Last week’s reports of hijackings of legitimate business listings in Maps highlighted wide spread abuse of both Google’s community edit AND the reviews feature. In addition to hijacking listings, the affiliate spammers have been rapidly adding bogus reviews. Most IYP sites have a rapid response to such activities and will quickly pull down a bogus review in response to a business owner. NOT GOOGLE!
This posting in the Groups highlights the issue (and provides plenty of fodder for the curmudgeon in me):
Last week, Google announced that they were switching over Google Maps data from NavTeq to TeleAtlas. At the time they noted that “there may also be some cases where the data may not be optimal”.
With Google’s rapid switch over to TeleAtlas and Google’s high visibility these reports of missing streets are likely to increase over the next several weeks as these problems with TeleAtlas’ data are uncovered. As Miriam Ellis points out on her blog, this missing Map’s data can cause incredible marketing problems to the small business that experiences it.
There are reports starting to flow into Google Groups of this being the case. What should you do if this happens to you or one of your clients?
Google has often made their technology available to encourage and support voting. In that vein, it seems likely that Google Maps will soon provide a new Google created mapplet with comprehensive voter information.
The site, currently visible at the url: http://maps.google.com/vote, will provide voting location, registration information and more. Apparently the data set is not yet loaded as the site notes: All voting location information will be available by mid-October. Until then, please check with your state or local election officials to verify your voting location.
It is likely that this project started out as a Google 20% project but given the finished look and feel has obviously become fully supported. Being able to generate a driving map for each potential voter to every polling place offers incredible benefit to every “get out the vote” organization particularly smaller ones that might not have the resources to gather this information. Rolling this out on a national scale is an intriguing example of deep local data collection and how that information can possibly affect outcomes on a larger stage. It points to a time when having in-depth local data will fundamentally change the way that the web is used.
On another, possibly related note, a reader pointed out the domain GoogleVote.com that sports the Google Vote logo above.
In honor o’ Pirate’s Day, the ever snarly, gnarly uber pirate, Maps Guide Jen is publicly making someone walk the banishment plank over in groups. She gave the fellow until sun up on Monday to comply:
TOPIC: where is my listing please???????????????????????
== 1 of 1 ==
Date: Fri, Sep 19 2008 4:21 pm
From: Maps Guide Jen
Your listings are showing up, but you also have 4 separate listings with lots of keyword spam. This is strictly not allowed under these guidelines which you should check out:
Normally we’d remove your listings immediately, but it is Friday. Please make every effort to suppress your “extra” listings over the weekend.
On Sep 8, 4:14 pm, smartie81 wrote:
My listing is not showing… I go to google and put in my postcode, nothing I put in my business name nothing.
Please can anyone tell me why and what I have done wrong, this is it below
Permanent Makeup Essex Heidi Worman
Three hoozahs! Now if some equally gnarly coder over at Google would just catch this on the front end so Maps Guide Jen can take off her pirate patch.
Lisa Barone of Bruce Clay picked up my reporting of the new Google Maps Business Listing Guidelines . She commented:
Blumenthals doesn’t seem completely satisfied with the guidelines set out by Google because they leave too much wiggle room….. He’s right in that there really could be a lot more explanation to what Google will and will not allow, but it’s a start. And really, when has Google ever given you the degree of information you secretly hoped for? Maybe one day that’ll change, but today it’s still Google’s world.
I’m just glad that some semblance of rule has been put into place over there. Watching spammy local search results pop up makes my skin crawl. I need local search to be as spam-free and relevant as it can be, because that’s the search I go to when I don’t have time to play around and I need answers now.
My question to Lisa is why should we accept mediocrity from Google on any level? Google has had ample time to make more than just a start in Maps quality. Here is the answer that I posted on her blog:
It isn’t that I am not completely satisfied with Google’s guidelines, it is that I am dissatisfied with Google’s approach to Mapspam in specific and Local quality standards in general.
Google Maps has now switched their map data provision completely over to TeleAtlas from Navteq. Now the google Maps, the Google API and the Google Maps for Mobile all use the same underlying data. This switch was only a matter of time given Nokia aquisition of Navteq. Here is the announcement from Google’s Maps Guide Adam:
I wanted to give you a heads up that Google Maps recently made some changes to the map data. Specifically, we have moved Google Maps over to use the same map data from Tele Atlas that is currently used by both the Google Maps API and Google Maps for Mobile. While most of the map will look the same, and in many areas it will improve, there may also be some cases where the data may not be optimal. In those cases, we encourage you to use one of the following options to helpimprove our maps:
If you notice an error, feel free to correct it yourself by clicking on the “Edit” link in the information bubble that appears for alocation. For more information, check out this Maps Help Center page:
-Report the error directly to TeleAtlas
You can notify our map provider directly using the following link:
And as always, to view a one-stop-shop for reporting all types of Map errors, please visit http://maps.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=98014
Maps Guide Adam
I am very excited to say that I have been invited to speak at this year’s SMX-East. It is running from October 6-8 in NYC. I will be speaking in the Monday morning session: What’s New With Local Search Marketing – What’s new and exciting in terms of tactics for showing up in local search results? Greg Sterling will moderate and so far Craig Greenfield, Director, Local Search, Performics is also on the agenda.
If you are going to be in NYC for the event let me know. I would love to get together.
Late last week, the widespread highjacking of business listings in the florist industry for the purpose of affiliate mapspam was reported, confirmed and documented. There had been rumors for several months in the groups of these hijackings but specifics had been difficult to come by.
According to the Real Florists Blog by FlowerChat Blog the hijackings affected some of the “most respected florists in the US – including Lehrer’s and Veldkamp’s of Denver,Podesta Baldocchi and Church Street Flowers of San Francisco, Starbright Floral Designof New York City, Phoenix Flower Shops and numerous other major city floral operations.”
The technique, apparently in widespread use in the Locksmith, PayDay Loan and other industries, exploited weaknesses in Google’s User Edit capability. I had previously reported on PayDay Loan user edit abuses. In this newly reported case in the floral industry, Affiliate Mapspamers would target high ranking florists in major markets that had NOT CLAIMED their business listings in the Local Business Center so as to be able to benefit from an existing business’ ranking and reviews.
The spammers, using the end user edit tools, would change the phone number to another local number, change the location of the business slightly and then proceed to add a category, the URL and ultimately the name of the business. Apparently the small move in location convinced Google’s system that all subsequent changes were legitimate. The listing would retain the ranking and reviews of the actual business but redirect to a Canadian Florist fulfillment house via the affiliate’s website.
Some florists have succeeded in cleaning and claiming their listings but not all. In conversations with folks in the Florist industry, the many independant florists were in tears over the incidents and the attendant loss of sales. All were totally unaware that it had been necessary for them to claim their listings.
Today Google Maps has introduced quality guidelines for business listings in the Google Maps. Google has also now provided a reinclusion option. Both are available via the Google Maps Help Center.
The following items outline practices that could result in your business listings being permanently removed from Google Maps. While they cover the most common practices to avoid, Google may respond negatively to other practices not listed here. If you have any question about whether or not a tactic is deceptive, we recommend you stand on the side of caution.
- Represent your business exactly as it appears in real life. The name on Google Maps should match the business name, as should the address, phone number and website.
- List information that provides as direct a path to the business as you can. Given the choice, you may want to list individual location phone numbers over a central phone line, official website pages rather than a directory page, and as exact of an address as you can.
- Only include listings for businesses that you represent.
- Don’t participate in any behavior with the intention or result of listing your business more times than it exists. Service area businesses, for example, should not create a listing for every town they service. Likewise, law firms or doctors should not create multiple listings to cover all of their specialties.
- Use the description and custom attribute fields to include additional information about your listing. This type of content should never appear in your business’s title or address fields.
The guidelines are a first real indication of Google’s standards for defining a real business listing from a spammy one. Previously the only known criteria was the single location/single listing rule. However the guideline still offer some ambiguity as to what is spam and what isn’t. For example are affiliate florist’s phone numbers that are listed in local phone books like Superpages using local exchanges but having no actual address considered spam?
For the first time Google has made an authoritative statement about keyword stuffing of business title. This type of content should never appear in your business’s title or address fields. The word never indicates that it is a clear and unambiguous reason for being delisted but as I have found in the small business world there already is ambiguity as to naming of businesses. This reality creates a fairly broad area of both discretion for Google and unclearness for small businesses.
The reinclusion request takes on a certain confessional aspect with required self reflection and identification of the SEO firm that may have precipitated the problem.
Kudos to Google for clarifying their rules and creating an opportunity for reinclusion when appropriate. These rules provide much clearer guidance about what can and can not be done.
One of the struggles of researching local marketing is the fact that I frequently misspell the word Restaurant. I am obviously not the only one. I searched today for Pittsburgh Pa RestuarantsÂ to find this Authoritative OneBox:
The record has not been claimed by the business owner as of yet but it made me curious how widely the error had penetrated the Internet. On the searchÂ “Arby’s Roast Beef Restuarants” it cropped up 33 times including Yelp and Allpages.com amongst others.
This search result put several issues in sharp relief for me:
1-Google’s Authoritative Onebox is far less than perfect and predicates its results too heavily on business title.
2- Once an error like this crops into one electronic directory, it crops into many. It will be an annoying problem for the business owner to solve.
3- Now more than ever, it is critical to double check your marketing message before you hit the return key!