appear to be using Google’s IP geotargeting and present regardless of browser type or whether the user is logged in. For me, the default results offered are in Buffalo, NY, over 70 miles away but there is an option to change location.

dentist

Continue reading Google Maps now showing Local 10 Pack on Broad Non Geo Phrase Searches

Google Maps: What might customer service look like?

Over a year ago I compared Google Maps to Yahoo Local in the nature of their communication upon listing a business in the respective services. I praised Yahoo for proactive, if automated, communications and followup. Yahoo, in contrast to Google, made the signup process seem like not walking off of a cliff in the dark. More importantly than the specifics of the process, Yahoo made me feel good about the process with minimal effort on their part. Communication like this improves the buy in process prior to a problem. Customer service on the other hand is an improved communication after the problem inevitably occurs.

I just recently switched my home accounting on Quicken from a very old OS 9 Macintosh Quicken to a newer version on OS X. My customer service interaction with Intuit was exemplary without ever speaking with a customer service rep and it drove home for me why Google’s current model for customer service fails and how they could improve it.

What might Google Maps customer service look like if Google were to get serious about it? How would I feel if they were to do it right?

Google has a very thorough reputation management methodology. They actively scour the web, blogs, forums and every other kind of possible on line resource for problems with their products. This process is automated and the issues found are apparently categorized and ranked. In the case of Google Maps, if a  specific problem is being widely discussed across the web and involves a specific bad record or set of records (think mapspam), it seems the Google staff are authorized to hand jigger the results so that better results are shown and that specific record repaired or removed. If the problem is serious enough, it might also be passed to the Maps group for review and possible future change of way the results are presented. It works great at capping the damage of high profile problems and it provides a long term feed loop to improve the product. Great as far as it goes.

Reputation management however is not customer service. Only high profile problems are solved and only after they become big problems. By only focusing on these high profile problems, many legitimate questions go unanswered leaving many folks with a feeling that Google just doesn’t care. At its best, good customer service is a process that takes that potentially huge problem and turns it into a positive to cement a long term relationship. It is a way of acknowledging the customer’s humanity.

Google’s single customer service option, if you are a business or user, for getting an answer to your problem is to post to the Google Maps forums. These are unmoderated forums and once again it feels like a step off of that very steep cliff. Google Guides might read all of the posts but actually respond to very few, relying instead on volunteers to answer the question if it gets answered at all. Some of the volunteers are authorized to bring high profile problems to Google’s direct attention. (Nothing like shifting costs…)

Thus Google Map’s customer service is a very hit and miss proposition. By the time a small business owner makes it to the forums they are already frustrated and when they find such spotty service, they often go “postal” (is there a maps equivalent of postal?). Google Maps is becoming known for sub optimal customer service and the forums are a veritable breeding ground of discontent

It doesn’t need to be this way. I think that the model of customer support provided by Intuit for Quicken points the way. But before I get to that lets look at how big the support problem is. Being immersed in the “bad results” I often get a distorted view of the reality. I see mostly egregious examples and I, and most people, tend to extrapolate that more widely than is justified. I read the group postings every day and the influx seems overwhelming. The reality? Let’s take a look.

To get a sense of the total number of problems reported I looked at the number of original postings in the three groups where problems and questions with Maps are dealt with since the new forums were rolled out in Mid January. On average there were 53 postings per day. Over time, they add up to many unhappy customers if they go unanswered. I suppose that there could be more postings if Google highlighted access but it would still be a manageable daily number.

Number of Posts Reporting Problems, Daily Average Jan Feb Mar
For Business Owners 10 9 9
Problems and Errors 26 25 27
How Do I? 19 17 17
Daily Total 55 51 53

So given the small scale of the problem why is Google unable to allocate the resources to provide customer service? Who knows? (see Greg’s post for a possible cause)?

Could it be fixed? Yes and here is where the Intuit Quicken solution comes in.
Continue reading Google Maps: What might customer service look like?

Google Maps Interface Tweak

Google Maps has made a small change in the interface (thanks to ever observant LA Florist, Cathy Rulloda) removing the obvious links to toggle between Maps View (seen when entering via Maps link) and Text View (seen when entering via a Universal Local Result). The change, one of many since the August Blue Line role out, is one more step in simplifying the Maps interface and integrating the Maps and Business Listing views.

Screen shot from 3/23/09:

before

In the new view, one simply selects the expand or contract arrows to move from one view to the other.

Screen shot from 3/24/09:

after

Google Maps: Telephone validation not working properly in Canada?

Google Map’s LBC phone validation system has been quirky (also see the old help group) over the years, working for many but failing unpredictably for some. It won’t work with a PBX system and seems to have other limitations but a recent post in the Google Help Fourms seems to indicate that currently, for whatever reason, it just isn’t working that well in Canada.

In a protracted post that started in late January, a number of posters  have experienced problems with the system not responding to the phone input. The one common factor between many of the posters is that they reside in Canada. Google, despite there having been 25 replies to this post, has yet to respond in the forum. 

Google is the only one that knows when the phone verification system works and when it doesn’t. My suggestion would be to catalog those instances where it is known not to work and detail that information in the help files. It makes more sense than folks sitting in the forums stewing about Google’s lack of customer service. From one of the posts:

I am sick and tired of this nonsense with verification: phone verification does not work, if you are lucky and the system accepts the 1 key then you can’t type the pin code. If you try the SMS then you see the first number of the verification code. THIS IS A JOKE!!

Local Links of Interest

Leveraging Small Business Customer Reviews and Testimonials Online – Steven Brier

Great summary of all the reasons customer testimonials should be an integrated part of your customer relations strategy and how to make it so.

Microsoft GeoSynth to take on Google Street View – Stuart Miles, PocketLint.com

Although not due to be launched until later in the year, this appears to be a story about vaporware but it is cool none the less. Virtual Earth utilizes some impressive technology and when combined with Photosynth could offer some intriguing possibilities as an alternative to StreetView.

Called GeoSynth, the service will be based on the company’s PhotoSynth technology and takes into account geographical data within images.

Users will be able to upload geotagged images into a central database to help build detailed larger images of a given landmark in a similar way to how the company’s PhotoSynth software works.

Three-Quarters of the World’s Messages Sent by Mobile

 – eMarketer.com

It gives a sense of just how big the mobile world is if 3/4’s of the world’s digital messages (including spam?) are sent via mobile.

Twitter & Local: NPR reports that Tweeting Food Truck Draws L.A.’s Hungry Crowds

Today on NPR’s morning edition they aired a nearly 4 minute piece about a chef that has built a loyal, local following from his truck using Twitter.

On a recent evening, hundreds of people stood in line in L.A.’s Little Tokyo neighborhood to try the much-heralded tacos. Chuck Chun, who drove in from Orange County, waited an hour and a half to place his order for $26 worth of food.

Chun found the truck with the help of a tool that has become the necessity of any serious foodie these days — a Twitter account.

“You’ve got to go on Twitter to get the most up-to-date news on what kind of specials they have that day or where they are,” Chun explains. “They actually got here late — that’s what they announced on their Twitter.”

It’s so 2009: Customers instantly know where the truck is, even if actually getting the food takes hours.

Mario Duarte also located the truck using Twitter……

[Choi] credits a large degree of Kogi’s success to hiring a new-media consultant who helped spread the word of Kogi virally.

“As a chef, I always think it’s the food, but I think without Twitter it wouldn’t be anything,” Choi says, “because I could have made these tacos, but I would have had no one to sell them to.”

Kogi not only has over 8,000 followers on Twitter, it has customers so loyal they’ve created YouTube tributes and a song (“Ode to Kogi”) on MySpace.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search