Google looses Ohio

Like John Kerry in 2004, Google seems to have lost Ohio. Although this time, rather than being due to political operatives or electronic voting machines, the issues seem to lie with some new bug in the Local Business Center. 

A reader, whose daily livelihood depends on the Local Business Center and who was recently spotted with bald spots where her hair had been pulled out, sent in this screen shot:

Google looses Ohio

Merchant Circle causes revolution amongst SMB’s

MarketWatch noted that MerchantCircle Revolutionizes ‘Feet on the Street’ Sales Force by Tapping Current Business Members.  The subhead read: Local Business Owners Rewarded for Signing Up Business Neighbors to Network. I also read with interest Greg Sterling’s related announcement: MerchantCircle Turns SMBs into Sellers where he noted:

In a clever twist, MerchantCircle is seeking to turn its thousands of SMB “members” (it now claims 630K) into a sales channel that will sell its services to other small businesses.

 I could imagine a headline that said instead: Merchant Circle implements new plan to turn neighbor against neighbor.

I can already see Matt McGee, moaning loudly, when he receives his first automated phone call from his local Plumber (Joe?) who mentions in the prerecorded call, that his daughter saw a bad review about Matt’s SEM services, and that Matt better scurry on line to MC for some reputation management and to verify his business.

While I think that the plan is brilliant, the “devil” as they say is in the details and I am sure that Merchant Circle will bring their very special view of marketing to the equation. Any local merchant would be well advised to not be the first one on the block to take up the offer until the details of their marketing strategy become clearer.

You wouldn’t want to be the first merchant to project Merchant Circle’s brand of marketing into your local neighborhood. It may be too clever by half as neighbors have long memories and the revolution of which MarketWatch speaks may not be the one that they envisioned.

Google Maps: Long Term LBC problem fixed promptly

For those of you that didn’t notice, Maps Guide Jen has noted in the comments on my Local Business Center System Errors post:

Looks like the team was able to get a fix through faster than expected. Most people who were experiencing this error should find that it’s resolved. There may be some people who are still seeing a server error. Those people should file a reinclusion request for their account.

It is great that Google has fixed the problem and that there is a mechanism to report a lingering problem in a structured format.

It is strange, however, that if a business is still experiencing the problem that they would need to notify Google of the fact that their account if broken via the reinclusion form. 

By submitting this request, I acknowledge that:
  • I have read and understand Google’s business listing quality guidelines.
  • My business listings do not violate Google’s business listing quality guidelines.
  • I agree to abide by Google’s business listing quality guidelines in the future.
Details: Tell us more about your business:    

  • What actions might have led to any penalties?
  • What corrective actions have been taken?

One has to wonder exactly why they were being called down to the principal’s office. Did he really notice that little transgression from last month in math class? Man, my mom’s gonna kill me.

Google Maps: Today its Mapspam, tomorrow I retire, I promise

Oneboxes for Credit Repair Mapspam
How do you get 13 Authoritative Oneboxes across the US with a one page website and take the afternoon off earlier? Google Mapspam, of course.

I am such a glutton for the gritty details I could not resist following the trail laid down in the Google Groups for Business Mapspam report yesterday. I think I am in need of joining Mapspam Annonymous.

This particular case demonstrates the least amount of work for the return that I have seen in a while using the same technique pioneered in the Payday loan business last year. There is more than a little irony that with the collapse of credit, the affiliate spammers have moved on to exploiting people needing credit recovery as their targets.

It is particularly galling because Google has awarded them so many Authoritative OneBoxes and it clearly demonstrates the principal that if Google is going to make the job of deceptive affiliate marketing easier and there are no significant penalties to any of the participants, why not?
Continue reading

Google Maps: Short term fix and long term problems in LBC

Update 6:00 pm 10/15/08

Maps Guide Jen has commented below:

Looks like the team was able to get a fix through faster than expected. Most people who were experiencing this error should find that it’s resolved. There may be some people who are still seeing a server error. Those people should file a reinclusion request for their account.

****

Today, Google’s Maps Guide Jen has announced a short term fix to the recurring system error in the Local Business Center. She notes that Google will provide a fix to anyone reporting the problem in the Group while they work on a longer term repair. If you are experiencing the dreaded System Error report it to Google in this thread and they will take care of it.

======================================
TOPIC: System Error accessing Local Business Center
=======================================
== 1 of 1 ==
Date: Tues, Oct 14 2008 4:39 pm
From: “Maps Guide Jen”

Hi All,

I know this update was a long time coming. The issue is spread throughout the Local Business Center. Because of this, we’re trying to implement a wider-spread fix. In the meantime, we’ll be working to restore access for those who have reported receiving a System Error in this and other threads throughout the group. If you’re still seeing this error next Monday, feel free to push back and let us know.

Thanks for your patience,
Jen

Google Maps: Hijackers hit Major Brands

Searchengineland has published my newest installment in the ongoing series on hijackings at Google Maps: Problems Continue With Google Local Business Listings. The same hijackers that hit the florist industry hijacked the local listings of major brands like Mariott, Hertz, Avis and Thrifty changing location, url and business name. The change of business name was such that the listings achieved Authoritative OneBox status with searches like: Orlando HotelsMiami Discount Car Rental & Dallas Discount Car Rental.

It is an interesting story which leads to as many questions as answers, not the least of which being: Why would Google not shut these spammers down after they had hijacked the florists?

You can Sphinn this story here.

Google Maps: relative value of a OneBox vs top organic results

Steve Espinosa has some interesting preliminary research on the relative click thru rates of a #1 listing in the Local 10-Pack and a simultaneous #1 listing in organic. The organic listing showed 1.6x the click thru of the the Local 10 Pack listing. As it is preliminary research and only looked at click thru not call in or other measures of action, it is an important piece of research but doesn’t speak to ultimate customer action.

According to TMP’s  Local Search Usage Study : Following online local searches, consumers most often contact a business over the telephone (39%), visit the business in-person (32%) or contact the business online (12%).

If one works out the combined math of the two studies (a not very reliable number I assure you), in the end the top local ranking would still provide more client contacts either via phone or in person than the organic ranking.

At the end of the day, Steve’s research can not be viewed as a reason to not focus on local but rather as a call to action on the organic side. I think he would agree that, in the excitement around local, you can’t forget organic’s power and that in an ideal world a business would use every tool available to them. However, many times, due to the nature of a business, a business may not be able to legitimately play in the Local space and their only recourse is to optimize their website for local phrases. 

Another interesting outcome of Steve’s initial research was “the fact is that the majority of the users who got to the site via the natural link had resolution above 1024×768 and the majority of users who visited via the Onebox result had resoultion of 1024×768 or under.”

As Steve pointed out, this could be do the greater real estate visible to those with larger screens and thus greater visibility of organic listings above the fold. It could also, however, be due to the differences in font size with which Google represents the results. Steve has also done some interesting research on the value of visual authority and in this case the user might be attracted to the greater font size of the organic listing and wandered away from the smaller type faces presented in the 10-Pack. I have seen some recent heatmaps that seem to indicate that more users are moving further down the page when presented with a Local 10-Pack.

Great area for further research! If anyone has the heatmap info I would love to see it or if anyone is doing the research I would love to hear about it. Your thoughts? Does anyone have a recent heatmap?

Google Maps: LBC broken and more

This posting from yesterday’s Google Maps Business Owners Group was of interest to me.

The Local Business Center has been broken for several weeks, preventing many business owners from updating listings. There have been numerous reports in the Groups of this problem.

As noted in the comment, when a business attempts to update an LBC record, the following message is frequently recieved:

System Error
We’re sorry, but we are unable to serve your request at this time.

Google acknowledged the error on October 1 and it was reported of and on since late August. Google has not identified a timeframe for its repair.

=======================================
TOPIC: Unable to list my listings on google map.
=======================================

== 1 of 1 ==
Date: Sat, Oct 11 2008 2:46 am
From: “furtherclient101036@googlemail.com”

Hello, I am a freelancer from india and working from home. I currently
got job for adding 1400 google business listings of uk restaurants and
each listings needs to be added under individual google account. The
verification method i have to choose is verification by post card. So
that those individual restaurants can receive confirmation pin code at
their end and they can login to google with their account and can
confirm their listing.

I am able to create 10 listings until now under 10 individual
accounts, but now i am not able to add more listings, I am receiving
below mentioned error.

“System Error
We’re sorry, but we are unable to serve your request at this time.
Please try back in a few minutes.”

But this error doesn’t shows when i login from my personal account to
check same if also i am getting the same error.!

I know i am not spamming google, its the genuine work which i am
doing. Those people in foreign doesn’t have time for such tasks and
thus they had hired me.

Any help on this issue is very much expected and welcome!

The Indian subcontractor aspect of the post also intrigues me. Think locally, but act globally appears to be the new motto for Map data entry. It is an interesting development that low cost Indian workers are getting involved in Maps and that companies are choosing this route versus the bulk upload choice. It indicates to me that, as it is currently designed, the bulk upload option is not perceived as functional enough. For example, listings entered that way can still be modified via community edits (in the US) and often do not have the authority of a manually entered and verified record. I am quite sure that WalMart doesn’t want their listing fiddled with.

This posting is an interesting contrast to my earlier post about an Indian IT firm that outsourced local US mapspam to-itself.

It clearly demonstrates the growing perception of value of having a Local OneBox listing. I wonder how much it costs to have a sub contractor on the sub continent of India, enter these records manually. Can anyone enlighten me?

Google Maps and other Google Apps vulnerable to attack

In Friday’s InformationWeek there is an article detailing “bug that could let hackers use Google Maps to infiltrate Google, Google Mail, or Google Apps accounts“.

According to the article, a frame injection attack could be used to phish login credentials from Google users via Maps:

The Butler Group Adrian ‘pagvac’ Pastor, a security researcher with GNUCitizen.org, on Friday posted proof-of-concept code that can inject a third-party page — a fake login page in Pastor’s example — while the user’s browser address bar still displays the Google domain. This could dupe the user into entering login details.

“The beauty of frame injection attacks is that the attacker is able to impersonate a trusted entity without needing to bypass XSS/HTML filters or even break into the target server,” Pastor explained on the GNUCitizen site.

Google Adwords Phishing Alert

I received the following phishing email:

From: reactivation@google.com
Subject: Please Update Your Billing Information.
Date: October 11, 2008 12:44:39 PM EDT
To: mike@blumenthals.com

Hello,

Our attempt to charge your credit card for your
outstanding Google AdWords account balance was declined.
Your account is still open. However, your ads have been suspended. Once
we are able to charge your card and receive payment for your account
balance, we will re-activate your ads.

Please update your billing information, even if you plan to use the
same credit card. This will trigger our billing system to try charging
your card again. You do not need to contact us to reactivate your
account.

To update your primary payment information, please follow these steps:

1. Log in to your account at http://adwords.google.com/select.
2. Enter your primary payment information.
3. Click ‘Update’ when you have finished.

Thank you for advertising with Google AdWords. We look forward to
providing you with the most effective advertising available.

——————————————————————————-
This message was sent from a notification-only email address that does
not accept incoming email. Please do not reply to this message. If you
have any questions, please visit the Google AdWords Help Centre 
———————————————————————–

(c) The Google AdWords Team

The link goes to http://www.adwords.google.com.vfikj.cn/select/Login/ where a convincing login (screenshot) and credit card request (screenshot) are presented.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search