Get a keyword stuffed Google Map listing with a virtual office thrown in for free!

Creative abuses of Google Maps for profit always intrigue me and this “ad” is one that certainly wins an award for chutzpah. PanzerMike, never one to let a potential spamming competitor sneak through & frustrated by Google’s spam fighting efforts, sent me this example.
Picture 111

Apparently with the real estate business in a downturn, an enterprising real estate company needs to turn somewhere for new leads.
Picture 113
With a little searching, you can find this Map listing in every major market, each located in a building offering virtual office space. One even offered the space up free for 90 days to the recently unemployed.

The phone numbers listed in the Map’s listings, ring into Anthony & Co. who according to their website are “one of the largest, oldest and most experienced commercial real estate service companies in North Carolina”.

I found these paragraphs from their About Us page rich in irony:

ANTHONY & Co. is recognized by corporate, institutional and individual clients as the “consummate insider,” and now with four locations, ANTHONY & Co. has greater reach to serve you in more local markets.

With timeless values and expert professionalism, we build Real Value and Real Community for local investors and companies. We are pioneers in consulting, development, transaction and management services, applying our knowledge with wisdom to achieve Real Results for our clients.

It seems that in this case, you get a virtual office with a keyword stuffed Google Map listing thrown in for free. Or is it a keyword stuffed Map listing with a virtual office thrown in for free? Leave it to the real estate business to redefine timeless values, expert professionalism and wisdom.

Google Maps LBC Local Listing Ads: Additional Details & Interface Review

The Help Pages for the Local Listing Ads have been “beefed up” and now total 32 pages of instruction with ad policy details, and payment timing and much, much more. Several of the help pages did answer previous questions and provide some nuggets of interest :

Will my monthly fee change?
Your flat monthly fee is unlikely to change. In the event that we need to change it, you’ll be given 30 days notice of this change both via email, and on the homepage of your Local Business Center account

What is call tracking? Is it optional
In order to drive calls to your store and help you keep track of them, Google Local Listing Ads offers free call tracking to all Local Listing Ads advertisers. We will offer each ad listing a unique call tracking number that will forward calls to your listed business phone.

The number of calls you receive is listed in your online report. Additionally, each time a customer calls, you’ll hear a voice announcement – ‘this caller brought to you by Google’- before the call connects. That way, you get a better sense of what kind of customers are being driven to your business by your ad. This can help you make more informed decision about your advertising spend. For now, this call tracking feature is an integral part of Local Listing Ads. We’ll be listening to your feedback on how useful this feature is, and whether or not we should make it optional.

Will my ads show less often as more advertisers join?

Yes. This reflects the fact that as more advertisers sign up for the same business type in your location, on average each advertiser will get less user attention. That said, our team is working on ways to make sure the spread of user attention stays within reasonable range, we’ll update this topic to reflect these.

Brett Burlison, a San Francisco Personal Injury Attorney, agreed to share some screen shots of his Local Listing Ad interface.

In the main list view a third tab has been added that provides access to the Local Listing Ad details. (Click any of the images below to see them larger.) The interface is clean and very easy to use.

google-local-dashboard1

One you have chosen the tab you are brought to a summary page of the ad where you can see the ad statistics and have links to edit the ad or to view the billing history.

Note the low click thru rates…
Continue reading Google Maps LBC Local Listing Ads: Additional Details & Interface Review

Photo Experiment with the iPhone – the path to widespread mobile local adotion

Page Road Early November Snow Fall It snowed again the other day, at the higher elevations that I travel to work. As the sun was rising over the hilltop, the contrasts, lighting and colors were striking and I embarked on an iPhone photo experiment to see how well I could capture the scenes with the low end camera in the phone.

The iPhone 3gs offers some exposure and focus control but a fixed focal length, very wide angle lens. If you want to zoom, in on something, it is a sneaker-zoom option only. The lighting was difficult and varied. That all being said, it can take a pretty good photo.

As mobile computing devices like the iPhone integrate increased functionality and capability, it is not just the laptop, gaming device or the music player that will be replaced. In these photos, I think you can see that it won’t be long before devices like the iPhone seriously impact the low end of the point and shoot photography world. Why carry two, three or four devices when one does good enough on most tasks.

This multifunction ability will allow more folks to experience the local/mobile ecosystem as they consolidate devices and explore the many other capabilities of the devices (and you thought I couldn’t relate this to local. 🙂 )

View the slide show.

What do you think?

Google Changes Guidelines AGAIN!

Stefano Gorgoni has pointed out that Google has once again changed the Business Listing Guidelines as regards to legal business name, switching back to the standard that was in use previously:

Previous Guideline New Guideline
The business name on Google Maps must be your full legal business name. Represent your business exactly as it appears in the offline world. The name on Google Maps should match the business name, as should the address, phone number and website.
Do not attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords or a description of your business into the business name. Do not attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords or a description of your business into the business name.
Do not include phone numbers or URLs in the business name. Do not include phone numbers or URLs in the business name.

Has Google Maps Fixed the OneBox Problem?

Since August, there had been numerous complaints in the forums (here, here, here, here) and in this blog that Google was increasingly presenting the Authoritative OneBox on more general searches that should really be showing the Lucky 7 Pack.

In late September there was an active post in the forum that seemed to coalesce a number of complaints around the issue and posters presented a large number of examples of the OneBox showing inappropriately that Google could examine. On September 30th, Google chimed in and at acknowledged the issue. Numerous examples of the problem continued to surface throughout October.

Well it seems that during the hubbub yesterday about phone numbers, Google seems to have rolled out a tweak that has fixed many of the reported problems. The 3 & Lucky 7 Packs are now showing in place of many of the Authoritative OneBoxes on the general searches given as examples.

I tested 22 of the example searches from the forum post and 15 of those were now presenting the 7-Pack, the 3-pack or no Universal Local Result instead of the OneBox. Of the 7 others that weren’t, 4 were clearly spam and 3 were results that probably should have a Lucky 7 Pack presented. However in those 3 that should be presenting broad results, there is a certain ambiguity in the search due to the similarity between the business name and the search phrase.

Here are several examples from the post of listings still returning the OneBox on what are arguably general searches.

Not Spam:

Pittsburgh Bartending School. (Note that Pittsburgh Bartending Schools though is now returning a 3 Pack.)

Picture 110

Clearly Spammy Business Title:
Continue reading Has Google Maps Fixed the OneBox Problem?

Local Search: News of the Weird

I love the intersection of Map and life and sometimes the things that I read provide a new angle that just wasn’t obvious before.

This recent post in the Google Maps forums raises all sorts of questions. It falls into the category of “no wonder they are getting a divorce”:

Date: October 31, 2009 4:17:25 PM EDT
Subject: I have an ex – wife who is now a business competitor. How can I prevent her from posting fictitious bad reviews
Author: Dream Parties

When a customer googles my company, all reviews are positive, 5 stars. But my ex-wife is now in the same business and has threatened to publish fictitious bad reviews. How can I block all reviews or tell the world that her review is a fraud.

Question from Dream Parties in Maps – How Do I?

So one has to ask a few questions here, no?
– What was the husband at Dream Parties really doing?
– Will ownership of an LBC account someday become a disputed asset in the divorce court? Will we see an LBC custody case?
– What else does she know?
– And who really did write those reviews in the first place?

*********

From the arena of News of the Weird (Corporate version) in the category of “Tim Armstrong has his work cut out for him at AOL”: AOL’s Patch Dumps Google Maps, But Not For MapQuest

After a Spring-time acquisition, AOL’s local news subsidiary Patch finally dumped Google Maps from its homepages today.

But instead of Mapquest, Patch pages feature Open Street Maps.

Can someone explain to me their thinking? Is this what is known as corporate synergies?

Google Maps and PO Boxes – When can they be used?

Updated 11/05/09- Authoritative word on PO Boxes from Joel Headley of Google:

PO Boxes have proven unverifiable and are called out as such.

We’re working on providing the right solution for businesses that need to hide a home address, however.


The poor man’s virtual office, the PO Box, has been singled out in the new Business Listing Guidelines as they relate to your business address:

  • Do not create listings at locations where the business does not physically exist.
  • PO Boxes do not count as physical locations.(italics mine)
  • Do not create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts.
  • Businesses that operate in a service area as opposed to a single location should not create a listing for every city they service. Service area businesses should create one listing for the central office of the business only.

Poster Meleighsmith noted yesterday:

It’s too bad for people who conduct business from a home office that P.O. Boxes can not be used as addresses (I have a client that is a Therapist who does this, and doesn’t want her physical address quite so prominently visible like that). For accuracy’s sake, I think it would be better to use a true P.O. Box rather than a box at a “UPS Store” – at least with a P.O. Box you’re not scamming potential customers.

Miriam Ellis made a similar comment about PO Boxes:

This is a pain in the neck. Google has got to figure out a solution for local businesses with private addresses…remember, 50% of SMBs are run from home.

But is it Google’s intention to totally eliminate their use? I think not. In the case that Meleigh mentions and in the case of service businesses, I believe that the use of PO Box is still considered legitimate as long as you only use it instead of your actual physical address and not as a way to create additional, virtual locations. This paragraph from the recently updated Local Business Center User Guide clarifies the point somewhat:

Every business listing must have a mailing address.
Usually this is the physical address of your business, but certain businesses may wish to use a PO Box. For example, if you wish to keep the physical location of your business private, or if your business provides a service at various locations (like a cleaning service).

Federal Bust of Dependable Locksmith in Florida Strikes at Heart of National Locksmith Scams

Click to View Article & Video

Update 3:30 11/05/09: Glenn Younger of Grah Safe & Lock, forwarded me this piece from the RiverFrontTimes that details the scam and the charges. It’s a great read. A snippet:

The complaint alleges that telephone dispatchers for Dependable Locks were instructed by managers to quote a price of $54 for a car lockout, while the responding technician was instructed by managers to charge up to $179 once services had been provided.

The telephone dispatchers were instructed to misrepresent or understate the possibility of additional charges above the price quoted. The market rate for a standard car lockout is typically about $60. The locksmiths were instructed to charge significantly more than the price quoted, and significantly more than usual market rates. Technicians use techniques such as accusing the consumer who objects to the overcharge of “theft of services,” threatening to call the police, withholding the customer’s keys or driver’s license, or following the customer to an ATM machine to ensure payment.

The locksmith technicians allegedly are allowed to split the profits of the fraudulently procured locksmith services with the company, typically 50/50 or 60/40, and that the technicians are required to remit the company’s share of the proceeds by regularly purchasing and shipping money orders to the Dependable Locks location in Clearwater.

The affidavit states that Eliyahu Barhanun, David Peer and Moshe Aharoni conspired with the managers of Dependable Locks to implement a scheme to procure overcharges for locksmith services.

On November 4th, US Postal Inspectors stormed Dependable Locksmith’s headquarters in Clearwater, Fl. Dependable has been one of the companies frequently mentioned as it related to the national locksmith scams. The raid was coordinated with authorities in Missouri and apparently more arrests are to made. This is the same company that the Missouri Attorney General charged with “deceiving and overcharging customers in Kansas City” in April of this year. Their BBB report includes an F Rating and  numerous complaints and has more the look of a rap sheet than a business review.

Things seem to be looking up in the Locksmith industry and legitimate locksmiths must, for the first time in several years, be seeing a glimmer of hope. It appears that Google is also making progress in their efforts to control and minimize the damage that scammers in this industry have wrought. More on that in a later post.

Local Universal Results Now Showing without Phone Number

Update: 2:00 p.m. 11/05/09: They’re up, they’re down, they’re up again. Phone numbers have returned. Please temporarily store your tin hats.

The local world is buzzing this morning as it appears that Google has removed or perhaps lost the phone numbers from the Local Universal Results. Matt McGee noticed them missing from the Lucky-7 Pack and SEO Book noticed them gone from the Authoritative OneBox. There are also reports of fewer OneBoxes showing in results.

Of interest is that while they are gone from Local Universal results they remain in the Local Listing Ads:

no-phone-except-lla

Did Google misplace phone numbers for every business in the world? Are they planning on rolling out a call tracking system? Or were they just “neatening” up the display along the lines of other recent changes to better display ads? Earlpearl noted in an email: “My first reaction is that removing phone numbers rolls people into more clicks, less phone calls. Possibly a way to hopefully generate more click throughs. Possibly an experiment. Google voice is too new, too experimental to get a big value out of testing that yet, IMHO.”

What do you think is going on?
Continue reading Local Universal Results Now Showing without Phone Number

New Google Maps Business Listing Guidelines – What’s Changed

Google has changed much more than the order of the guidelines with this update. The guidelines are more rigorous and specific than they have been in the past.

I have noted in italics those sections which are completely new.

Previous
Listing Guidelines

Ordered to Match new Guidelines
New
Business
Listing Guidelines
& Order
Ownership
Only enter listings for businesses that you own or are explicitly authorized to represent. Only business owners or authorized representatives may claim their business listings on Google Maps.
Business
Name
Represent your business exactly as it appears in the offline world. The name on Google Maps should match the business name, as should the address, phone number and website. The business name on Google Maps must be your full legal business name.
Do not attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords
into the title field,
Do not attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords or a description of your business into the business name.
and do not include phone numbers or URLs in the title along with your proper business name. Do not include phone numbers or URLs in the business name.
Physical
Location
Provide information that best identifies your individual locations and provides users with the most direct path to your business.
Create only one listing for each physical location of your business. Do not create listings at locations where the business does not physically exist.
PO Boxes do not count as physical locations.
Do not create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts. Do not create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts.
Service area businesses, for example, should not create a listing for every town they service. Businesses that operate in a service area as opposed to a single location should not create a listing for every city they service. Service area businesses should create one listing for the central office of the business only.
Likewise, law firms or doctors should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties. Businesses with special services, such as law firms and doctors, should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties.
the precise address for the business in place of broad city names or cross-streets. The precise address for the business must be provided in place of broad city names or cross-streets.
A property for rent is not considered a place of business. Please create one listing for the central office that processes the rentals.
URL & Phone
For example, you should provide individual location phone numbers in place of central phone lines and the precise address for example you should provide individual location phone numbers in place of central phone lines Provide a phone number that connects to your individual business location as directly as possible. For example, you should provide an individual location phone number in place of a call center.
Provide the one URL that belongs to your business both in terms of the landing page and the displayed URL. Provide one URL that best identifies your individual business location.
Pages that redirect to another domain, or act as “click through” sites may lead to penalization Do not provide phone numbers or URLs that redirect or ‘refer’ users to other landing pages or phone numbers other than those of the actual business.
Custom Attributes & Description
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. 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.
Please see this page of the LBC User Guide for examples of acceptable custom attributes.
Best Practices
Use a shared, business email account, if multiple users will be updating your business listing.
If possible, use an email account with a domain that matches your business URL. For example, if your business website is www.giraffetoys.com, a matching email address would be you@giraffetoys.com.
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.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search