Google Maps limits view of Categories via Community Edits

The ability to see and change existing categories via Community edit has recently been removed by Google. David Rodecker of RelevantAds pointed out this subtle but interesting change in the Google Maps Community Edit feature that was introduced in March of 2008.

A community editor can still add a category but the ability to know how the business was (sometimes erroneously) categorized and to affect that is now gone. This change apparently occurred last week and was first noticed by LocalSplash.
before-after

It is interesting to speculate why Google removed this feature of community editing. David Rodecker and LocalSplash both noted that it allowed them to decide which categories were the most appropriate for their clients. One presumes that the either the information that Google was receiving via the feature was for the most part useless or more likely being used to disadvantage competitors. It did provide default categorization information on unclaimed businesses and was the only communication vehicle to alert Google of obviously miscategorized businesses.

I am not sure that having the ability to edit the category information is useful but knowing the category information of claimed and unclaimed businesses would provide a transparency that would be welcomed.

Google Maps: Tightening down on Locksmiths

Last week in the Maps Forums and again today as a posting in a comment in Google Maps vs Locksmith Spammers: Spammers winning? Locksmiths have noted that Google is apparently building system wide impediments to spamming.

Boruch Fishman, an SEO in the Locksmith industry noted:

Recently Google has been slamming locksmith spam so hard it appears to me that the situation is going to the other extreme. I work with locksmiths in my role as a search engine submitter. Today I talked to a locksmith in Arlington Virginia. He told me he has worked out of his house for a year. His company is called Security Locksmith. From what he told me, he is serving people in his local area. He uses a local phone number. He admits that he registered his company on Google, using a trade name – 24 hour emergency locksmith. His listing was then flagged. He changed his name back to his company name, and began taking out keywords. He subsequently found that his listing was flagged, until he entirely removed the word locksmith from any text field in the Google application. Since locksmith is actually part of his legally registered name, he shouldn’t be flagged.

I had another locksmith and call me about the same problem. I was told he also had a brick and mortar business in Nashville. However, this man had a toll free number. I tried to register his business and it was flagged. I then took out any term with locksmith, and the listing was finally changed to waiting for submission. I then decided to test the system. I just added back the word “emergency mobile locksmith,” and the listing was again flagged. Later I found out from the man that he really lived in another State, and had people that would be working for him in Nashville. While Google would be happy to ferret out this out of state poacher, how could they really differentiate this man from a brick and mortar locksmith?

In the Google forum, the following exchange transpired and was notable in that a Google employeed identified Puresheer’s answer as definitive:

aaaprolocksmith

I opened up an account, brick and mortar local location, local service area, locksmith service in Nashville. The account wsa flagged and so I started stripping out keywords and categories until it was changed to “awaiting next update,” which means the content was approved. Then I added back the one category “24/7 mobile locksmith,” and the account was again flagged. I took out “24/7,” I took out “mobile,” I took out “locksmith,” I stripped that account to the bare bones and had to finally change the name before it again went back to being “awaiting next update.”

What is so bad about “24/7 mobile locksmith service”

All answers

Puresheer

Level 2
6/25/09
Mike CH (Google Employee) says this answers the question:

@aaaprolocksmith

This term “Mobile  Locksmith” was one of the firsts that Google blocked/ flagged while one using it. The reason- spammers! 1. you can thanks Usafe (see first reference below) that spammed Gmaps very strongly with this term in their categories & additional titles to their listings. 2. you can also thank the mega spammers from Florida (or wherever they are from) about the wide use they made with this term in ALL USA & Canada (see second reference below- Organic results, see all the first pages – most of them belong to the same spammy company). BTW- the term Emergency Locksmith is starting to be flagged as well; that happened in the last week.

My suggestion- don’t use  the flagged terms; the Locksmith industry is under the spot light & you don’t want Google to investigate your listing more than they are doing now (for Locksmiths).

If this is the only ‘bump’ you encountered with Google in the Locksmith field- you are in a good position!

References:
[1]
maps.google.com
[2]
www.google.com

Earlier this month, Glenn Younger, a locksmith in the San Diego market who tracks unlicensed locksmiths in California, noted that although the number of fraudulent unlicensed listings in Maps had declined

… in my town (San Diego) have reduced from over 3,000 to now under 1,000. The map spammers are still in the entire 10 pak and well represented, but now they are only 75% of the listings. Google users are still more likely to see or find a scammer but Google is doing something to make a difference.

Obviously Google is working on the Locksmith spam problem and because of publicity is perhaps making more of an effort in this regard than the other search engines. They seem to be using a combination of flagging listings in the LBC and alogrythmically submerging from the listings. In typical Google fashion, it is without much input or clear error messages on their part but their response in the forum was refreshing.

The difficult work of making Maps a more honest place has begun. In my last interview with Carter Maslan he told me:

Its like getting a vaccine. It makes you resilient long term. All the spam you are seeing are short term things. We are tackling them and they will be exponetially cured by exposure to the spam. We are working on spam abatement as a top priorty. This will allow us to provide an even better experience.

That all being said, if you need a locksmith I still wouldn’t use Google Maps just yet to find one. Establish a relationship with a local craftsman well ahead of time so that in a time of emergency you know who to call and don’t need to rely on the as yet still compromised Map index.

Tips to help Google users find and connect with your business

Flow Chart of a Google Cluster technology in Local
Maps Google has been somewhat more forward facing of late. They rolled out the data rich Dashboard accompanied by a strong PR push in the technical, business and mainstream media. They have been dribbling out tidbits as to how Maps function (see the diagram to right) and are being somewhat more forthright on the forums as to what works and what doesn’t.

One realizes after watching Google that their communication is no accident and is very controlled. Information doesn’t flow freely about Maps and given the lack of a Maps Guide with the public presence of a Matt Cutts, it comes from many different angles; the forums, blog announcements, the help docs, rare interviews etc. etc

The recently highlighted Tips to help Google users find and connect with your business is consistent with this communication pattern. It is a understated and a tantalizingly insubstantial document that deserves a careful read. Two tidbits that were of interest to me (bold are mine):

 Choose the most appropriate, specific categories for your business.
  • Don’t be afraid to choose specific categories instead of broad ones. The important thing is that the categories are accurate and describe your business well. Google’s search algorithm makes sure that users looking for “Book Stores” will see businesses in more specific categories like “Used Book Stores,” “Comic Book Stores,” and “Rare Book Stores” too.
 Establish a strong, accurate presence on the web.
  • Encourage customers to review your business or to blog about it. Google uses these to improve search results too.

Flagged (and not) Waiting for Content Check

The Local Business Center status of being Flagged Waiting for content check is one that generates the most posts in the Google Help Forums.

Google has never clearly defined all of the situations that precipitate the message. The technique of line by line and word by word removal of the content and then resaving your listing usually allows one to figure out which word or field is the offending one. The flag may also be triggered by a bug or field limitation. It is known that too many CAPS, the use of the word Google, a url to Google sites, sexual, racsist or hateful language trigger the filter. Until now, it was not known that there were industry specific phrases that might trigger it as well. To further complicate the situation Google has individually made legitimate exceptions via the tortuous path of the forums.

This post in the Help Groups though highlights the process and problems with the status code as well as some of the bigger issues that Google confronts in creating a local index and their awareness of the issues.

I spied it last night at midnight, forwarded it to PureSheer who responded. His response then precipitated a near immediate and unusually forthright response from Google. This post captures all of the themes of Maps in a nutshell; the immature status of the LBC, some of the issues that trigger the Flagged message, the forum based support issues, the difficulties of legitimate business functioning in a spammy Maps world and Google’s work to harness the beast they have unleashed…

 

Google Help > Maps > Discussions > Problems and Errors > My account ws flagged for the phrase “mobile locksmith service”

 Question: My account ws flagged for the phrase “mobile locksmith service” Remove abuse

aaaprolocksmith 

Level 1
6/24/09
I opened up an account, brick and mortar local location, local service area, locksmith service in Nashville. The account wsa flagged and so I started stripping out keywords and categories until it was changed to “awaiting next update,” which means the content was approved. Then I added back the one category “24/7 mobile locksmith,” and the account was again flagged. I took out “24/7,” I took out “mobile,” I took out “locksmith,” I stripped that account to the bare bones and had to finally change the name before it again went back to being “awaiting next update.”
   What is so bad about “24/7 mobile locksmith service”

All answers

Puresheer 

Level 1
4:48 AM
 Mike CH (Google Employee) says this answers the question:

@aaaprolocksmith

This term “Mobile  Locksmith” was one of the firsts that Google blocked/ flagged while one using it. The reason- spammers! 1. you can thanks Usafe (see first reference below) that spammed Gmaps very strongly with this term in their categories & additional titles to their listings. 2. you can also thank the mega spammers from Florida (or wherever they are from) about the wide use they made with this term in ALL USA & Canada (see second reference below- Organic results, see all the first pages – most of them belong to the same spammy company). BTW- the term Emergency Locksmith is starting to be flagged as well; that happened in the last week.

My suggestion- don’t use  the flagged terms; the Locksmith industry is under the spot light & you don’t want Google to investigate your listing more than they are doing now (for Locksmiths).

 If this is the only ‘bump’ you encountered with Google in the Locksmith field- you are in a good position!

References:
[1]
maps.google.com
[2]
www.google.com
Do you think this answers the question?  Report abuse
Mike CH 

Google Employee
4:58 AM
Puresheer has it right. Try the query [locksmiths in new york] if you want to see something truly sad. We’re cleaning this up and appreciate your patience whilst we try and restore some sanity to the world of locksmiths-on-Google-Maps.
Do you think this answers the question?  Report abuse

The takeaways?
Continue reading Flagged (and not) Waiting for Content Check

Local Links of Interest

Google No Longer Accepts Emergency Data Reports – Miriam Ellis Solas Web Design

Miriam responds to Google’s apparent lack of support for emergency listing accuracy in Maps.

The Guide to Canadian Citations for Local Search – David Mihm, Mihmorandum

An excellent resource for anyone living north of THE border that is managing a local listing.

Geo-Targeting Patents – David Harry, Huomah SEO Dojo

They have put together a great database of search related patents in pdf form. The geo targeted patents in one sport are a great resource.

Google Maps Desperation: What advice would you give?

I post in the Google Maps Help forums and regularly receive emails from other forum readers. I received this one yesterday asking for advice. 

Hi Mike,
I wanted to thank you for your contributions to the various, un-centralized (Mapspam) threads on Google about this topic. In a way, it seems like you are the only one reading the complaints!

I won’t bore you with the details, but I am another small business owner suffering because of a google-map manipulator/spammer. I have read your blog, and thank you for writing it.

Do you have any advice for getting Google to pay attention to the spam reports I have been sending in? At this point, my business is providing the only paycheck for my family of four, and the spammers are driving us out of business.

Thanks in advance for any help you could offer,

Laurel (bellastella)
Portland, OR

 

Besides Self-immolation in front of the Google’s Headquarters, what advice would you give her to get Google to pay attention?

Why does Google Have the Maps Support Forums?

Total postings Jan 21 - June 20 by Maps GroupMiriam Ellis has anecdotally documented the frustration that business users feel with Google once they arrive at the Maps Help Forum. The incredulity that smb’s have at Google’s apparent lack of customer support is summed up in these few quotes (amongst the 65 or so that Miriam has documented):

– Google really likes to keep their Customer Service phone number on lock
– If my business’ customer service was anything like Google’s, we’d have been out of business long ago!

Miriam herself asks: Like the small sampling of bewildered, frustrated and angry people, above, I am left wondering why Google builds applications for the use of local business owners – indeed, that end up ruling the lives of local business owners – and then hides from these people. Why build products for the world if you don’t want any involvement with its people?

My opinion? For Google the Maps Help Forums are not a customer support vehicle. That has become obvious as the staff presence there is at best sporadic and at worst might be viewed as a sinister programming of a Pavlovian response. As I pointed out in an earlier article, there are some indications that customer support on Maps from Google might actually be declining. Google clearly knows how to provide customer service and has done so within the AdWords group. Them not providing customer service even in the limited environment of the forums is a conscious choice on their part. So why have forums at all you ask?

The answer? Continue reading Why does Google Have the Maps Support Forums?

Is Google Maps Reducing Customer Support?

Recently there was a posting in Google’s forum where a large hospital facility was asking for help with claiming and verifying their records in Google Maps. They had a phone system that wouldn’t allow phone verification and the post cards either didn’t arrive or were lost in their internal mail system. Google’s Employee Joel responded with this unsatisfying answer:

I understand this is difficult. Here’s my advice –  If you want to individually verify, the best course of action is to check your mail system and make sure the mail doesn’t get lost (not a very satisfying answer, I know, but it’s the best solution with mail problems). Alternatively, you may want to try submitting a bulk feed with the corrected information.

Late last year when Miriam Ellis of the Solas Web Design noted the great difficulty she had with emergency health numbers in Google Maps, Google’s Maps Guide Jen responded:

I understand that the main concern expressed is that the repercussions for incorrect information on hospital listings is much greater than that of non-emergency service businesses. We completely agree with this. In fact, we allow hospital and medical service listings to be edited partly for the reasons that you’ve expressed (outdated or misdirected information). Community edits for these listings come under great scrutiny. Our contact options in the help center http://maps.google.com/support/bin/request.py?contact_type=contact_policy allows users to tell us specifically when emergency service, shelter, and other hospital data is incorrect, and we aim to resolve these within 48 hours. While it’s not possible for us to go through every single hospital listing in our index, we do our best to ensure the accuracy of major listings.

The form that Maps Guide Jen mentions has now been removed. A customer service that Google once provided to attempt to reconcile the phone numbers of emergency care and health services has been removed. The question one has to ask is why? One can postulate all sorts of intentions about Google’s behaviors but at the core, one has to assume that they are rational and not crazy.

Why would they actually reduce their commitment to getting at least emergency numbers as accurate as possible?
-Is the task impossible?
-Is it too expensive?
-Does it open Google up to liability?
-Does it set a standard that they have no desire to generally apply?

Regardless, it does communicate to the world that pin point accuracy is not Google’s goal with Maps. It seems that “good enough” is their objective.

Google: Google Voice Coming Soon

voice-logoGoogle Voice is a tool that every small business start up, working professional and high school student are likely to lust after. It is phone and voice management app that Google aquired from Grand Central that provides a single unified number and interface for all of your phone numbers, conference calls & voice messaging. It allows all of your various phone numbers, including sms, to be consolidated into a single number with intelligent routing. The list of features is impressive and those using it sing its praises.

There has been a fair bit of recent chatter on-line about when Google was introducing Google Voice. ReadWriteWeb reports that Google has recently acquired 1 million phone numbers for allocation and Gizmodo reports of a developer noting its release was imminent.

Google is apparently confirming these suspicions. Here is what Google Voice Help says:

Google Voice is currently available for GrandCentral users only, but will be open to new users soon. In the meantime, please leave us your email address and we’ll notify you as soon as Google Voice becomes available. To learn more about Google Voice, check out our feature videos.

When can I sign up?
We expect to have the service ready for new users in a matter of weeks, and are focused on opening it as soon as possible.

What if I reserved a number on the GrandCentral site before?
We will be emailing you when Google Voice is open to the public to sign up for the service.

How much does it cost?
The service is free.

What do I do if I am already a GrandCentral user?
Over the next few days, instructions will appear at the top of your inbox on how to upgrade your GrandCentral account to Google Voice. Thanks for your patience.

If you have not yet done so, you should visit Google and asked to be notified when the service is released.

Google Earth Add Hi Res Images from Tehran

Google Lat Long Blog announced the availability of hi res images from Tehran, Iran for use in Google Earth:

Many of you have been letting us know through Tweets, emails, blog posts, message boards, and even an online petition that you’re very interested in seeing recent satellite imagery of Tehran. Well, we’ve heard your requests and over the past few days have been working with our satellite imagery partner GeoEye to make this possible. We just received updated satellite imagery of Tehran, taken on Thursday the 18th at approximatly 11:18am local time. Below are some screenshots the updated imagery, you can view the entire image in Google Earth with this KML file.

 

 

The images above were taken from GeoEye’s IKONOS satellite, which images at roughly 1-meter per pixel. We are continuing to work with GeoEye to see if we can provide a higher resolution update from the GeoEye-1 satellite, which would be at 0.5-meters per pixel, but this is subject to weather constraints. We’d like to thank GeoEye for making this imagery available to us and to thank our users for their advocacy.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search