Google LBC: New Link to Coupon Feature Raising Visibility of Coupons?

Despite a deep recession where coupon use is on the rise and an opportunity to make on-line coupons work for a large audience, Google’s Coupon feature has long been the forgotten feature of the Local Business Center.

LBC coupons have been buggy, less than predictable and well, so very hidden from searchers to be of little use to the small business owner and other LBC users. As a result I don’t keep an eye on them much so this new feature allowing coupon creators to more easily link to and promote coupons may have been there for a while.

LBC-coupons

Link-to-coupon

The effort to upgrade the visibility of coupons is of interest to me on several fronts. It seems to indicate that coupons will stay in the LBC mix and that they might just, someday, receive more attention from Google.

However, rather than just providing a link to the coupon, a coupon widget which actually displays the coupon on the originator website would be more valuable option to website owners. That and giving them higher visibility in searches might move coupons from the dark reaches of the Local Business Center out into the real world of local marketing.

On a related note, today is the 2nd anniversary of the introduction of Google Coupons.

Google LBC: Some Bulk Upload Whitelist Questions Answered

I received this feedback from Joel Headley, Consumer Operations at Google, via Google Reader in answer to some of my questions about the newly announced Bulk Upload Whitelisting for the local business center:

MB: Will the entry (submitted via the whitelisted upload) still be editable via community edit?
Joel: No.
MB: Will the stats of the data rich dash board be available to whitelisted uploads?
Joel: Not yet – it will have the same features as all other feeds.
MB: What is the smallest whitelist size that will be approved?
Joel: 10. For the other questions – I’ll have to wait until I’m back from vacation.

A message to Joel…you are on vacation for God’s sake!

Get Bulk Uploads Verified in Google Maps Local Business Center

Here is the content of the Bulk Upload Whitelist Request form:
****

Get Verified in Google Maps Local Business Center

* Required field

Generally, the best way to verify that you own a business is by receiving a phone call or postcard with a PIN. However, we understand this gets tricky if you have say, over 100 business locations, and most likely well before you get that far. If you have a minimum of 10 locations, you can submit a bulk upload. However, a bulk upload isn’t verified and so we can’t guarantee that it’ll show up on Google Maps.

That’s why we’re opening up a new verification process for business owners with feeds that satisfy the following requirements:

  • Accurate and up-to-date data
  • Full compliance with our Local Business Center Quality Guidelines
  • Submitted by the owner of all businesses in the feed
  • Feed has only been submitted by a single user

You must make sure to update your bulk upload whenever anything changes. We’ll review your account periodically for freshness of data, and listings will become unverified it if we find it doesn’t meet the requirements.

In order to have your feed considered for verification, you must fill out the form below and agree to our Feed Verification Policy. Please note that we will not respond to all requests.

Terms for submitting a store location file to the Local Business Center (LBC)

By submitting your store location data, you agree to follow the Terms of Service for Google Maps, as well as the additional terms set forth below. You understand that your LBC listings may be removed from Google products and services, and your Local Business Center account may be terminated if you do not comply with these terms.

Accurate, Specific Data

You agree to provide accurate data for any business listing that you submit. The information you supply for each listing must be undisputed, authoritative, and current to the particular business location. For example, be sure to include the direct, local phone number specific to the business location, instead of a number that serves many locations. Likewise, please include the homepage of your business’s primary website for the particular business location that you submit.

Primary Source

By submitting a business listing to the Local Business Center, you are confirming that you are the business owner.

No Spam

You will not engage in deceptive or manipulative behavior intended to alter search result ranking.

****
The whitelisting is a positive development for larger businesses with multiple locations and or brands making a previously untenable process potentially more friendly. Clearly the listings will be verified and not susceptible to community edits. It is still unclear how small of an upload will be approved and what timeframes a business will be looking at.

That being said, it appears that the process requires human intervention on Google’s part. Hopefully Google has allocated the human resources necessary to staff the many requests that will come in.

This new process does very little to facilitate agency interactions with the LBC or Google. While it appears that the option will be available to agencies to upload on behalf of their clients, it is not clear how cumbersome that additional layer of approval will be as the agency “must first be ‘approved’ by a representative of the company itself”.

The whitelisting appears to offer Google the benefit of fresher, better maintained listings for corporate and franchise entities but in the end its success will be predicated on Google’s execution of the process.

Google Maps Bulk Upload Whitelist Coming Soon to the LBC Near You

Update: Here is the link to the whitelist request form: http://maps.google.com/support/bin/request.py?contact_type=feeds_verify

David Mihm reports from the LSS Q&A Session that Google is rolling out the Bulk Upload Whitelist reported here in early June and confirmed by Google several weeks ago.

From David Mihm’s Local Search blog:

Now onto the good stuff. Ari Bezman, the product manager for the Local Business Center just confirmed that the Whitelist functionality that Carter Maslan announced via Mike Blumenthal last week should now be live in the Local Business Center. It involves a contact form directly off of the current bulk upload area of the LBC.

Google will manually review these contact submissions (it sounds like especially for really large uploads–1000+?) and decide whether to reject or accept the upload as a whitelist.

Franchise owners and corporate marketing departments will need to work out beforehand who is going to be responsible for submitting that particular location, because Google only wants to see a whitelisted location from one feed.

Chris Travers of UniversalBusinessListing asked a very important follow-up: how will Google treat whitelist requests from agencies? To his credit, Ari responded with a very straightforward answer: agency whitelist requests will be strongly considered but must first be “approved” by a representative of the company itself.

Uploads via this new feature will be considered “almost as trusted” as if a location/business owner verifies by PIN.

The link does not yet appear to be live in my LBC but it apparently will be shortly but here is the link to the request form.

My questions:
Will the entry still be editable via community edit?
Will the stats of the data rich dash board be available to whitelisted uploads?
What is the approval timeframe?
Will there be a communication feedback loop from Google staffed by people?
What is the smallest whitelist size that will be approved?

Google Maps inadvertently steps into political mine field & back out again

On August 8th, this post (and several just like it) appeared in the Help Forums:

Hi

I am on Google maps and i was aghast to see that the north eastern state Arunachal Pradesh is projected as not part of India!! Infact, the names are being shown in Chinese. This is blatant violation of India’s national view and I am apalled to see Google toe the Chinese line despite being supported hugely by a democratic literate India.

A number of Indians work at Google and despite this, Google seems to care little for Indian sentiments. Google should correct this anamoly immediately.

Yesterday the Google LatLong blog addressed the issue and the fix:

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 6:20 PM

Recently, as part of a routine data update to maps.google.com, we inadvertently added Chinese language names to some locations in Arunachal Pradesh that were previously unlabeled or labeled with English language Indian place names.

The data was published accidentally in an unintended form. As soon as we discovered this, we reverted maps.google.com back to its original state. We’d like to make it clear that we at no point meant to indicate support for one country’s view over another.

Posted by Gabriel Stricker, Director, Search Communications

Mapping all of the world’s information has a way of becoming political very quickly. Which language should be used to describe an area? What are the actual boundaries? Who is in control now and who was last week? The world is a dynamic place and for better or worse when you map it, it becomes a static representation of the point of view of the mapper. Mapping by its nature forces the creator to take a postion that is often at odds with a large population with a valid point of view.

Even the way that a map is laid out can create false impressions that affect our sense of reality. For example it is little understood by many that the commonly used Mercator projection, used in Google Maps, “like all map projections that attempt to fit a curved surface onto a flat sheet, the shape of the map is a distortion of the true layout of the Earth’s surface. The Mercator projection exaggerates the size of areas far from the equator“.

As a recent poster in the forums noted that this projection “distorts the world, giving the false impression that Greenland is the size of South America, Asia is ginormous and Alaska is bigger than Mexico – all inaccuracies that are being presented by Google. Google’s reputation for accuracy means that these distortions are reinforced in our conscience as facts”.

So why does Google use the Mercator Projection despite its flaws? Because it works for what Google is trying to do.

Hi John – Thanks for the feedback. Maps uses Mercator because it preserves angles.  The first launch of Maps actually did not use Mercator, and streets in high latitude places like Stockholm did not meet at right angles on the map the way they do in reality. While this distorts a ‘zoomed-out view’ of the map, it allows close-ups (street level) to appear more like reality. The majority of our users are looking down at the street level for businesses, directions, etc… so we’re sticking with this projection for now. In the meantime, you might want to look at our favorite 3D view of the world.

Google Proactively Communicates with LBC Users- a first baby step in dealing with SMBs?

I recently received two of the email newsletters from the Local Business Center that Google announced several days ago. The first was titled Update from your Google Local Business Center Account The Latest from your Google Local Business Center Account and included the newsletter plus the following July stats from one of the many businesses in my LBC account.

lbc-july-stats

This Google effort at outreach to the businesses using the Local Business Center is a positive thing. It will, without being too cloying, drive businesses back to the LBC more frequently and help with their on-going education and understanding of the new reality of local listings.

Historically Google has treated smb’s with such a hands off approach and with so little feedback that there has been a growing discontent with Google’s aloofness that shows up frequently in the Help Forums. Google, in their effort to scale and automate local, has seemed less than empathetic to the business that has a problem with either the LBC, their listing or just a plain lack of understanding about this complex new reality that is local. This carelessness has been present in everything from their error messages, to bugs in the LBC, the help forums and on into a cavalier approach to bogus reviews.

This email communication is a positive first step in an outward facing marketing campaign. But it is just that, a first step and like all marketing is a monologue and not a dialogue. Google will need to refine everything from their error messages to the workings of the “cluster” to improve the smb Google Local experience. And in the end they will need to not just listen to smbs but actually talk to them if they don’t want to anger every Mom & Pop from here to Wasilla.

Google Maps: Where did the LBC stats go?

The new stats in the Local Business Center leave a bit to be desired. Apparently though they are better than no stats as many outside the US, which have not yet been upgraded to the data rich dashboard, are reporting that what few stats they had are no longer showing and have been at best erratic for the last few months.

I contacted a number of Canadian local search folks, all of who confirmed that for the past 3-8 weeks stats have all but disappeared in their Local Business Centers. Have the stats disappeared in anticipation of a world wide upgrade to the new data rich dashboard? Or is there just a quirk in providing them?

The data rich dashboard was introduced in the US during the last week of May. At that time when asked what the timeframe for broader international rollout, Carter Maslan noted: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.”

Google Maps: Ask Google Tech Support?

I have been seeing this adword listing on the search Google Maps Help over the past week.

Google-tech

I am no AdWords expert but in Maps, there is no way to use the word Google in a business listing even if you are using a Google Site as your home page. Your listing will be flagged and move to a state of semi-permanent purgatory with the “Flagged Waiting for Content Check” message.

Does Adwords allow for the offer of Google tech support on Google products? Is this an approved service? The headline leaves the distinct impression that it is actually Google Tech Support.

Google Maps starts Newsletter and Account Updates Email

Update 8/12/09 4:50 PM: I just received the newsletter in my mailbox. Just one showed up, but no stats just yet. Ok its 5:06 and I just received a second email with a different subject but the same newsletter but now including an overview of stats for one of the listings in the LBC.

In July of 2008, Google added additional communication capability settings to the Local Business Center where an LBC account was able to request a newsletter and updates to their LBC account. The first newsletter has just been released .

Here are the contents of the first newsletter:

Google Local Business Center

Local Business Newsletter Issue #1 – August, 2009

LBC logo
dotted lines
In This Issue:

Letter from the Local Business Center Team

Tips and Tricks

August Business of the Month: TCHO Chocolates

Latest from Google:

According to the Google post in the Help Forums the communication also includes the ability to get a snapshot of the data rich dashboard emailed on a monthly basis. It is not clear whether the mailings started or will occur over the coming month.

LBC Settings

Google “upgrades” Maps’ Forums

Today around noon, Google, as part of a change across all of their forums, has upgraded the Map’s Help forums. The goal of the change is to make the system as descriptive as possible to avoid duplicate questions.

For a frequent forum visitor it dramatically slows down getting an overarching view of the activity and posts although with a click you can get to the All Discussions View. That being said it does provide a single view of all of my personal activity and all discussions on the forums so that I can get a better sense of the status of posts that have been updated.

Lost in the “upgrade”  are links to the form to post spam reports for Google Maps as well as the links to the significant blog posts that Google has made in their Water Cooler Blog. The site has become much more hierachal with all links leading off of the main Maps Help Page linked from Maps. Unfortunately once you head into the forums, there is no direct path back to the critical tips in the blog or easy way to file a spam report.

Time will tell whether typical users will get the information they more quickly. Regardless, the nature of problems in the Maps’ forum are such that without more Google staff intervention many of the questions still can not be answered.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search