Google Promotes Profiles with Free Business Cards

Google doesn’t frequently advertise their services or products in traditional venues very often. Apparently there are plans to advertise Chrome on TV and they ran their billboards for Goog-411 in out of the way places in September of 2007. In late April, Google introduced profile results that included personal profiles as a OneBox in the main Google search results. To promote this service Google offered up 25 free business cards to the first 10,000 respondents with profiles (thanks to Steve Hatcher of AxeMedia.com). Mine came in the mail today:

bus-card2

Along with the free cards came a promotion from iprint to buy an additional 250 cards for $19.97. Ironically, this is an 18% premium over their current rate for full color cards that include address, phone, business name, etc. One would have to love Google an awful lot to buy a set of business cards that forces the user to the web to get critical contact information. That being said, I am glad to get the cards for free as I stopped carrying business cards about the same time as I threw away my fax machine. These 25 should last me a very long time. 

Another irony, from where I sit, is that it appears that my personal profile is more secure and less vulnerable than a business listing in Maps.

Google Maps: How to Remove Duplicate Records in the Local Business Center

It is not uncommon in Google Maps for one business location to have multiple business listings. They come from Google’s many data providers, readers who create new records before checking for existing records and from the Local Business Center itself.

There has always been confusion about how to handle these duplicate records as the wrong click could remove the business from Maps completely. Even though you thought you were suspending the duplicate you might be suspending all of your records. The process is counter intuitive to the point that in the past even Google has had trouble describing the process of duplicate record removal.

Google has now published an authoritative description of the duplicate removal process (updated 5/9):

Disclaimer: Before you get started, it’s important to remember that a listing contains information merged from multiple sources. Suspending a duplicate listing could cause the original listing to be removed from Maps, because all sources of information for both the original and the duplicate might be suppressed.

  1. Choose the listing that you’d prefer to keep in your account. Make sure that you have all your enhanced content (photos, business hours, description) attached to this listing and this listing only.
  2. For duplicates of this listing in your account (the ones you want to remove), remove all enhanced information. Keep only required information, like the business title, address, and onephone number.
  3. Submit these changes and verify as necessary.
  4. Now, sit tight for a couple of weeks – just for good measure.
  5. Delete the duplicates from your account, choosing Remove this listing from my Local Business Center account.

That’s it! Now you should only have one entry to control the details of your business listing. Be patient with updating certain kinds of information, like pictures — they should eventually appear in Maps.

Kudos to Google and Joel for posting this instruction.

Microsoft’s TellMe Spams Google with Bogus Tech Support Number

I saw this posted in the Google Help Forum thread Google is Merging Map Records and wondered if she knew something that I didn’t:

hmcx2
4/29/09
We tried the Google Technical Support people (Julie & Billy, the supervisor) at 888/882-7114. They sounded like they could fix the problem but only if we paid $35.00. Since we never requested that our listing be merged (in fact, we actually never even placed the listing – they said maybe a phone company had listed it on Google) it seems unfiar to charge us.

If anybody finds ANY route to contact somebody at Google to fix this – please post the info – be it phone number, email address or postal address.
—-
Maps Guide Adam
Google Employee
4/29/09
Please note that we don’t offer telephone technical support for LBC listings or other issues in Google Maps. If anyone claims to be able to fix this issue, for a fee, please *DO NOT* pay them. They are not representatives of Google.

Now Adam’s answered was obviously correct but this definitely piqued my curiosity so I began the hunt and searching (where else?) on Google I came upon this incredibly (and unintentionally) ironic post; And we thought Microsoft was the Evil Empire? where author Pamela notes:

So, after time and time of looking through insulting, tedious, no-result in sight surveys, I decided to call (and yes, there’s no phone number available to the naked desiring eye) 1-800-555-1212. I got connected to: 1-888-882-7114. This number gladly shared through a recorded voice that Google was happy to help, they were open 24/7 and guess what? FOR ONLY $2.99 PER MINUTE (was this a 1-900 number?) I could TALK TO SOMEONE. I even got the first TWO minutes for no cost.

Wait. A. Second. You mean to tell me, that I have a problem, and you are willing – YOU GOOGLE – to help little old me for only $2.99 per minute? O.M.G. That is so generous of you. But how do I pay thee, so generous one?

So I called 1-800-555-1212 and TellMe (owned by Microsoft no less) answered: “Please say the name of the listing you want” in a pleasant computer voice. “Google” I said and TellMe responded that the “here’s the number for Google Technical Support 888-882-7114“.

I of course tried calling Google Technical Support. For $2.99 I was ready to pull out my credit card and see which problems they could solve. Unfortunately they were not in and my call was forwarded to 352-264-0014 and the mail box was full.

Dang and I thought I was so close to actually being able to call Google Tech Support….and what do I get? Microsoft’s Spam! Would someone please tell Microsoft that Google does not have technical support?

You have to love local.

Here is a recording of my call: Recording of Tellme Intereaction (mp3)

Google Maps: Manic Merging of Business Listings due to Algo Change

Google Maps Merges Business RecordsAt the beginning of last week, I started to notice posts in the Google Help forum and I received emails from a number of correspondents that their records had merged with nearby competitors. At first blush they appeared to have all of the symptoms of hijacked records however after lengthy, ongoing communication with Google it appears that these merged records are being conflated by Google.

Despite having the Local business Center to provide authoritative information to a business listing, Google for a number of reasons and in a number of situations has always merged some business records inappropriately. The merged records will take on parts of one record and parts of the other in a somewhat willy nilly fashion, the url of one business and the telephone number of the other for example.

Typically these are two businesses at the same address or sharing a phone line. Sometimes the data mixup is from an upstream provider and Google will take the upstream provider’s information as more accurate or important than that in the Local Business Center. In the past Google has advised to slightly modify the two addresses so that Google could do better at distinguishing the merged records. In the case of the bad data coming from upstream data providers, it was necessary to track down the bad data and have it changed or face remergers on a regular basis.

Google Guide Joel described the issue before the recent rollout and snafu: “This is how our system works by design. Businesses that are the same address / location are merged. In general, it’s the right thing to do. However, we’ll take your concern as feedback. We want to improve these systems and are actively looking at doing this in the right way. In the meantime, there’s no way to force an immediate fix to the issue.”

For some, Google Maps has become the ultimate Kafka like nightmare of late, as Google is now merging records between nearby competitors just because they are in close proximity to each other. Apparently the merging algorithm has changed and Google is now merging records that have nothing in common other than being in the same map sector and a similar business profile.

One of the owners of a recently merged records was from a Doctor’s office and noted the following: “Google merged the records for Dr John G Moe and Dr Kenneth Landis and this almost led to a tragic patient outcome this weekend. An emergency room doctor from Kansas tried to contact Dr. Moe to see if a certain drug could be given to our patient. Since the patient was unable to give the ER our phone number, the googled Dr John G Moe. Since Google linked our record, the saw the phone number for Dr Landis and left a message on his answering machine and since he wasn’t on call that weekend, we didn’t learn of the problem until much later”.

Here are some graphic examples of this behavior:
Continue reading Google Maps: Manic Merging of Business Listings due to Algo Change

State Attorney General to AT&T: Remove Illegal Locksmith Listings at Yellowpages.com

Legitimate locksmith’s have been attempting to convince authorities to pursue the illegetimate locksmiths for several years. They seem to have achieved a high profile success in Missouri where the State Attorney General is filing suit against one of the Florida companies behind a significant amount of the mapspam. In addition, the Attorney General “has also taken steps to get AT&T to remove the company’s ads from “The Real Yellow Pages” and www.yellowpages.com”.

From the KCTV5 website that broke the story locally:

“Clearly the Yellow Pages has made lots of money off of this,” said Koster.

The state is suing Dependable Locks Inc., out of Florida, a company accused of flooding the phone book with dozens of company aliases and hundreds of phone numbers.

And the attorney general’s office has given the AT&T Yellow Pages five business days to shut off hundreds of phone numbers linked to the fraudulent companies.

The Attorney General’s listing of related companies had a familiar ring to it and many are still present in Google’s index. “The following are the alternate business names used by Dependable Locks, Inc.”:

–A#1 24 Hour Locksmith
–A 24 Hour Locksmith
–AAA 24 & 7 Day Locksmith
–A Always Available 24 Hour Locksmith
–A Emergency A Locksmith
–A Locksmith Always 24 Hour
–A Locksmith A 1-24 Hour
–A Locksmith 00 24 Hour
–A Locksmith O Always 24 Hour
–A Locksmith Service 24 Hour
–A Locksmith 24 Hour Emergency
–A Locksmith
–A Kansas City #1 Emergency Locksmith
–24 Hour A Locksmith at St. Louis
–24 Hour A Locksmith
–0 24 Hour Locksmith

As Glenn Y(who alerted me to the above story, thanks) noted in a recent comment on my post Google Maps vs Locksmith Spammers: Spammers winning: “Every person who counts on internet search has a dog in this fight. SEO professionals will need to get involved with the solution, or lose their ability to positively effect search for their customers. This is not about locksmiths, it’s about fraud and search.”

Here is the press conference that has some interesting detail:

Google Maps Data Quality: Where do we stand after the Locksmith Onslaught?

I have written extensively about the hijinks in the Locksmith industry and the impact that the massive amount of mapspam was having on the Maps Index quality. Google noted that they had fixed the vector in January and another in March. Google however, when they fix a technical iisue like Mapspam rarely if ever seems to go back and clean up the resultant pollution in the index. It really begs the question: What does fixed mean?

One of the many tactics that the Locksmith industry used was to hijack unclaimed records in other industries (like hotels & restaurants) that had large numbers of web citations and reviews to achieve ranking cred for themselves. Over the past 6 weeks I have received various reports of these listings still showing up in the Local 10 Packs and spotting some myself as aI meandered through Maps.

David Mihm, Local SEO in Portland, sent me an example of a hijacked restaurant listing showing up for the search Restaurant Portland. We quickly (less than 10 minutes each) found 10 additional high profile searches that still are showing the affect of being hijacked by locksmiths. Literally one of every two searches in major metro areas showed polluted results. One can only presume what a thorough review might find. A motivated locksmith discovered that in the Maps records of locksmiths for the top 50 metro areas in California, he found 60,000 spammy locksmith listings.

boston-rest-pollution

Here are the searches that included obviously hijacked listings:

Restaurant Albuquerque
Restaurant Salt Lake City
Restaurant Atlanta
Restaurant Kansas City
Restaurant Tampa
Restaurant Nashville – a new one, towing
Restaurant Boston
Restaurant Miami
Restaurant Phoenix

Local data is hard enough to get accurate when all the players are honest and focused on that goal. However, leaving this detritus in the index takes the quality to a new low. As I noted in a previous post, when the plumbing breaks you don’t just seal the leak in the pipe you clean up the mess from the broken sewage pipe.

It is time for Google to give the records back to the rightful owners and provide the quality user experience that they so often reference as their standard.
24hr-rest-boston

InfoUSA – calls to verify our basic record

I just hung up the phone with an InfoUSA staffer who called to verify our business record. Never one to miss an opportunity, I think I may have asked him more questions than he was able to ask of me. As my daughter noted on a apron she gave me for my last birthday: “Cooking up good questions for over 50 years”.

1)They attempt to call every business in their list on annual basis.
2)They verify very little information about the business:
-Name
-Owner
-Primary Business (does anyone have a single primary business?)
-Website
-E-Mail address

It is nice that someone, somewhere is attempting to verify core local listing data. By the same token, they sure don’t verify much information. Why didn’t they ask for hours? Why did they let me only list one primary business function? Do I have handicap access?

I could go on but with very little more energy they could have gathered both more and better information to feed into the local ecosystem.

Google Maps Counts CityVoter Reviews Backwards

Update 4/26: It appears that all of the CityVoter.com reviews have been removed from Google. It is a little hard for me to understand how these reviews can be removed so quickly from Maps but can not be updated with equal speed.

Reviews from Cityvoter.com are heavily referenced in Google Maps with over 1,113,968 instances. However, it appears (pointed out by Avante Gardens – Florals Unique Anaheim, CA) that a positive review in CityVoter knocks down your star rating in Google Maps.

Here is a screen shot of the first sites referenced when searching for cityvoter.com in Maps. Note the glowing reviews but the low star ratings:
good-reviews-low-star-2

I clicked through to one of the entries. Note its affect on Hi-Techbikes.com in San Jose. He obviously worked pretty hard at fabricating reviews (ok so maybe this isn’t the best example) to get a single star. Take a look at his Maps record: Continue reading Google Maps Counts CityVoter Reviews Backwards

Review Removal Process- How Yahoo Succeeds and Google Doesn’t

I have recently added a new local account, The Option House Restaurant in Bradford, PA, the next town over. I soon discovered that they while they had a new business and a stellar local reputation, their on-line reputation was less than savory .

Sam Sylvester, the dapper 75 year old owner, moved back to his home town after 55 years of world travel, for help & support caring for his terminally ill wife. After her death and with the help of Rosie (his high school friend) as a marketing manager, he embarked on on a whole new life, but this time in Bradford. This spring, he opened a lively pub and cosmopolitan restaurant in an early 1900’s building that he had meticulously restored.

Bradford, PA was home to one of the first oil booms in the US. and in the early years of the 20th century, oil field owners would stop into the Option House for lunch and to trade oil contracts. It became an elegant depression era Vaudeville stop before falling on hard times in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. When it was shuttered it had become a less than reputable bar on the first floor and a flop house on the upper floors.

In a few short months early this year, after months of restoration, Sam  opened the restaurant to rave local reviews. It doesn’t take long in a small town like Bradford for an excellent restaurant to become wildly popular.  But as I soon found out, after contracting to build a new website, their on-line reputation reeked of sleazy rooms and a disreputable bar. From their Yahoo Local review (here is the Google cache):

1-2 of 2
 Write a review
  1. by RIOT

    03/07/2009

    Now that this place is under new ownership it has been completely restored to its former glory. Everything has been restored and renovated! This used to be one of the trashiest places in town, and now it is elegant and beautiful!!! You really have to see it for yourself. They now offer fine food thanks to the acquisition of a high end chef from another local business… 5 stars

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    Comment on Review
  2. by a Yahoo! Local User

    08/09/2005

    I have to be fair: I haven’t really been to this place since I was about 23. It seems like a lot of underage people hang out in here. I guess that would be cool if I were underage. when I used to go there a lot, it was great.

    Comment on Review
Reviews 1-2 of 2

On-line reviews have become the double edged sword of on-line marketing for many small business. Greg Sterling repored on recent research that Online Reviews Influence 84% of Americans. They are a reality that impacts sales whether they are truthful or not, current or not, spammy or not. I decided to see how Yahoo would respond to my desire to have the review noting service to underage drinkers pulled down.
Continue reading Review Removal Process- How Yahoo Succeeds and Google Doesn’t

Google Maps: Upsurge in reports of Map Hijackings

Over the past few days there has been a steep increase of reports of legitimately claimed LBC listings being hijacked in Google Maps. The reports (here, here, here & here) all follow the hijacking pattern that Locksmiths widely suffered during the second half of last year. The last of these recent reports, Hotel Hijacking Map Spam or Does Google Suck? is the most recent and happened to a friend of Marty Weintraub of AimClear.

There is a bug where Google has a problem with merging records. They often conflate two records that have similar attributes but usually these two records have the same addresses, or share a phone number and/or have similar web urls. The above examples, while possibly severe cases of merging, show all of the attributes of hijacked records. Given that Google Maps is the ultimate black box, one can only guess at the actual backend processes that occur but it shure looks similar to the mapjackings. Regardless the result to the end business is no less severe. In Marty’s case, he noted a likely 50% drop in visitation due to the problem.

The methodology in the Locksmith hijacking was for the bad guys to create a totally exact duplicate record of the real business in the LBC with but one change, the phone number. The record would be verified via the phone system and over time, this listing would be merged with the original LBC record in the cluster. Because it was more recent the LBC records it would be identified as the authoritative source by Google and the bad guys could change then change the record at will and modify URL etc.

These records when viewed in Maps are characterized by showing the wrong url, multiple phone numbers in the more info view AND multiple Provided by the business owner entries created each time the record was reclaimed via this process.
inn-on-lake-superior

As he notes in his article there are many types of hijackings and mapspam that occur in Google’s wiki world of Maps but the one that is most disturbing to me are the ones, like the Hotel Hijacking Map Spam or Does Google Suck?, that occur to claimed records. Firstly it indicates incredibly malicious intent on the part of the folks to perpertrate the action. Secondly it indicates an incredible violation of trust on the part of Google. A local business has every reason to trust Google & needs to trust Google when they say that claimed records can not be hijacked. This trust is the lubricant of all transanctions in our commercial world and in local this goes in spades. For Google to offer up the platform where that chain of trust can be broken portends the failure of Local Search if it can not be brought under control.

It is possible that these records are just now showing the results of hijacks that occurred before Google closed the vector, they could be new hijack technique or it is possible that there is a new extreme problem of merging taking place within Google Maps. Hopefully, Google will let us know what is going on. Regardless, its impact to the affected businesses is severe.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search