Time to refine the Local 10 Pack?

One long standing complaint about the Local 10-Pack has been that on certain searches it returns multiple results for the same company.

In July of 2008, Eric Enge interviewed Carter Maslan, Director of Product Management for Google Maps. In the interview he asked Carter whether it was appropriate to have single company dominate the listings such as on the search Public Storage San Jose CA:

Eric Enge:…See how 8 of them are from one vendor, and the information presented for each of their entries is identical?

Carter Maslan: Yes, in that case, even though there is nothing inherently wrong with a single business ranking prominently in the top results, we are working to modify the way we handle cases like that. The challenge spans multiple areas around the quality of the data, the way we index it, the way we score it, and the way we present the UI in showing it.

So we are working on variations on ways to handle those cases better, but that’s not to say that there’s something inherently wrong with one business having a prominent presence in the top ten.

There must not have been much wrong with the listings…now 10 out of the 10 listings are from one vendor:

public_storage_san_jose2
I am as big of a fan of a good algorithm as the next person but if a disparity of knowledge in the market place allows this sort of manipulation then something is not right with the algo. The challenge may “span multiple areas around the quality of the data…” but it is time (past?) for the “variations on ways to handle those cases better” to be rolled out.

Local SEO Tip: Google Maps loves Panoramio’s Geotagged Images

If “citations” are the new link than it appears that georeferences are the new citation.

Geotagging of photos, a common georeferenced data type, is gradually making its way into the mainstream. There has been a clear and steady integration of the technology into consumer products and a growing consumer awareness of the feature. Android and iPhone now automatically geocode images and iPhoto has recently been upgraded to include the ability to geocode photos. This all is making it easier for end users to learn about and implement geotagging in their personal workflow.

In a late 2006 piece, When will GeoCoding impact Local Search? I noted that it might be 5 years before geotagging of images was widely adopted throughout the marketplace and it had significant impact on local search. We are definitely well along that path.

Flickr and Panoramio have long had the capacity to geotag and display these images in a mapping context. The use of georeferenced data sets is rapidly increasing across the Internet and particularly within Google products. Google Maps added the capability to show geotagged photos in a given area. Google has added geotagging to Blogger and Maps has long been indexing KML files & the related photos for georeferences. Clearly Google Maps & Earth like end user generated georeferenced data and photos.

Now however, business listings within Google Maps are boldly showing geotagged images within the User Content area of the listing. It appears that Google Map’s actually loves geotagged photos when they come from Panoramio and there is every reason to believe that it is helpful in Maps ranking.

deer_park_nursing_home
 
Having an image like the above included in your business listing at Google involves a few simple steps:
Continue reading Local SEO Tip: Google Maps loves Panoramio’s Geotagged Images

IYP Directory Scam Alert: MoreYP.com – More YellowPages, Inc

I received not one but three calls during the last week of January asking to confirm my listing for the Yellow Pages. Each time, the call attendant would assure me that I was NOT approving any charges as they talked over a computer response system. On the third call, I asked why they needed to call me 3 times and the Supervisor noted that the two previous attendants were not as experienced as he…(now I know at what). Apparently on the their third attempt, I did, unwittingly, approve a $39.95 charge to my monthly phone bill. I just received the written confirmation in the mail today.

For my (unauthorized) $39.95/mo here is what I get:
Online Internet Yellow Page Listings – your business will be listed in over 40 directories
Enhanced Listing – Nation Online take your basic listing and supercharges it.
Search Engine Submission – As part of our program we submit your Website (or our local profile page…) to over 35 major search engines…
Local Listing Portal – Easily update your internet Yellow Page listing in minutes with our secure online link. …

Their local Better Business Bureau offers up a rating of D on MoreYP.com – More YellowPages, Inc with this report:

Complaint Experience

Our file contains a pattern of complaints from consumers who allege they were contacted by this company and told “we are updating our records for the Yellow pages, and need to verify we have the correct information” Consumers state they were led to believe they were talking to thier current Yellow Page provider and were just verifying the address. During the verification process consumers state they can hear a recording in the background that they are unable to understand. Consumers state they are then charged an additional fee on their phone bill of $39.95, which they did not approve. The company responds to complaints by cancelling their agreement or an explanation of their sales process.

Well More YellowPages, Inc is nothing if not persistent. I guess you need to be if your business plan is predicated on this premise.

In the Trenches Of Local: SF Florist’s Maps Listing Goes Missing

Update 2/10/2009: The records returned to some state of normalcy. Since 7:00 am EST (and it is now 3:00 pm) the record is visible and working properly. Would love to hear from Maps Guide Jen where this puppy went. :)

Update 2/9/2009 1:30 EST: Whoaah….hold on there partner. Save the kudos for later. The record for Podesta Baldocchi seems to be disappearing once again! The correct listing currently has disappeared from Maps again. If you select the reviews link for Podesta in the listing returned on the search Flowers SF, CA in the Local 10-Pack it doesn’t take you to a Maps listing. My conclusion: Valentine gremlins have made their way into the Google index.

Update 2/7/09: During the night the primary listing for Podesta Baldocchi Flowers has returned to the index with reviews and Local 10 Pack placement intact.

I first met Marc Rovetti of Podesta Baldocchi Flowers, San Francisco in the aftermath of the Google Map’s florist hijackings last September. He runs one of the most respected floral shops in the Bay Area.

Recently, there have been a few reports in the Google Maps Help Forums of records going missing in the Maps index. When Marc emailed me several days ago with this problem, I took notice. His record has completely disappeared from Maps and thus from the Local 10 Pack. Given that the biggest flower shopping season is shortly upon us, Marc wondered if anything could be done. Given Google’s lack of customer service, I had to respond that his only choice was to post in the Help Forum and even though I am not religious, to pray. Neither has worked and it once again demonstrates the power that Google wields and the impact that it has on our everyday lives.

This issue speaks to the question that Marty Himmelstein has been addressing at Screenworks about the need for a factual content layer in Local. It also speaks to the need for more customer service options and accountability on the part of Google.

Here is a recent interview with Marc of Podesta Baldolcchi Flowers:

MB: Tell us about your business in San Franciso….how long have you been at your current location?

Marc: We have been in business in San Francisco continuously since 1871 and have been at our current location since 2001. Our most well known location in SF was 224 Grant Avenue where we were featured in Hitchcock’s Vertigo 1958.

MB: How did you learn about your Google Local Business Listing?

Marc: I learned about Google Local Business Listing from a florist friend of mine in San Francisco. We signed up a few years back have always been listed in the 10 pack usually around c and d.

MB: Do you do much on-line marketing besides Google Local? If so where and how?

Marc: We do use Yahoo and CitySearch ( Yelp until recently) for exposure to other veins of potential clients. We also market back to our clients via email.

MB: When did you notice the Local 10 pack and Maps record had gone missing?

Marc: After we experienced the floral hijacking a few months ago I check the 10 pack each morning as well as the listings below them by typing in “flowers San Francisco” The listing completely disappeared on Wednesday February 4th, 2009. I am not sure if it was there on Tuesday afternoon. We are however listing below the 10 pack (in the main search results) as I can see our website etc… This shows one or two placements below the 10 pack on a regular basis and hardly ever moves.

MB: What percentage of your business do you estimate that you get from your Local 10 Pack listing?

Marc: We get about 30% of our business from the 10 pack listing. It might actually be more but this is a fair estimate.

MB: Are you familiar with Adwords? do you use them?

Marc: Yes, I am familiar with ad words and we do use them. We could do a better job and this is always a work in progress. I fully understand the importance of being proactive and vigilant about the internet and being such a well known entity having online exposure with Google is essential for our clients to find us. We have long since dropped our print advertising as our clients use the web.

MB: Do you have a backup plan?

Marc: We have, because of the nature of the economy, already battened down the hatches. We have not replaced employees as they departed and we have a great repeat business from our traditional customers. We are glad to not have all our eggs in one basket.

MB: Any closing comment?

Marc: Its frustrating because we have done all of things that Google has asked, we claimed our listing and we run adwords and poof! Our listing is gone. It appears that I am not the only business experiencing this problem. I am coming up on the biggest holiday of the year and I am gone!

Has Google Maps surpassed Mapquest?

I ran a recent Mapquest/Google Maps comparison of visitation at Compete.com. It appears that Google Maps has passed Mapquest as the most visited mapping site:

Google Maps has been gaining on Mapquest for the past two years. Hitwise data in October indicated that Maps was closing in on Mapquest. While MapQuest may have “come out of hibernation” and have introduced a number of new features in the Local space, it does not appear to be fast enough.

These number reflect worldwide traffic. Google has a much stronger presence than MapQuest in much of Asia & Africa while Mapquest has traditionally been strong in North America. It would be of interest to see the US and European numbers broken out as well. I am sure there Mapquest is doing better.

New Universal Local Search Result Type: Branded Local OneBox

While Firefox is not supposed to have geolocation available until ver 3.1, it appears that Google is personalizing search results using some form of geolocation now.

Last month, David Mihm first spotted and pointed out a new Universal Local Search Result; the Branded Local One Box. The new Universal Result appears to only show in Firefox, for regional brand related searches. It requires that the searcher is in the same general area as the business.

I live in Olean and on the search for the company named Barbara Oliver & Co. Jewelry (no local modifier) which is 70 miles away in Buffalo I am presented  the new Branded Local Onebox. I get the following result in Firefox with the Google Toolbar (not Safari and not IE):
barbara-oliver-branded-oneb

David who lives in Portland searched on the business name Pacific Benefits Group and saw:
Continue reading New Universal Local Search Result Type: Branded Local OneBox

Google has once again elevated Mapspam reporting

With the swicthover to the new forum, Mapspam reporting was temporarily buried amongst the many threads. Last week its profile has once again risen and the thread is now visible at the highest level of the forum

Kudos to Maps Guide Adam and Google for again giving people easy access to this reporting tool.

Never one to be happy with half of a barrel…Now if they could just figure out how to get folks to provide enough structured information in their posts so that the many volunteers could help them more easily.

Google Heatmap confirms value of Local 10 Pack Listing

2-goldentriangleGoogle has released some results from their eye tracking studies at the Official Google Blog. The results confirm the value of having your listing show up in the Universal Local Results. 

From the entry:

Based on eye-tracking studies, we know that people tend to scan the search results in order. They start from the first result and continue down the list until they find a result they consider helpful and click it — or until they decide to refine their query. The heatmap below shows the activity of 34 usability study participants scanning a typical Google results page. The darker the pattern, the more time they spent looking at that part of the page. This pattern suggests that the order in which Google returned the results was successful; most users found what they were looking for among the first two results and they never needed to go further down the page.

When designing the user interface for Universal Search, the team wanted to incorporate thumbnail images to better represent certain kinds of results. For example, in the [how to tie a tie] example above, we have added thumbnails for Image and Video results. However, we were concerned that the thumbnail images might be distracting and disrupt the well-established order of result evaluation.

We ran a series of eye-tracking studies where we compared how users scan the search results pages with and without thumbnail images. Our studies showed that the thumbnails did not strongly affect the order of scanning the results and seemed to make it easier for the participants to find the result they wanted.

Google is confirming that the Universal results do not disrupt the typical scanning pattern of users and that even with thumbnails (and obviously other Universal results), users were able to find what they wanted at the top of the page.

Confessions of a Google Enabler: In search of Coupons

Each morning when I rise, I check the RSS feed from the Google Maps Support Forums. I try to answer a few questions from wayward business folks that have no place else to turn. I often feel that in doing so, I am removing from Google the very real burden of providing actual support.

Here is this morning’s helpful response that I gave to a naive business person thinking the Google Coupons might someday be used by a potential customer:

***
Question:
I added a coupon for our various locations yesterday.  The admin center says the coupon is active, but I don’t see the coupon anywhere online?  Where do customers see the coupon?
Thank you.
****
My answer:
Coupon location is one of the best kept secrets of Google Maps. Even Maps Guide Jen has been known to have trouble locating them. The only entity totally capable of finding them after they have been posted is the GoogleBot. Occassionally they are spotted by humans but only after you have drilled into Maps quite deeply.

-In “Text View” there is a link under the business and there is a tab in the stack detailed view
-In “Map View” select “more info” and then it will show in a tab.
-Links or any other indication of their existence are not visible from the main Google search results page. 

My presumption is that Google is attempting to leave a historical record of life on the planet for distant future archeologists to ponder but that they did not intend for Google Coupons to be used in any manner to which you as a business person or consumer are traditionally accustomed.

Mike B

Will Google’s Streetview Data be used to replace TeleAtlas?

sv_after_beforeWhen Google expanded StreetView coverage for the U.S. in December. I was struck by the visual on their blog.

Google is not a company that often buys data from others. They usually either buy a company or they build it themselves. This map begged the question: Could Streetview Data be used to replace TeleAtlas?

In a Forbes article on the Nokia Navteq deal in late 2007,  Michael T. Jones, chief technologist of Google Earth, Maps and Local, was noted as saying “the company never considered buying Navteq. Instead, Google could simply recreate the data far more cheaply by tapping the mapmaking skills of its hundreds of millions of users — a wiki of maps.” They obviously decided to not buy TeleAtlas either.

While MapMaker could provide some fundamental data in many countries, it could never provide the accuracy and detail for travel routing. So I asked a couple of people who are more familiar with map making than I, if they thought that Google could use Streetview data to replace TeleAtlas.

Both James Fee of SpatiallyAdjusted and Barry Hunter of NearBy.org agreed that it was not only possible but likely at some point in the future that Google could be using Streetview data.

Continue reading Will Google’s Streetview Data be used to replace TeleAtlas?

Developing Knowledge about Local Search