SMX East – Announcing the 2009 Limited Edition SMX East Local T-Shirt

We are announcing, for immediate delivery, the availability of this year’s 2009 Limited* Edition SMX East Local T-Shirt!

The shirt is intended to commenorate David Mihm’s Ultimate Local SEO Vanity Search & raise money for charity. All profits will be donated to Google to hire a customer support representative. 🙂

If for some reason they determine that they are unable to utilize this largess, the profits will go the Mental Health Association of Cattaraugus County to fund the Lee Greene Memorial Scholarship**.

This shirt, available in a limited quantity is tastefully designed with David Mihm’s photo on the upper right crest and captioned:
hire-this-man

Buy now as the supply is limited!

Sizes

On the back of this classic T, done in a tasteful white with a touch of familiar color, we offer David’s tactful & classic answer to this important question:
Continue reading SMX East – Announcing the 2009 Limited Edition SMX East Local T-Shirt

Google Maps: A Near Death Experience – Why did my listing Disappear & My Stats Drop to Zero?

Over the past 48 hours, both personally and in the forums I have seen a large number of inquiries as to why rankings had dropped, why reviews had disappeared, why citations had gone missing, why the LBC had stopped showing stats and impressions had dropped to zero in Google Maps.

From the Forums in just the past 24 hours:

Have I been penalised?

My listing has moved from page 1 to page 14 !

If you edit your business, does it drop out from maps for a while?

The troubleshooting didn’t help with the listing of our business on maps. Help!

listing disappeared?

My listing has disaapeared from Google Maps & has being replaced by my competitor’s from Google Organic lis

I have suddenly stopped coming up in local map – why

This comment posted on a recent post here is typical of these many inquiries: “she disappeared completely as of today, dropping to 21 for interior design”.

Even though I know better, even though I realize that Maps is a work in progress, has a few quirks and is undergoing a major renovation with the implementation of the all new Places pages, alarms still went off  for me when I saw stats on several accounts drop to zero:

Picture 59

As I told several folks yesterday, despite a nagging voice in my head that God Google was somehow punishing me, it was probably just a temporary aberration as Google makes the transition to Places. In the meantime, I said, don’t neglect all of your non-Google on-line marketing that you have in place. Its a good time to send out a newsletter, refine your Barnacle SEO, optimize your website for long tail local searches, contact your email list, update your blog and post to Twitter.

Well late yesterday, things started returning to normal on some listings. Reviews were returning, web references were starting to show up and listings were once again popping into the 10-Pack. It does appear that it was/is a temporary phenomena. My working theory is that Google temporarily rolled back to an older data set as part of the Places upgrade. I think the issue will persist across a range of listings until whatever internal changes Google is making are firmly in place.

Google has wanted small businesses to pay attention to Maps. I am not sure that this Pavlovian response was what they had in mind.

To the many small businesses I say, use this as a wake up call that while Google Maps is an important component of your on-line strategy, it should not be the only component. If you have yet to develop those alternative marketing tactics then, rather than developing a Maps religion, become more agnostic and do it now. Religion in this context does not serve you well.

ZOMG! Google Maps LBC Suspension Message Now in English!

Given how much I have complained about Google Map’s slightly sadistic & wildly misleading suspension message: System Error – We’re sorry, but we are unable to serve your request at this time. Please try back in a few minutes, I don’t know how I missed the recent transition to the new, improved & now easily understood suspension message:

Account Suspended!
Your Local Business Center account has been suspended. Please see the Business Listing Quality Guidelines for more information.

People will still come and complain in the forums, and one never knows whether their protestations are innocent or duplicitous but at least now they have an inkling as to why they are there. I am glad that Google has put in place a more transparent and communicative message.

I am curious though, does the message really include an exclamation point?

Update: Joel Headley of Google noted in his Google reader comments that: “Exclamation point is likely used because it’s shocking these folks thought it would be a good idea to spam”.

Thanks for the answer, inquiring minds wanted to know.

Big Boobs Bounce Back to Top of Google Maps

Recently, Google Maps has been enforcing spam penalties more rigorously. Even Locksmith results seem to be improving.

So it was surprising to see a report in the forums that the Authoritative OneBox was showing for this very broad search for Breast Augmentation New Jersey . Not only was it a single listing on a broad category search which has been a topic of recent concern, it showed for a statewide search phrase.
breast1

What was equally surpising was that this plastic surgeon was also showing a statewide Authoritative One Box results from the same address and phone number for Tummy Tucks & Breast Implants and showing 3 Packs for Liposuction and Abdominoplasty. Upon investigation Dr Racanelli had 5 listngs for his one address and more spam at a second address.

Picture 55

I had not seen this sort of spam since the wild west days of Brain Injured Lawyers in LA last year. Did Google’s spam filters break down or has their OneBox algo gone amuck? Or maybe a West Coast SEO moved east? Who knows but the results are not worthy of Google.

Regardless, clearly it is spam and it is accentuated by the recent trend of displaying the Authoritative OneBox front and center on very broad search terms. This single piece of spam would have been much less offensive if shown in the 10-Pack.
Continue reading Big Boobs Bounce Back to Top of Google Maps

Where Are Google Places Pages Going? To the Index?

Last week when Google Map’s new Place’s pages were introduced it was noted that they were not going to be indexed (there is a great discussion going on at Greg’s blog now) leaving the impression amongst many that they would sit, isolated, in the Maps siloh. They would, it was thought, only be seen to users deep inside of Maps.

Google’s plans seem more ambitious and grand than that. Places pages will, over the next 6 months or so, not only appear across all of Google’s mapping platforms (Google Earth, Mobile and perhaps the iPhone) but they are likely to start appearing in the main search engine results. There they will perhaps push less worthy geo & business brand pages off to the second and third pages of the results, affecting traffic results and business plans for a number of playersPlaces-in-serps.

Peter Wypanski, an SEO in Philadelphia, noted that the Google robots.txt shows a nofollow for Places: Disallow: /places/. Technologist Chris Silver Smith though pointed out on Twitter that a no follow in the “robots.txt doesnt mean Google wont index a page- only that they wont crawl it. Link 2 profile = it’s indexed”.*

And indexed these pages are. If you search on the Burdick Chocolate Cafe Boston, an example that Google disseminated widely during their pre announcement briefings, you will find it on page one of the search results.

Chris Silver added that

“The keyword optimized URLs** appear to be key towards showing the intent: they intend those URLs to be highly friendly, easy for people to send to friends, and they intend the URLs to live for a long while. Very different from URLs we’ve seen heretofore in Google”.

“I think that this is to local what Wikipedia has become for factual information. If you can generate a central page collecting information about every single place in the world, then the world won’t beat a path to your door — you’ll already own the path.”

What are the implications?

Continue reading Where Are Google Places Pages Going? To the Index?

Google Maps UI upgrade: Places page replaces Tabbed Interface

Google Maps is rolling out a new UI upgrade, the “Places” page, worldwide to replace the tabbed interface text view in Maps. The rollout, beginning today, will take place over the next week.

The new interface provides a single page where all information about a “Place” is visible in well, one place. Google has taken all of the information that previously  resided under the tabs plus a range of new information and is presenting it in a single page view. Note for example this Places page for the Verrazano Narrows Bridge contains a SketchUp3D image (lower right).

The upgrade, according to Ron Lior, Maps product manager, not only presents more information about a particular business or place but offers improved internal ranking so that the most relevant information about a Place is displayed.

Not limited to just businesses Google’s vision is somewhat grander. They want to create a Places page for every place in the world (click to see examples), every business, historic site, city, geographic feature, neighborhood and transit point. In the near future real estate listings will also be shown this way. (Note as these roll out, the URL’s may or may not work reliably.) Each “Place” will also have a human readable place identifier in the form: http://maps.google.com/places/us/new-york-city .

I will be writing up a more extensive analysis of the Places Page in a subsequent post.

Those marked in red include new information:

Google Places Page

To see the old tabbed view: Continue reading Google Maps UI upgrade: Places page replaces Tabbed Interface

Is Google Showing the Authoritative OneBox More Often?

One of the less than ideal aspects of Google showing Local Universal results is the display of an Authoritative OneBox for a broad local search like “Las Vegas Computer Repair“.

However,since mid August, there have been a number of reports (here, here, here, here) in both the forums and in communications from Local Search Marketers Dev Basu and Mike Ramsey that Google has been increasingly presenting the Authoritative OneBox on more general searches that until recently showed the 10 Pack.

Google Onebox on General Search

While is it every Local SEO’s desire to achieve this result, it is very frustrating for businesses and searchers alike when a general service + geo search returns a singular result. Businesses that were previously shown in the 10-Pack disappear leaving the business owner wondering why and experiencing a significant drop in exposure and income. The user is left wondering how to get broader results as they are not even given an option to see additional businesses. Inexplicably from a usability point of view, this is a feature that is available with the 10 Pack.

Here is a typical angry, small business response to the phenomena that you see in the forums. Clearly he thinks that Google is on the take or experiencing technical flaws: Continue reading Is Google Showing the Authoritative OneBox More Often?

Google Maps and Hospital Hell Soon Coming to an End? Three Cheers!

Google Maps and the Local Business Center have been hell for hospitals. Virtually everything that could go wrong with Maps has gone wrong when it comes to hospitals getting their many listings correct in the LBC and the Maps index with the technical issues compounded by the lack of customer support. This has been an on-going problem and was first reported as long ago as March, 2007.

That being said it appears that Google is in the process of a formalized solution that could very well solve the problem: hospitals would be come eligible for whitelisting of bulk uploads.

Last week, in my article “Is Google Maps the Portal to Bizarro World?“, I wrote about the difficulties of a hospital being banned while attempting to mange the complex process of getting their many listings squared away. With hospitals, records are merged sending folks to the wrong address for the emergency room or inundating an internist’s office with calls meant for the main switch board. Typically phone verification in the LBC does not work for most hospitals due to their PBX’s and receipt of a post card in the right hands is more difficult to come by than single payer health care. The job of the hospital trying to gain control of their listings has often proven nearly impossible.

Given the critical public nature of the service that they provide, sending phone calls off to the wrong department, having the wrong address or phone number for the emergency room can lead to disaster. It points out the social problems that can affect us all when critical public information is left to the devices of an imperfect algorithm.

Historically Google had a dedicated form for hospitals to gain assistance from Google in getting their records squared away but that option had disappeared leaving many with no real solution and Google’s only advice to hospitals being the totally unsatisfactory & pitiful “check your mail system and make sure the mail doesn’t get lost”.

This recent post in the Help Forums captures the essence of the hospital issues:

I didn’t get the postcard… Must change Phone number ASAP!

John at Madigan
9/14/09

I am a systems administrator, and Webmaster for the Madigan Army Medical Center. I have tried to update our Phone Number (the correct number is 253 968-1110 all the other numbers are wrong… there are 3 listed) using the post card option. I did not get the postcard, not absolutely surprising as we are a LARGE facility with over 5000 employees. The phone number option is not viable, as the number listed is incorrect. It goes to our Pain clinic, who is UNINDATED with calls that they have to forward to the main switchboard. I MUST get this number changed IMMEDIATELY. Please Help!

John

It appears that Google, in response to Jeff Wiley of Hospital Bizarro World fame, has begun to formalize a solution not just for him but that will work for every hospital. He (and hopefully all) is being brought into the Bulk Upload Whitelist program. This should offer a real solution to any and every health care facility. From the post:

Hi Jeff,

I have good news. Your LBC account should be active now. I took a look and I suggest you submit a bulk upload for all your hospital listings so you do not have to individually verify each listing. After you create your bulk upload and it complies with our Local Business Center Quality Guidelines then you may submit a request to have it verified and listed on Google Maps by submitting your info here: http://maps.google.com/support/bin/request.py?contact_type=feeds_verify.

Please let me know if you have questions. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Cheers,
Linda

I may be premature on this but Grand Kudos to Google on moving to solve a pressing public safety issue.

For this solution to really work, it needs to be taken to the next level of operational and communication support. Google needs to back up the possibility of white listing with real people to approve the requests in a timely fashion. As long as Google is in the solution mood, lets hope that they communicate the solution broadly and publicly document this possibility so that every hospital can learn of it and take advantage of it. It is of such importance in my book that Google should initiate a focused outreach to every medical facility in the county.

This holds the promise of a great solution to a sticky problem… three cheers!

Google Maps + MickyD’s =s McIrritating

mcdonalds

Google Maps Local Business Center has a few quirks.

One of those is how it handles names with two capital letters. Businesses sometimes spend millions projecting their names and are meticulous about how they appear in any media. It must be discouraging to firms like McAdams Floral in Victoria, TX and McDonald’s that Google Maps does not properly handle their names.

Cathy Rhulloda, of Avante Garden Florals Unique, pointed out this particular quirk and the attendant posts in the forums that is has generated. If a business name has too many caps, the listing will be flagged and put in the queue for a content check. If however it only has one or two caps in unexpected places, like the middle of the word, it will just change the business name to all lower case.

The alternatives are to accept the lower case auto change or to separate the name into two parts. Irish names have this attribute and a certain number of high tech firms do as well. Some of the posts indicated that the problem has been fixed but but it appears that the “feature” is still afflicting some users.

Does Google Maps Discriminate Against Women When Merging Businesses?

I am fascinated by the intersection of Local and our every day lives. The Internet has moved from the era of local questions and world wide answers to the era of local answers to world wide queries.

Google Maps, because of its immense reach, is at the center of this confluence. Real people with real concerns are affected in both positive and not so positive ways by its increasing presence in our daily lives and communities. This confluence is changing how we see the world and interact with our neighbors.

The negative outcomes are highlighted and amplified in the forums. The positive aspects of this change are not so readily obvious as they are buried in folk’s balance sheets or kept as secrets in the unpublished tactics of a Local SEO. But the negatives always intrigue me and include events such as disputes between nearby competitors, thefts, the threat of violence, the possibility of gun use against trespassers and even, apparently, real life confrontations all stemming in one way or another from Google Maps and its consequences “on the ground”.

Often, folks assign malicious intent to Google’s all too impersonal algorithmic way of doing things which they lay at the feet of Google or the competitor or the trespasser. I was cruising the forums where I found this post from Sue, a physician in the UK, who seems to think that Google is discriminating against women:

sue.f 9/10/09

My local listing seems to have been merged with my husbands. He is an osteopath, I am a podiatrist. OK we are married, we live in the same house so have the same home address – this is I suspect not unusual. We have different telephone numbers (although we share a fax number), we work different hours, we see different patients, we do different jobs. We need to be separated again (from a Google point of view that is). We have 2 separate entries in Local Business Center. www.billferguson.co.uk and www.sueferguson.co.uk . At the moment when you search for him you get my website, and when you search for me you get his website. It’s very confusing. If a husband and wife are not allowed 2 local listings then I have to get rid of mine I suppose.
***
All replies
sue.f 9/11/09

Any response from Google?
***
sue.f 4:30 AM 9/12/09

This is just making the Google map search look useless and inaccurate. How can I fix this? This is discrimination. I need an answer – are a husband and wife allowed separate entries and if not why not. What would happen if the husband was a garage mechanic and the wife was a beauty therapist – would they have to share a local/map entry?

It makes it worse that a local competitor has an entry for each therapist and one for the clinic as well giving them masses of local exposure.
***

My answer to Sue: Continue reading Does Google Maps Discriminate Against Women When Merging Businesses?

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