Carter Maslan comments on the new data rich Desktop for the LBC

Google is formally announcing their data rich Desktop for the LBC this morning. The new LBC view has been visible to a growing number of LBC users over the past week and should be visible to all US listings by Tuesday afternoon. I had some questions about the product and its focus which Carter Maslan, Director of Product Management for Google  Maps took the time to answer.

overview

MB: Please give me an overview of the product and its importance

Carter Maslan (CM): I have this mental image of a little shoe shop owner getting all of this info. Google is making all of this information visible. It is information that has never been visible before. The main thing motivating us, is giving offline businesses the same visibilty to information that you have with online businesses.

MB:What are you calling this new Lcoal Business Center Feature? 

CM:  the Dashboard in the LBC

MB: It is visible as a report in my LBC list view. The interface appears as if it could replace the current list view? Is it going to be the new interface? 

CM: If you are a single verified  business this is the first view that you will see. Right now if you have more than one listing it will be in the list view and will allow you to jump to the data rich view via the View Report Link. Further improvements are going to be made in the interface.

Now instead of the Local Business Center being solely a way to control how a business listing appears, it becomes an information rich source that can support an offline camapign. It will allow the small business to track and correlate offline activities with online behaviors.

MB: What is an impression? It is Just inside Maps or does it reflect Universal Local results as well

CM: An impression is the number of times the business listing appeared as a search result on Google.com search or Google Maps search in a given period.

MB: Initially I see that it is prepopulated with 30 days of data. Any chance of month over month comparison stats after 30 days?

CM: We could change on this but it will start on April 20 or so and go forward so if you look in August you will see accumulated history from that time. There are no plans for a month over month comparison at this time

MB: You have a small graphic indiciation completion level. Is there a guide somewhere that tells what  it takes to get to 100% or is it just populating every field to its maximum IE 10 Photos, 5 videos etc..

CM: We are making a change so that is more specific as to what the % complete indicates. If it isn’t available on rollout it will be available shortly.

MB: Does completion level have any impact outside of a guide to the client? I.E. does it affect standing?

CM: Nothing other than our standard view which is that if you have a complete listing you have a more appealing listing. It does not directly affect ranking. Our view is that the better you, as a business owner, represent yourself the better you able to selected among the choices. Our goal is to try to help the business present themselves in the best light.

MB: Any upgrades to deal automatically with clutter in the LBC? Will the new dashboard allow for easier management?

CM: In terms of the list view, there are no changes in this release. Going forward we’ll continue with the Local Business Center being the primary place where information is provided to Google. The interaction to get to the different views needs to be improved but we have a huge list of things we need to do. We are working as fast as we can in priority order.

MB: None of the “Top Search Queries” reported back include geo modifiers. Is that information not being shown? Or is it that the general terms with the out the geo phrase generates so much more traffic?

CM: Our report just includes the what part of the querie and and we are then summarizing the results with the where part of the querie. So the where part whether implied or stated are noted the same.

MB: I noticed in my test that roughly 20% of my Top Search Queires were “other”. Will we be able to access that information?

CM: “Top Search Queries” is analougus to Trends in that there is a necessity to protect prvacy on the 20% of the low volume searches. It would be too easy to identify individual searchers if we made this information available.

MB: One of the frustrating issues with the LBC is that it does not divulge the complete information that Google might be showing in Maps. I.E. where 3rd or 4th phone numbers are coming from or where a bad fax number is coming from. Are there any plans with your new interface to make that information more transparent?

CM: We are working on that particularly in the case where we know for certain that someone has verified and claimed a listing. We are working on changes that would make it less likely to display a phone number from other sources so that is going to be improved. 

MB: What is the Timeframe for that?

CM: It is a very high priority. We are already doing it to somne extent but we will be getting more strict going forward.

MB: You noted that the dashboard feature will initially be available only in the US. I am getting feedback that it is visible in Canada. Is that the case? When will it be rolled out internationally?

CM: It is based on the location of the lsting not the localtion of the LBC user. So Canadian LBC users can only see US listings in the new view.

MB: What is the timeframe for broader international rollout?

CM: It is a high priority but we have nothing specific to communicate. It will follow as we are able to provide it but there is no timeline to announce at the moment.

MB: What didn’t I ask that you think is significant about this effort or any of your Local efforts?

CM: This is a brand new set of data that hasn’t been visible before and I am eager to see how people actually use it…getting Google visibility and measurablity will offer huge benefits to the small business person.

Google Maps: New data Rich Dashboard in the LBC

Google over the next 48 hours will be rolling our a new analytic feature for the Local Business Center to all U.S. LBC listings. For the first time users of the Local Business Center will have access to detailed information about how their listing is performing in the Universal Local Results on the main results page and in Google Maps.

John Biundo of Stone Temple has done an excellent job describing the intricacies of the new product in his recent post. Here is a screen shot of the new Local Business Center feature:

dashboard

The new vies of the LBC will become the primary view for LBC accounts with single listings. It will be presented as a report in List View to those LBC accounts with more than one listing in the account. Initially it is only available to US users with international rollout time frames to be determined. Of interest is the new Business Listing Guidelines are prominently displayed.

AOL is Now Selling Local 10 Pack Spots

A reader recently pointed out that AOL is now selling all the spots in their “Local 10 Pack” on a CTC and possible PPC basis through YellowPages.com and ServiceMagic. I don’t follow AOL search hat closely so this may have been happening for a while.  

Here are several sample searches:

Attorneys near OleanNY 14760 Local Sponsored Listings

See more local listings near OleanNY 14760 »

******

Auto Repair near OleanNY 14760 Local Sponsored Listings

See more local listings near OleanNY 14760 »

The results are not uniformly bad but particularly on the small town searches above the results are less than acceptable. In the lawyer search none of the results are even remotely local and in the car repair search most of the national franchises are not available in this market. When I searched for Plumber Olean NY, I was given a single plumber located 70 miles away that specialized in water proofing. Not much help if I have a leaky toilet. Searches in more urban areas (see Washington DC Plumber) returned somewhat better but still not stellar results. 

Whether that is a function of lack of inventory or a bad algo is unclear but the results are very unsatisfying. AOL is likely under pressure to monetize their search. It seems to me that doing it with such irrelevant results is a quick, one way ticket to oblivion. 

That being said there are a number of good reasons why a lower volume search engine might want or need to monetize these results. In the absence of an alternative ranking strategy, it is also a strategy that might make perfect sense as alternative to distance ranking in certain market segments (like plumbers) that are not really location based.

Should local listings on general search engines go to the highest bidder? Do you think we will see more of this practice on high volume sites?

Google Maps Guidelines: What has Changed?

Google updated the Maps Listing Guidelines earlier today. It is difficult to understand the differences without a direct comparison to the old guidelines. I have attempted to highlight the changes in italics:

Original Guidelines

New Guidlelines
  Modified Guidelines  
Represent your business exactly as it appears in real life. The name on Google Maps should match the business name, as should the address, phone number and website.   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.
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 or address 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.
List information that provides as direct a path to the business as you can. Given the choice, you may want to list individual location phone numbers over a central phone line, official website pages rather than a directory page, and as exact of an address as you can.   Provide information that best identifies your individual locations and provides users with the most direct path to your business. For example, you should provide individual location phone numbers in place of central phone lines and the precise address for the business in place of broad city names or cross-streets.
Only include listings for businesses that you represent.   Only enter listings for businesses that you own or are explicitly authorized to represent.
Don’t participate in any behavior with the intention or result of listing your business more times than it exists. Service area businesses, for example, should not create a listing for every town they service. Likewise, law firms or doctors should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties.   Create only one listing for each physical location of your business. 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. Likewise, law firms or doctors should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties.
  New  
    Do not attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords into the title field, and do not include phone numbers or URLs in the title along with your proper business name.
    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.
    Provide the one URL that belongs to your business both in terms of the landing page and the displayed URL. Pages that redirect to another domain, or act as "click through" sites may lead to penalization.
    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.

In these new guidelines it appears that Google is making explict more cases of abuse. Obviously affiliate abuse and directories claiming of listings is targeted as well as category spam and title stuffing. It is unclear whether enforcement will be more proactive.

Google Maps: Updated Quality Guidelines for Business Listing

Google rolled out updated quality guidelines today:

Quality Guidelines:

  • Only enter listings for businesses that you own or are explicitly authorized to represent.
  • 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 into the title field, and do not include phone numbers or URLs in the title along with your proper business name.
  • Create only one listing for each physical location of your business. 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. Likewise, law firms or doctors should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties.
  • 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.
  • Provide information that best identifies your individual locations and provides users with the most direct path to your business. For example, you should provide individual location phone numbers in place of central phone lines and the precise address for the business in place of broad city names or cross-streets.
  • Provide the one URL that belongs to your business both in terms of the landing page and the displayed URL. Pages that redirect to another domain, or act as “click through” sites may lead to penalization.
  • 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.

Google Maps offers a New Feature: Easy Stars

Update 5/23: The Easy Stars are now visible in List view as well as Maps view

There is a new interface feature in Google Maps that allows a user to quickly favor a business listing. A user must be logged in and viewing the listings in the Maps view mode where an outlined star will be visible immediately after the business name.

Upon selecting the star it turns yellow and a the starred listing appears in the user’s MyMaps view (thanks to Stever of AxeMedia for the clue). The yellow star also appears on the listing in the main Map viewing area.
stealth-feature

mymapviewThe feature allows a quick and easy way to create a MyMap list of favorite businesses or places in Maps for whatever purpose. Or as Miriam Ellis points out it could also be used to create a list of worsts.

At this point the MyMap is only visible to the logged in user that added the stars but it would be nice if this MyMap’s starred list could used to quickly create sharable public & embedable MyMap.

It is not clear whether the stars impact ranking.

Google Maps, Small Business & Society – who’s crazy?

Is Google “crazy” to handle business listings in Maps the way they do?

A recent poster to the Manic Merging of Business Listings posted the following in regards to Google merging competing businesses:

Google map has merged my clients business listing with his next door neighbor’s business. Now, google map will take visitors to his competitor’s website yet under his business name!

This is crazy, and that they have no easy way to report the problem and fix it is very irresponsible on google’s end. How hard it it to have a system to report and correct mergers?
-Frustrated webmaster

@Frustrated webmaster

I would agree that it appears crazy. And a system to easily report mergers also makes sense. Correcting the mergers makes sense from my point of view, your point of view, the point of view of the local businesses BUT not necessarily from the point of view of Google. Google’s behavior, given their interests, is in fact totally rational. Perhaps not in my best interest, not in the best interest of the typical business, and most importantly perhaps not in the interest of society but rational.

Continue reading Google Maps, Small Business & Society – who’s crazy?

Google Maps LBC Changes & Upgrades

On Monday the Local Business Center was taken down for maintanence and fixes. We know that there has been a decrease in reports of merged business listings (although there are reports of reviews still merging between businesses). It appears that there have been several changes in the phone verification system as well:

-Now the PIN is provided via the verification call and not via the web (thanks to Joseph Magnotti). This changes the flow of the approval process and makes it somewhat more difficult for 3rd parties to involve themselves in the authorization process.

-Apparently the problems of the phone verification system not responding well to 0’s and 1’s may also have been resolved. This has been an on-going problem that particularly affected Canadian users.

Have you found other changes and updates to the Local Business Center? Let me know!

Developing Knowledge about Local Search