AOL is Now Selling Local 10 Pack Spots

A reader recently pointed out that AOL is now selling all the spots in their “Local 10 Pack” on a CTC and possible PPC basis through YellowPages.com and ServiceMagic. I don’t follow AOL search hat closely so this may have been happening for a while.  

Here are several sample searches:

Attorneys near OleanNY 14760 Local Sponsored Listings

See more local listings near OleanNY 14760 »

******

Auto Repair near OleanNY 14760 Local Sponsored Listings

See more local listings near OleanNY 14760 »

The results are not uniformly bad but particularly on the small town searches above the results are less than acceptable. In the lawyer search none of the results are even remotely local and in the car repair search most of the national franchises are not available in this market. When I searched for Plumber Olean NY, I was given a single plumber located 70 miles away that specialized in water proofing. Not much help if I have a leaky toilet. Searches in more urban areas (see Washington DC Plumber) returned somewhat better but still not stellar results. 

Whether that is a function of lack of inventory or a bad algo is unclear but the results are very unsatisfying. AOL is likely under pressure to monetize their search. It seems to me that doing it with such irrelevant results is a quick, one way ticket to oblivion. 

That being said there are a number of good reasons why a lower volume search engine might want or need to monetize these results. In the absence of an alternative ranking strategy, it is also a strategy that might make perfect sense as alternative to distance ranking in certain market segments (like plumbers) that are not really location based.

Should local listings on general search engines go to the highest bidder? Do you think we will see more of this practice on high volume sites?

Google Maps Guidelines: What has Changed?

Google updated the Maps Listing Guidelines earlier today. It is difficult to understand the differences without a direct comparison to the old guidelines. I have attempted to highlight the changes in italics:

Original Guidelines

New Guidlelines
  Modified Guidelines  
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.   Represent your business exactly as it appears in the offline world. The name on Google Maps should match the business name, as should the address, phone number and website.
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.   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, address or category fields.
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.   Provide information that best identifies your individual locations and provides users with the most direct path to your business. For example, you should provide individual location phone numbers in place of central phone lines and the precise address for the business in place of broad city names or cross-streets.
Only include listings for businesses that you represent.   Only enter listings for businesses that you own or are explicitly authorized to 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.   Create only one listing for each physical location of your business. Do not create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts. 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.
  New  
    Do not attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords into the title field, and do not include phone numbers or URLs in the title along with your proper business name.
    When entering categories, use only those that directly describe your business. Do not submit related categories that do not define your business. For example, a taxi company might properly categorize itself as "Airport Transportation", but it would be inaccurate to also use the category “Airport”. Also, please use each category field to enter a single category. Do not list multiple categories or keywords in one field.
    Provide the one URL that belongs to your business both in terms of the landing page and the displayed URL. Pages that redirect to another domain, or act as "click through" sites may lead to penalization.
    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, address or category fields.

In these new guidelines it appears that Google is making explict more cases of abuse. Obviously affiliate abuse and directories claiming of listings is targeted as well as category spam and title stuffing. It is unclear whether enforcement will be more proactive.

Google Maps: Updated Quality Guidelines for Business Listing

Google rolled out updated quality guidelines today:

Quality Guidelines:

  • Only enter listings for businesses that you own or are explicitly authorized to represent.
  • Represent your business exactly as it appears in the offline world. The name on Google Maps should match the business name, as should the address, phone number and website.
  • Do not attempt to manipulate search results by adding extraneous keywords into the title field, and do not include phone numbers or URLs in the title along with your proper business name.
  • Create only one listing for each physical location of your business. Do not create more than one listing for each business location, either in a single account or multiple accounts. 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.
  • When entering categories, use only those that directly describe your business. Do not submit related categories that do not define your business. For example, a taxi company might properly categorize itself as “Airport Transportation”, but it would be inaccurate to also use the category “Airport”. Also, please use each category field to enter a single category. Do not list multiple categories or keywords in one field.
  • Provide information that best identifies your individual locations and provides users with the most direct path to your business. For example, you should provide individual location phone numbers in place of central phone lines and the precise address for the business in place of broad city names or cross-streets.
  • Provide the one URL that belongs to your business both in terms of the landing page and the displayed URL. Pages that redirect to another domain, or act as “click through” sites may lead to penalization.
  • 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, address or category fields.

Google Maps offers a New Feature: Easy Stars

Update 5/23: The Easy Stars are now visible in List view as well as Maps view

There is a new interface feature in Google Maps that allows a user to quickly favor a business listing. A user must be logged in and viewing the listings in the Maps view mode where an outlined star will be visible immediately after the business name.

Upon selecting the star it turns yellow and a the starred listing appears in the user’s MyMaps view (thanks to Stever of AxeMedia for the clue). The yellow star also appears on the listing in the main Map viewing area.
stealth-feature

mymapviewThe feature allows a quick and easy way to create a MyMap list of favorite businesses or places in Maps for whatever purpose. Or as Miriam Ellis points out it could also be used to create a list of worsts.

At this point the MyMap is only visible to the logged in user that added the stars but it would be nice if this MyMap’s starred list could used to quickly create sharable public & embedable MyMap.

It is not clear whether the stars impact ranking.

Google Maps, Small Business & Society – who’s crazy?

Is Google “crazy” to handle business listings in Maps the way they do?

A recent poster to the Manic Merging of Business Listings posted the following in regards to Google merging competing businesses:

Google map has merged my clients business listing with his next door neighbor’s business. Now, google map will take visitors to his competitor’s website yet under his business name!

This is crazy, and that they have no easy way to report the problem and fix it is very irresponsible on google’s end. How hard it it to have a system to report and correct mergers?
-Frustrated webmaster

@Frustrated webmaster

I would agree that it appears crazy. And a system to easily report mergers also makes sense. Correcting the mergers makes sense from my point of view, your point of view, the point of view of the local businesses BUT not necessarily from the point of view of Google. Google’s behavior, given their interests, is in fact totally rational. Perhaps not in my best interest, not in the best interest of the typical business, and most importantly perhaps not in the interest of society but rational.

Continue reading Google Maps, Small Business & Society – who’s crazy?

Google Maps LBC Changes & Upgrades

On Monday the Local Business Center was taken down for maintanence and fixes. We know that there has been a decrease in reports of merged business listings (although there are reports of reviews still merging between businesses). It appears that there have been several changes in the phone verification system as well:

-Now the PIN is provided via the verification call and not via the web (thanks to Joseph Magnotti). This changes the flow of the approval process and makes it somewhat more difficult for 3rd parties to involve themselves in the authorization process.

-Apparently the problems of the phone verification system not responding well to 0’s and 1’s may also have been resolved. This has been an on-going problem that particularly affected Canadian users.

Have you found other changes and updates to the Local Business Center? Let me know!

Google Maps: Local Business Center Online – Merging Problem Improved?

The Local Business Center came back on line at about 2:45 EDT after being taken off line for several hours earlier today. While it does not appear that there are any new features in the LBC, it does appear that some of the merging of nearby competitors has dissipated.

The original examples of Hotels merging in Duluth, MN and Goldsboro NC have returned to normal. Hopefully the managers at the competing hotels can now take off their boxing gloves and return to the business of booking hotel rooms.

Here is a comparitive screen shot from 4/29 and today:

inn-on-the-lake

I have not checked all examples of all types of merging reported in the forums to see if there were improvements but the 4 or 5 geopositional mergings I did check showed as correct. During this most recent snafu there were increased reports of same location mergings, review and photo mergings as well as the more recent geoposition mergings. I would love to hear from folks who experienced the merging and whether the situation has improved across the board.

Google Maps: Important announcement for Local Business Center users

Update 12:50 5/18

Temporarily Unavailable
  The Google Local Business Center is unavailable for the next hour 
We appreciate your patience as we perform some routine system maintenance.  

More specifically, we’re updating ‘the backend’ (to employ that catchy, catchall moniker coined and lent to us by engineering folks who work on all of the technical fiddly bits behind the scenes but know we communications folks can’t very well say ‘We’re updating all of the technical fiddly bits behind the scenes’ and expect you, an enlightened Google user, to take us seriously or at least not wonder aloud ‘ Wait, what sort of bits were those again?’).

So please check back in sixty minutes. Maybe less, considering the time you’ve invested in deciphering this message.

This was published in the Google Maps Help Forum at 7:30 on 5/15:

We’re planning scheduled downtime for the Local Business Center on Monday, May 18, at around 12:30pm EDT for approximately two hours. During this time, you will not be able to access your Local Business Center account.

Thanks for your patience,

I do not remember too many times when the LBC has been formally shut down even for 2 hours. Is it the fix to the merging issues? Something else? Check back.

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