Loci 2009: Bill Slawski’s Important Patents of 2009

Here are links to 10 posts I wrote this year about things that I found in patents and white papers from the search engines. I’ve included links to the patent filings and whitepapers as well, and included the date that each post was published in parentheses after the links to those posts.

I broke them down into the following categories:

– Local Intent in Search
– Ambiguous Locations
– Synergy Between Local and Mobile
– Sentiment Analysis in Local Reviews

I tried to include a short introduction to each section as well, to provide an idea of why I thought those were important.

Bill
*****

Local Intent in Search

On December 15th of this year, Yahoo started showing Yahoo local results within organic search results for query terms that they thought might have a local intent, even when that query didn’t have a geographic term included with it, according to a Yahoo blog post, Get More Personally Relevant Results When You Search for Local Businesses.

I noticed patent filings from Google and Yahoo, and a Yahoo whitepaper over the course of the year that gave us some hints on how each of the search engines might determine whether there might be a local intent in a query that doesn’t include a location. That kind of local intent associated with a query might trigger the appearance of local search results in organic web searches. Understanding why a query might be determined to have a local intent, without a location, has been helpful.

1. Google Local Search, Categories, and the What and Where of Local Map Listings (April 21st, 2009)

Google patent filing – Interpreting Local Search Queries

2. How a Search Engine Might Determine Whether a Search Involves a Geographical Intent (May 18th, 2009)

Yahoo whitepaper – Discovering Usersí Specific Geo Intention in Web Search (pdf)

3. How Search Engines Might Divine the Intent behind Regional Queries vs. Global Queries (December 14th, 2009)

Yahoo patent filing – Identifying Regional Sensitive Queries in Web Search

Ambiguous Locations

When a local search contains some ambiguous geographic information such as a landmark or area name such as “Space Needle” or “Times Square,” instead of an actual street, city, or state name, it might attempt to associate that limited geographical information with an actual location. People do search for hotels or restaurants or other types of businesses near landmarks. I wrote about a Google patent filing that explained how they might keep track of this information, and score locations when there is more than one landmark or area with the same name (such as “Times Square”). This was also the first place I had seen Google mention that they might include user-added data such as “my maps” submissions to help index what might be found at different locations.

1. Google Geocoding, Ambiguous Locations, and My Maps Submitted Data (July 13th, 2009)

Google patent filing – Geocoding Multi-Feature Addresses

Synergy Between Local and Mobile

In addition to announcing the launch of Google Latitude in February of 2009, Google Maps Navigation for Android in October of 2009, and the release of an official Google phone early next year, Google started taking some other steps that draw mobile phones and local search closer together.

Three Google patent applications published this year describe how barcodes in business windows can be used to help you learn more about a business, how mobile phone cameras may be used with product search and may use GPS to let you look at the online catalogs for stores you are presently shopping within, and how you can rate local businesses by phone while you’re still shopping.

If you’re following local search but skimming past information about tie-ins with mobile devices, you’re missing out on a very important element of local search.

1. Google Barcodes and Place Rank Transforming Local Search (December 10th, 2009)

Google patent filing – Machine-Readable Representation of Geographic Information

2. How Google Might Let you Shop by Camera Phone (December 28th, 2009)

Google patent filing – Image Capture for Purchases

3. Google Approach to Making Online Ratings Easier… (October 2nd, 2009)

Google patent filing – Ratings Using Machine-Readable Representations

Sentiment Analysis in Local Reviews

Google held their second annual Searchology event in May of 2009, and part of the big news was the addition of some “smart snippets” in search results that could contain things like ratings for restaurants. Another major announcement was the addition of sentiment analyis in reviews shown to searchers, in a new options section that provides reviews, and within the reviews that are shown in local search. Three Google patent filings published this year, and a Google White paper from 2008 provided some possible insights into how Google goes about understanding the sentiment of content found in reviews, how it might address sentiment in other domains, and how it might rate raters.

1. Opinion Summaries in Google Maps Reviews (August 4th, 2009)

Google patent filng – Aspect-Based Sentiment Summarization

2. Google’s New Review Search Option and Sentiment Analysis (June 12th, 2009)

Google White paper – Building a Sentiment Summarizer for Local Service Reviews (pdf),

Google Patent filing – Domain-Specific Sentiment Classification

3. How Google May Rate Raters (June 15th, 2009)

Google patent filing – Rating Raters

Bill’s bio if you want to know more about him:
Continue reading Loci 2009: Bill Slawski’s Important Patents of 2009

Coming Soon: Click-to-Call in Ads on Mobile Devices with Google AdWords

I just received this email from Google:

Coming Soon: Click-to-Call in Ads on Mobile Devices with Google AdWords

Dear AdWords Advertiser,

We’re pleased to announce that beginning in January, your location-specific business phone number will display alongside your destination url in ads that appear on high-end mobile devices. Users will be able to click-to-call your business just as easily as they click to visit your website.

How will phone numbers appear in my ads?

Based on the customer’s geographic location, the phone number and closest business address will appear as a fifth line of ad text when the ad appears on mobile devices with full HTML browsers (e.g. iPhone, Android, Palm WebOS).

Where will I be able to see the results?

At launch, you’ll be able to view calls from your ads on your Campaign Summary page within AdWords from the “click type” segment option under the “Filter and Views” drop down.

How will I be charged for phone calls I get from my ad?

The cost of a click to call your business will be the same as the cost of a click to visit your website.

What actions should I take?

If you’d like your ads to show location-specific phone numbers when displayed on mobile devices, make sure that your campaign is targeting iPhones and other mobile devices with full HTML browsers, and that you have included phone numbers with your business addresses in the locations under your Campaign settings.
If you would prefer your ads not show phone numbers, simply remove the location extensions from your ad campaigns or un-check mobile devices under the Campaign Settings tab.

We hope this new feature enables you to connect more easily with your potential customers. If you have any questions or feedback, please email us at ctc-feedback@google.com.

Sincerely,

The Google AdWords Team

Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043

Loci 2009 – Important Articles in Local Search

loci with pronunciations

1. Particular postions, points or places
2. Centers of activity, attention, or concentration

Each year, I invite folks whose opinion I respect to provide the readers of this blog with lists of the articles from 2009 that seemed most important to them. The people contributing come from a range of positions and job descriptions, some will be familiar to you and others not. All have one thing in common; they have something to say about local that is worth listening to.

Here is the charge that I gave them: Would you be willing to share the 3,5 or 10 articles/ideas/links that influenced your thinking or actions the most over the past year? The articles could be yours, or from others and could cover any topic that you think relates to Local ie local mobile, phones, mapping, Local VC, Local companies, Google, trends, marketing, best practices etc….but articles that you found of importance in one way or another throughout the year.

I will be running lists from Bill Slawski, David Mihm, Seb Provencher, Matt McGee, Martijn Beijk, Daniel Tunkelang, Mike Dobson, Gib Olander, Lisa Barone and more.

Stop back over the next 10 days to welcome their many voices.

Google Maps & Web Designers: Salt in the Wounds

With the recent brouhaha over the missing 7 packs for SEO and Web Designers due to “lack of local intent” on the part of searchers, you would think that Google would have the common sense not to rub salt in the wounds. Well, you would have thought wrong.

Whether by intent or accident, Google is still showing an Adwords campaign when a user searches on the phrase “web design + city” that offers up (of all things) a free Places page as a solution to the query:

I am no Adwords expert, nor do I know the rules by which Google decides to run their own ads vs. those of paying customers. However in this particular campaign, ads always appear as the first ad in the upper right corner of the main search results page, big city or small, US or Canada. It is hard for me to imagine how an ad for a Places page would have a very high quality score on this particular search.

To say the least, I have always thought that Google lacked a certain finesse in their PR moves in Maps. They seem to possess a veritable tin ear when it comes to interacting with the local web design and search industries that serve SMBs and as Miriam so eloquently points out, it must be baffling for any SMB attempting to interact with them.

Regardless of the reasons that Google pulled the 7-pack for those in web design and marketing, this ad ends up looking like Google is the beach bully attempting to kick sand in everyone else’s face. There has to be a better way to market the Local Business Center.

Google to SEO’s, Designers & Advertising Agents: You are Off the Map!

Yesterday, Google’s Joel H has definitively confirmed that, at least in the whole of the US, Canada & the UK, they are no longer showing the 7 Pack on queries for Web Designers, Graphic Design, SEOs or Advertising Agents when paired with the City & ST.

According to Google, the searches lack sufficient local intent and their being missing is by design not by mistake. What strikes an odd chord for me though is that these very same queries, when paired with cities in Australia, China, Russia, Mexico and Hong Kong, do return the 7-Pack.

Today, we’re intentionally showing less local results for web design / SEO queries. For example, [web design sacramento] doesn’t display local listings today. We believe this is an accurate representation of user intent. In some cases, we do show local listings, however (as NSNA/php-er noted) [web design in bellingham]. I’m sure some of you feel we should be displaying local results for queries like [Web Design Vancouver]. I understand that concern, but based on our understanding of our users, we feel this is the right decision for now.

The issue has been in evidence since early November and had been noted in both the map and webmaster forums (here, here, here & here) as well as in a previous post on this blog.

On November 11, when Google initially responded publicly to the issue, they indicated that the missing 7 Paks was the flip side of the OneBox frequency problem that they had just fixed. Google employee Brian B posted:

This looks like it’s closely related to the issue going on at the thread I’ve linked below. We realize there’s something going on here, and we initially pushed out a fix a while back. There was a little hiccup with the fix, which is probably why the results in Fresno may have gone back up and then back down as addoctane mentioned above.

The team is working on this issue. Stay tuned to the thread below where I will post an update as soon as I hear one.

However, on 12/14 Google Employee Brian noted in a different thread than above:

That said, it looks like a lot of the recent search examples on this thread have to do with web design, SEO, and other services of that sort. It’s possible that instead of being related to the original issue, Google.com doesn’t bring up map results for these types of searches because the search term doesn’t show much local intent. In other words, there’s not enough local information in the query for Google to trigger maps results on Google.com. Searches for the same terms on maps.google.com, however, do bring up results.

The situation brings up more than one question…
Continue reading Google to SEO’s, Designers & Advertising Agents: You are Off the Map!

Google Maps Adds New “Report A Problem” Link for Business Listing Spam & Errors

Google has recently added a “Report A Problem” Link for reporting business Listing spam & errors from within Maps. The link is available via the business listing info bubble where once you select “Edit” you are presented with a “Report A Problem” link that takes you to a short form.

According to Google Guide Cecelia this “is the best way to report spam because it gives us the most information possible. Our team can see which specific listing has an issue, whereas the form only asks for a URL. Sometimes these URLs are broken or people forget to add them”.

The current mapspam reporting form is still available but apparently, over time this new feedback mechanism will replace the mapspam reporting form in an effort to bring “the report closer to the product”.

The feature is mostly available in all countries which have the community edit feature. Although not all countries so noted in the chart as having community edits have the report a problem feature. In Canada is available on main Map listing view near the bottom and is only available on those listings that have already been claimed. Additionally, in the US only, a user report can be filed against an already claimed listing.

Maps Guide Cecelia noted that the “time frame [for spam removal] most likely varies based on the number of reports we receive”. Spam removal has been a point of frustration for many SMBs as Google has been more likely to use the information for algo tweaks than to remove the offending spam. This is a practice that often leaves egregious spam in place for months on end with no indication when if ever action would be taken.

Most Read Stories of 2009

2009 has been an exciting year of growth for local and for my blog. To all of those many folks world wide that have regularly contributed to the conversation and my learning I say THANK YOU!

Here are the 10 Most Read Stories of 2009 (in order of total pageviews):

1. Google replaces TeleAtlas data in the US with Google data
2. Tracking Local Search Traffic with Analytics (Thanks to Martijn Beijk!)
3. Google Maps Proves more Locksmiths in NYC than Cabbies
4. Where are Google Places Pages going? To the Index?
5. Google Maps vs Locksmiths Spammers – Spammers winning?
6. Big boobs bounce back to Top of Google Maps
7. Google Maps now showing Local 10 pack on Broad non Geo phrase searches
8. Google Maps – How to Remove Duplicate Records in the Local Business Center
9. Google Maps – Merging Mania Due to Algo Change
10. Why the Google Local Business Center Fails

The 5 Most Read Stories from the Back Library:

1. Ranking Factors in Google Maps – Cracking the Code @ SMX Local
2. Google Maps still loading slow – try html
3. List of Google Maps Categories
4. Microsoft’s listing in Google Maps Hijacked – (Oops by Me)
5. Google Maps New Local 10 pack Now Live

Google Mapping Tool Availability Matrix

Barry Schwartz has pointed out that last week, Google Maps added a chart showing which Google Maps services were available in which country. Maps is a global product that is offered in 200 some odd countries and there are a range of features available depending on licensing and data availability. Thus the matrix is incredibly complex.

From this graphic display of the variation in tools one can infer some of the support, licensing and development difficulties in providing a mapping tool world wide. Obviously in some countries there is no digital data of the roads and no lists for the businesses. If there is, the use of the data may be constrained by licensing issues. Here is a brief summary of the features available in a range of developed and 3rd world countries:

Country

Local Business
Center

Community Edits

My Maps

Map Maker

Building Maker

Argentina

X

Edit only

X

X

Australia

X

X

X

Brazil

X


Belgium

X

X

X


Brussels

Canada

X

Add only

X

2 Cities

Denmark

X

Add only

X


Copenhagen

France

X

X

X


2 Cities

Germany

X

X

X


3 Cities

Italy

X

X


Venice

Guinea-Bissau

X

X

Kenya

X

X

X

Sao Tome and Principe

X

X

Senegal

X

X

Seychelles

X

X

Somalia

X

X

South Africa

X

Edit only

X

United Kingdom

X

Add Only

X


2 cities

United States

X

X

X


26 Cities

Who gets the Traffic in the Local Space

The year has been an interesting one. The recent conversation of a possible acquisition of Yelp by Google motivated me to create this chart comparing traffic for the larger sites in the Local arena.

The year started with Craig’s List and Mapquest holding a small lead over Google Maps. Citysearch held a solid fourth and Yelp rapidly bringing up the rear. But the rapid growth of Maps and Yelp, the steady decline of Mapquest and CitySearch has created a significant change in standings:

maps-google-com-craigslist-org_uv_1y

Picture 8

There are a million ways to look at who has done what in local and this is but one. Here is the URL for the Compete charts. Head on over and add your own favorite local site to see how it has fared and let me know.

When you look at these numbers, it makes the now off Yelp-Google combo look like a market dominating matchup.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search