What is Merchant Circle up to now?

Why is Merchant Circle buying up thousands of trade name + locale domains?

Over the weekend Nick Reese contacted me to explore what appeared to him, and to me, very unusual domain activity by Merchant Circle. It appears that Merchant Circle has purchased as many as 10,700 domains. These domain purchases have been going on for a number of months and are often in the format of localbusinessnamelocale.com. MC has gone on to create a website for the business based on the unverified Merchant Circle record and appears to have done so without permission or engagement of the business.

Here is an example of an MC purchased domain that shows up on a Google OneBox result – Art & Faux, San Jose Ca:

The whois records show MC as the admin of record for all of these domains.

Many searches on these trade name domain with locale show the MC result in the One Box (due to Google assigning it to unclaimed records) and in positions one and two on the main results page.

I called several of the business owners, including Art & Faux, to determine whether any had in fact authorized MC to purchase the domain on their behalf. The three owners with whom I spoke indicated that they had not given them any authority to purchase domains in their name nor had they paid MC for a domain.

Is this MC’s newest SEO strategy to gain additional footing on the first page of Google? Are they taking cybersquatting to a new level to gain Maps traffic from the new local focused Google SERPS or are they just giving away domain names to businesses that “forgot” to buy them? I am trying to understand why MC would spend $70,000 on domain purchases, many of which have include the trade name for local businesses.

Here is another interesting example of an apparently unapproved domain: www.terrydonsplumbingllc.com. It shows up as the number one organic listing on the search Leak Detecting Service in Sarasota, FL and it takes you to a link farmy type page with a PR2 that links to 20 additional MC listings. Here is the Site Explorer Link from Yahoo for the domain. Does Google still allow this stuff?

Hitwise: Google Maps passes Mapquest

Compete.com showed Google Maps overtaking Mapquest in visitors in January as did Comscore. At the time Hitwise showed that Maps as nearly passing Mapquest but dropping back. As recently as last week Hitwise indicated that Mapquest was still in the lead but that gap was closing.

Heather Hopkins of Hitwise took a fresh look at the numbers over this past weekend. Google has now surpassed Mapquest in monthly visitors.


It is of interest that starting on March 14th, Google Maps shows almost a month of sustained gains while Mapquest shows an equivalent drop. It would be a reasonable to assume that the date coincides with the start of Google’s expanded Local rollout.

Google Maps adds new Local Business Center User Guide

Yesterday, Google Maps rolled out a new Local Business Center User Guide. The guide has more specific details about the listing process, the meaning of various messages and an improved interface to the information.

The LBC User Guide is a definite improvement over the previous help system and may ameliorate some of the business listing problems it will not solve some of the more common questions and many of the edge situations that seem to occur.
Continue reading Google Maps adds new Local Business Center User Guide

Hitwise: Mapquest still in the lead but Google Maps is gaining

Update 4/13: Google Maps now in lead over Mapquest, according to Hitwise

Compete.com has shown Google Maps as having more traffic than Mapquest since January. Hitwise on the other hand has Google Maps gaining but not yet surpassing Mapquest. Here are the latest numbers from Hitwise:


Both Hitwise and Compete show an uptick in March for Maps and Mapquest. The more granular view that Hitwise offers, shows most of that uptick occurring after March 28th (the rough start date of the increased local exposure) with Google increasing faster than Mapquest.

Whether this is due to an uptick in pre Easter travel planning or due to Google rollout of increased showing of the Local 10 Pack or both is hard to tell at this point.

Tracking Local search Traffic with Analytics

Analytics is not something that I specialize in but given the increasingly high profile nature of the Local 10 Pack and no easy solution from Google for distinguishing this traffic, I turned to Martijn Beijk for advice.

Martijn Beijk works as a SEO at Onetomarket, one of the leading online marketing agencies in Europe with offices in the Netherlands, Germany and Spain. There he focusses on local search , analytics and SEO in general. You can find him writing on his blog about Local Search, SearchCowboys and other guest appearances. Some of you might know him from his article ‘The Definitive guide on using KML for SEO’ which was nominated for a Semmy Award. 

This article is for all of you who have already claimed their businesses or those of a client. Some experience with Google Analytics is required

A good thing for any website owner is to run a Web Analytics package which tells you some things about the visitors of your website. They way they entered your website, with what, where from, for how long and where or even why they left.

It is also possible to set specific goals using a Web Analytics package  like a form that has been filled out or a contact page that has been reached. This can be very useful to determine if your Local Traffic is converting into any phone calls, filled out forms or an ecommerce transaction waiting to be picked up from your storefront.

The following examples with Google Analytics will help you get more insight in your local traffic. Basic knowledge of Analytics is assumed. Google Analytics (GA) should already be set up for the website in order to continue the following examples.

  Continue reading Tracking Local search Traffic with Analytics

Google Maps adds Comment/Review Posting Policy

Review spam in Google Maps has been a problem since reviews started being accepted by Google. There has always been a link to tag the review as inappropriate but no clear indication of what was and what was not acceptable nor when or how a review would be removed. Google has at least dealt with the first issue.

They recently (exactly how recent in unclear) have created a specific Comment Posting Policy that delineates specific review practices that are prohibited:

Please follow these policies when making a comment: 

  • Don’t spam or post fake reviews intended to boost or lower ratings.
  • Don’t post or link to content that is sexually explicit or contains profanity.
  • Don’t post or link to content that is abusive or hateful or threatens or harasses others.
  • Don’t post or or link to any file that contains viruses, corrupted files, “Trojan Horses,” or any other contaminating or destructive features that may damage someone else’s computer.
  • Don’t post any material that violates the copyrights or other intellectual property rights of others.
  • Don’t impersonate any person, or falsely state or otherwise misrepresent your affiliation with a person or entity.
  • Don’t violate any other applicable law or regulation.
  • Don’t use comments as a forum for advertisement.

Google notes that they “reserve the right to review and remove commentary that violates our policies”.

Reviews are potentially a positive contributor to a consumers understanding of local information. However, often in the context of Maps, where a Local 10 Pack ranking is so valuable, they have taken on a life of their own that is often unrelated to an actual review process and has everything to do with maximizing a business’s presence. This has led to inflated, business generated reviews as well as wildly inpappropriate reviews. Creating clear posting guidelines is a first, positive step in making the process and product functional.

However Google has a way to go to make reviews really work. Google has two issues in this regard that I have noted previously. Firstly, their scraping and updating of reviews has a very long and unpredictable update cycle. At best, if a review is removed from CitySearch it will be gone from Google in 6 to 8 weeks. But that is a best case scenario and that is not always the case.

Secondly, on Google generated reviews the only review removal request option is a community feature allowing a review to be flagged as inappropriate. There is no indication that Google even looks at this community input on a reliable basis. If they do, there is no feedback to the harmed business. There are no clear guidelines nor consistent action to indicate which reviews, if any, will be taken down.

The suggestion I made in September of last year still would be appropriate and that would be to implement review transparency in the Google review system by turning the Local Business Center into a relationship management tool and show the business owner EVERY review that you have in your index whether scraped or Google entered. Show us which ones are in our Maps listing and let us respond directly to those folks that created the review in Google. If we flag an inappropriate review from within the LBC, guarantee some sort of review process and a timeframe. And provide a response, even if automated!

Review spam and review policy are but once aspect of the review situation at Google. Miriam Ellis has a new post on the many oddities she has confronted in Google’s handling of reviews.

10 Pack Update affects Mom & Pop’s, McDonald’s, Marketers, MC & Mapqust

Update:: Google Confirms 10 Pack Expansion

Google’s newest showing of Local results on non geo modified phrases will dramatically enhance the role of local data and of branded local data in search. Its impact will be felt every where from the local dentist to the largest retail brands in the US. It offers up the prospect of modifying the behaviors of businesses, searchers and search marketers alike.

From Mumbai to Missoula, from Mom and Pop’s to McDonald’s, from soccer moms to search mavens, from Mapspammers & Merchant Circle to Mapquest, all are going to feel the affect of Google’s recent increase in showing Local results to non geo targeted, but locally relevant phrases.

Yesterday as news of the development spread, local search writers noted the significance of the increased role that local would play in search with descriptions like game changer, large implications, welcome development, reflects real user intent:
Continue reading 10 Pack Update affects Mom & Pop’s, McDonald’s, Marketers, MC & Mapqust

Google Maps: Whitehouse Listing most recent Hijack Victim

For a brief period earlier in the week, the White House listing in Maps was hijacked by a blackhat locksmith. The hijacking, consistent with previous mapjackings, was reported to me by the locksmith “deepthroat” that previously reported the Maps hijacking technique. It was quickly returned to its normal community editable condition by Google.

whitehouse hijacked

In related news, O’Reilly fan PanzerMike, has reported the Obama Whitehouse for Mapspamming for multiple listings at one address and keyword stuffing to achieve higher ranking in Maps. According to PanzerMike: “Its not fair that first every lawyer in LA but me can Map spam and now Democrats can too!”

Google had no comment to these reports.


Google Maps now showing Local 10 Pack on Broad Non Geo Phrase Searches

Google is now showing the Local 10 Pack on broad single phrase searches with obvious local intent (nods to Florist SEO Watch who spotted this on Saturday and Cathy Rhulloda for pointing it out) without geo modifiers. In US searches, the Local 10 Pack appears on phrases such as
used car
health food
computer repair

but currently not on the phrases new cars, web design or apartment rental. It is not clear how many and which phrases are being used but they are more common than not. The results appear to be using Google’s IP geotargeting and present regardless of browser type or whether the user is logged in. For me, the default results offered are in Buffalo, NY, over 70 miles away but there is an option to change location.


Continue reading Google Maps now showing Local 10 Pack on Broad Non Geo Phrase Searches

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