Google Maps features launched in the last 6 months of 2008

reverse_lookup

Remembering what happened yesterday is difficult let alone what happened last month. Google Maps changes so quickly and the odds of any one person seeing and knowing every change is quite small. The net result is a frequent banter amongst the Localites (David Mihm, Matt McGee, Steve Espinosa, Martijn Beijk, Will Scott, Miriam Ellis etc) about features that one or the other of us have just discovered but may or may not be new.

The most recent such query was: When did Google Maps start showing Reverse business lookup? This feature allows a searcher to type an address and get back a list of all businesses known to Google at that location. For example one could search on the address 101 West 23RD St, New York, NY? to see all of the businesses located in the UPS Store at that location.

I suppose that this feature could be used as a way to ferret out Mapspam or if you were a creative mapspammer you could ferret out hard to discover central locations as the fake location of your business. Do you think that Google will put a double check in on that one?

Google Maps Guide Jade though, has made our primary game of stump the local chump less challenging by publishing a relatively complete list of all Map features launched in the last 6 months:
Continue reading Google Maps features launched in the last 6 months of 2008

Local in a Ford Near You

As the pricing for GPS and computer chips drop we have seen computers moving into a range of new situations from TV boxes to your iPod. The capability is now moving into automobiles as well and in this context, Local makes lots of sense. Ford is at the forefront of making this technology widely available in its cars with its Sync technology.

David Berkowitz of Clicktoday did a recent interview with Doug VanDagens of Ford Motor Company. It is clear that Ford has made a commitment to making this technology available in every vehicle at a very low price. Just bring your own voice plan. From the interview:

David Berkowitz: Good, thanks? Do you just want to share what you’re doing?

DV: ….What we’re announcing here at the show is an ability to connect to the internet through a normal voice plan. So all you need is your phone, and we can take Sync through Bluetooth, connect to your phone, connect out to Tellme, which is a voice portal – a best in class voice portal, and Microsoft now owns those assets. From there we can direct you to a number of Internet data sources. We can send the GPS information from the vehicle, we can send health report diagnostic information over your voice plan, and then we have traffic, directions, business search, and information, all internet-based.

DB: This seems unusual to me at least. I don’t follow the automotive industry that closely, but it seems that when a new feature comes out, it’s on your premium model.

DV: Correct. So when we first introduced Sync, we introduced it on the Focus, and the young people loved it, right? It’s a connection to an MP3 player, hands-free cellular calling. This is the same thing. It’s free on every one of our vehicles. There’s another automaker that announced some services similar to this, but it’s only available on their high-end luxury cars. This service is going to be available on every one of our vehicles, free for three years.

You’ll have access to the internet information. You can personalize it. If you want news you can go in and say “I want technology news,” “I want business news.” It’ll be read to you. You can get sports, news, weather. Later this year we’re going to introduce movies and stock prices.

You can get navigation information, so you can go out and say, “Find me the closest Starbucks,” and it will go out, based on your location, and find the closest Starbucks to you, analyze the traffic conditions, tell you how to get there the fasest way, and download the directions to your car. The call will end, and now you’ll get turn-by-turn directions. It will say, “Turn right at 200 yards,” “Turn right now,” it will take you anywhere you want to go. It will do business search – you can get the phone number, and all of this is free for three years.

DB: Does this work in conjunction with GPS or more as a replacement?

DV: We’ve added GPS in all of our vehicles. Starting in January, all of our new vehicles will have GPS. So we send the location from the car so we know where you’re at. You can say things like, “Search nearby,” and they’ll find anything that you want nearby. You can do a business search, you can do it by category, you can do it by actual business name, by proximity. So you can say, “Find me an Italian restaurant.”

It will not be long before it will become necessary to optimize your site for viewing at 65 mph while heading down the highway in search of the perfect pizza parlor. Ford, the strongest of the US automakers, has over the past few years been improving their quality and unlike Chrysler or GM, actually leading for a change.

Sign me up!

Local AdWord ads now more integrated with Maps

On Tuesday, Google announced that Adwords displayed in Maps would not open to an info window that “will feature new interactive links that are designed to connect users to your business quickly”. Currently the new adwords info bubbles are only showing in the Map View.

new_adwords_display

Note that the ads at the bottom of the Map are still present and could very well be for a different business.

According to the Adwords Blog: “Previously, a click on your ad’s info window could only take the user to your website. Now, users will be able to interact with the info window to get the information they’re looking for about your business, right away. The new links include “Get Directions,” “Street View” (where available), and “Save to My Maps.” Shortly after we implement these links, we’ll also add a “Send” link, allowing the user to send your business info to their phone or email. Users will still be able to click through to your site if they wish — the info window simply offers additional free functionality.”

Currently the new adwords info bubbles are only showing in the Map View. It appears that the ads also are somewhat more prominently displayed in Text View (the view first seen when entering Maps via the Local 10 Pack) but when clicking on the ad icon, it still takes the user directly to the website of the advertiser rather than the info window. TextView upgrades in Maps typically lag behind Mapview.

The implementation seems consistent with the way that adwords are integrated into organic search although due to the more graphic, less wordy, nature of maps, they are more visually obvious. The increased integration of Adwords into Maps makes sense on a number of levels.

At this point, Maps traffic is but a small % of total search traffic so this change is unlikely to set the world on fire. However as search moves over to mobile in which the map is likely to be the dominant search interface, that will change.

One has to wonder though whether the prominent display of phone number might divert the user from a website click to a phone call, thus diverting income from Google as well. Google would be well served to offer call tracking to Adwords as an option in this context.

Google Groups for Maps Moved to new Forum Platform

As noted several weeks ago, Google Groups for Maps was being moved to new Forum Platform. That switch has now taken place. From the Lat Long Blog:

Our Google Map Help Group now has a new home! You may have already heard of (or tried out) the new Google Help Forums. Today, our Google Maps Help Group will be moving to this new platform.

The help forum is still an area for users to come together to discuss and share their knowledge of Google Maps and the Local Business Center – only now it has a new look. It’s integrated with our help center, which makes it even easier to jump into the forum while you’re browsing the help center. You can search for content across both the forum and help center articles as well.

The “help” link in the Local Business Center goes to the help center where they are offered a choice of going to the new Maps Help Forum. This integration and new layout should make the forum easier to find from the LBC.

Loci 2008 – The Year in Local Search

With Miriam’s article, Loci 2008 is now at an end.

To (in order of appearance): Matt Cutts, Matt McGee, David, Mihm, Greg Sterling, Will Scott, Andrew Shotland, Michael Jensen, Martijn Beijk, Jen Chin (aka Mapsguide Jen), Ahmed Farooq, Rand Fishkin & Miriam Ellis: Thanks!

I have really enjoyed the many contributions highlighting 2008 in local search. The process has been fun and informative. It has provided an incredible range and depth of articles from an incredible range and depth of people.

For those of you that have missed some of these articles you may read them here. For those of you that follow local closely, you will find some gems. For those of you that don’t and want an overview of an exciting year, it’s all there.

 

loci with pronunciations

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

Locai 2008- Miriam Ellis – Most Important Search Pieces in 2008

Miriam Ellis, along with her husband, operates  Solas Web Design, a web design & local seo company focusing on the small business marketplace. She writes frequently on small business issues at her blog, SEO Igloo. When she isn’t writing on her blog or commenting here, you will also find her guest blogging, moderating  and writing at: Search Engine Guide, Cre8tive Flow, 14th Colony and The Conscientious Home. Dang, no wonder I have never met her in person. :)

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Here we go, Mike:

In my opinion, these are the two most important local search pieces published in 2008:

http://blumenthals.com/blog/2008/08/04/ranking-factors-in-google-maps-cracking-the-code-smx-local/

http://www.davidmihm.com/local-search-ranking-factors.shtml

These two articles stand out in my mind as having been especially engaging:

http://blumenthals.com/blog/2008/09/18/google-maps-widespread-hijacking-of-business-listings-confirmed/

http://searchengineland.com/a-small-business-marketing-success-story-john-tuggle-guitar-teacher-13746

I know there are a ton of other articles I’ve really enjoyed, but my memory tends to hinge more on writers I’ve come to admire, rather than on specific pieces they’ve published. Over time, I’ve learned which authors publish work that most appeals to me, and I return to them again and again. 

I will read anything written by you, Mike, by Greg Sterling, David Mihm or Matt McGee. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Martijn Beijk a bit this year. I’m excited about Matt’s hyperlocal blog and have closely followed the Local and Small is Beautiful columns at Search Engine Land in 2008. 

What I would love to see in 2009 is a focus from some of these great folks on how-to local articles and further case studies of successful small businesses. These are the topics that engage my interest most and I’ll put anyone in my feedreader who is writing about them!

Miriam Ellis

Loci 2008 – Rand Fishkin – The year in Local 2008

Rand Fishkin , of SEOMoz, needs no introduction from me. Here are his favorites: *** Sure – here goes:

Hope that helps! Rand

LBC Workaround to ‘Flagged waiting for content check’ bug?

There has been a long standing “feature” in the Local Business Center where certain listings would be ‘Flagged waiting for content check’. There have been numerous inquiries into the support forums but often with no word from Google as to what the problem was or how to solve it. For example, one post started in August, had no comment from Google after 38 comments with some as recent as December.

Ken O’Connor of MapMyBusiness.com seems to have found a work around for the persistent bug and (dare I say) lack of customer support response to a recent post again reporting the problem:

Hi, regarding ‘Flagged waiting for content check’.

Sorry for the long reply, which first explains the problem, and then the process you must use to solve it.

I have successfully used this process for many clients. It has also worked for a number of members of this group.

THE PROBLEM:
1. Your listing will only be marked as ‘Flagged waiting for content check’ if it contains a word or term that Google does not like.
2. Google personnel do not appear to ever perform content checks – so YOU must correct the problem.
3. The offending word can appear anywhere in the listing. I have found and corrected instances within categories, the description box, business names etc.
4. I have found no pattern to the words or terms that cause problems so prepare to be ‘surprised’.
5. When you have removed the offending word or term, and RESUBMITTED, our listing will change to ‘Awaiting next update’. Unfortunately it can remain in this state indefinitely. However, when your listing
changes to ‘awaiting next update’, it means that you have removed the
offending word(s) or term(s).

THE SOLUTION:
Use the process below to correct your problem:
1. Take a copy of your current details (e.g. copy a screen shot into a word document).
2. Remove information ONE PIECE at a time, and RESUBMIT your listing to determine if you have located the offending item. e.g. Remove your description, then RESUBMIT to see if the status changes to ‘Awaiting next update’
3. When you have identified the offending word, or words, you may start to REENTER the information you removed. Be aware that there might be more than one offending word or term in your listing. When you have reentered all of your information, you can be confident that there are no prohibited terms in your listing.
5. You must now create a completely new version of your listing. Be careful – use the exact same terms that PASSED the content check.

When you validate your new listing, it should go active immediately I hope this works for you, Rgds Ken

I suspect that the workaround does in fact often succeed although I have not had a need to test it myself. I would love feedback from others that have success with it.

However, while the workaround does succeed, the cause might be different than Ken posits. We are unlikely to know without a chime in from Google or some more testing. It might be based on some database limit in addition to a limit on certain words.

In the past, there has been an error state incurred in the posting of an LBC record when field length or the total words in several fields exceeded some arbitrary database field or design limit. I suspect, but am not positive, that this might be the case here. That might explain the apparent randomness of Ken’s solution.

Loci 2008: Ahmed Farooq

Ahmed Farooq is the founder of iBegin.com. He has created, sold and recreated significant local web properties several times over. I communicate almost daily with him about his and my activities and I have found no one to have a better handle on the technical and social issues that confront local nor a better idea on how to build honest businesses within the space. From where I sit, his youthful influence and creative vision makes him the person to watch in the coming years. He writes at his blog, Tech Soapbox.
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No particular order.

1. http://www.davidmihm.com/local-search-ranking-factors.shtml – All in all, one of the best articles to start at with local search. Any time a friend asks for help in local search – this is what they get.

2. http://www.davidmihm.com/blog/general-marketing/local-seo-citation-is-new-link/ – After they are done with the previous link, this is what they get next. I think it really sums up local optimization – get cited and you will succeed.

3. http://blumenthals.com/blog/2008/10/30/microsofts-listing-in-google-maps-hijacked-oops-by-me/ – As a company, my thinking seems to be going towards the popular grain (no longer a fan of reviews or most UGC). Mike found an excellent example on how UGC is far from perfect.

4. http://blumenthals.com/blog/2008/08/04/ranking-factors-in-google-maps-cracking-the-code-smx-local/ – I’m fully expecting Mike to make this a bi-annual-updated presentation

5. http://gesterling.wordpress.com/2007/10/16/no-yelpers-says-one-local-cafe/ – I absolutely stole this off of Greg’s list, but it kind of underlines what I was trying to say with Mike’s hijacking of MS. It became even more pertinent after the entire Proposition 8 skirmish on Yelp (and I actually agreed with Yelp removing those reviews).

6. The various posts on Google Mapspam. What makes it sad is that the payday spam is still there – hell, one of the businesses listed for ‘cash advance new york city’ is a parking page!

7. http://blumenthals.com/blog/2008/12/16/in-the-trenches-the-reality-of-smb-marketing-bruces-sew-handy-interview/ – kind of smacks the DIYers (of which I am one of) in the head.

8. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/22/business/media/22carr.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&partner=rss&emc=rss&adxnnlx=1229965464-/0AeK+vUHW2muJIXWmFHcA – I really like this one – kind of about focusing on your strength, not your weakness.

9. http://gesterling.wordpress.com/2008/12/09/google-lbrr-going-out-of-business/ + http://www.smallbusinesssem.com/google-local-business-referrals-is-shutting-down/1377/ – I’m surprised no one mentioned this. It was a potential black eye for Google, but every one seemed to have moved on quickly about it.

10. http://www.localseoguide.com/botw-local-greg-hartnett-interview/ – the established SEOed sites are coming. Trust me, I know. Prepare for local data dilution like you could have never imagined :)

11. No story specifically, but where-o-where are Yahoo and MSN? I think Yahoo’s accomplishment in local this year was releasing data by a company they bought out.

12. http://blumenthals.com/blog/2008/12/17/merchant-circle-has-trouble-getting-it-right/ + http://blumenthals.com/blog/2009/01/09/why-google-has-trouble-getting-it-right/ – MerchantCircle and Google (!) start astroturfing on blogs. Mike is pretty tech-savvy and keeps a keen eye on commentators – how many other blogs have been hit by such comments? It kind of speaks for how big online local is becoming when people start pull such behaviour.

Loci 2008 – Maps Guide Jen shares highlights of 2008

The inestimable Maps Guide Jen, Google Map’s not very public face, has agreed to share her highlight in Local from 2008. If I were Google, I would turn Jen loose to be their voice in Local. 

*****

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share some picks for 2008. Matt did a great job weighing in on some of our spam fighting efforts, and pointing out articles like Danny Sullivan’s and your own posts on “Google Local Business Hijacking” and “Google Maps Hijacked.” These efforts certainly remain high in priority, as you’ll see within the list below, but I’ve also included some particularly relevant articles that speak to the successes of Google Maps last year. 

1. Spammers Hijack Top Florist Google Local Listings – Cathy, FlowerChat (September 13, 2008)

Prior to this post, we’d seen spam restricted mostly to small-batch, low visibility businesses. Cathy’s alarm really exemplified the extent to which spam had begun to affect the lives of major business owners. 

2. Google Local Business Center adds custom category selection – Erik Larkin, PC World (April 15, 2008)

Custom categories were a huge win for business owners with Local Business Center listings. We saw many debates over category selection and display; this change significantly curtailed concerns over categories.

3. Evaluating Google’s Response to Maps Spam reports – David Mihm, Sphnn (September 11, 2008)

We loved to see this public analysis of our own spam fighting efforts. We recognize that what we’re doing may not always be prominent, so we really enjoyed seeing the results of our efforts from David’s perspective.

4. My experience using Google Local during a Medical Emergency – Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo Blog (November 4, 2008)

Miriam’s great, well-reasoned perspective showed us the perception of community edits in the SEO community. From later correspondence, we also recognized a few places to bump up the prominence of our contact forms, and display more information on how community edits affect the Maps index.

5. Google hobbyists put ‘paan’ vendor on the map - Samsanth Subramanian, livemint.com (October 16, 2008)

By featuring a couple enthusiastic users who are making a big impact through Map Maker, this article talks about how  the wiki model for maps in India is working.

6. Local Business Center Update – New Interface & Features – Mike Blumenthal, Understanding Google Maps… (June 13, 2008)

This redesign cleaned up our interface to make it faster and easier for business owners to create, verify and edit their listings. We found that the changes cut down on a lot of confusion over verification, and how clicking on various buttons/links would affect a listing. As a result we saw a decrease in complaints about those processes.

7. Report Spam on Google Maps – Maps Guides & Google Users (July 10, 2008)

This isn’t really an article, but we’ve found it incredibly useful to have this thread where the public could see and respond to spam reports. We understand the scope of what users are concerned about, where the definitions of spam become fuzzy, and how spam reports change in nature as we filter out types of spam. 

 

Honorary Mentions:

8. Google Maps and YP – Comparing Oranges To…Tangerines – Miriam Ellis, Solas Web Design  (July 17, 2008)

9. What is a Legitimate Review? – Greg Sterling, Screenwerk (August 7, 2008)

10. Local Users Bill of Rights – Mike Blumenthal, Understanding Google Maps & Yahoo Local Search (June 7, 2008)

Developing Knowledge about Local Search