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 In fact, we allow hospital and medical service listings to be edited partly for the reasons that you’ve expressed (outdated or misdirected information).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.

Local and Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (via Greg Sterling) is moving from the area of research and into reality. Layar is releasing an augmented reality browser. From their web site:

The World’s First Augmented Reality Browser. Layar is a free application on your mobile phone which shows you what is around you by displaying real time digital information on top of reality though the camera of the mobile phone.

Layar will be available for the T-Mobile G1, HTC Magic and other Android phones in Android Market before July 1st 2009.

How do you use Layar?

By holding the phone in front of you like a camera information is displayed on top of the camera display view.

For all points of interest which are displayed on the screen, information is shown at the bottom of the screen.

This is the ultimate “local” technology as reality and the interface are intimately tied together. As Greg points out this type of system needs the data to provide value and in some arenas that may be a ways off. But it is not hard to imagine it working now with Trulia type information or Google’s business listings in a real time Streetview type environment. To get an idea of how this will play out on your mobile computer (ie your phone) watch this video.

Google Maps: Spammers find a way

The Google Local Business Center has a number of limits that it imposes on mere mortals and small business people. For example you can only legitimately have 5 categories. Another is that the description of your business can only contain 200 characters (about 30 words).

One then has to marvel at the craftiness of the spammers that manage to overcome these limits, one way or another. In this example of Toronto Locksmith Spam (sent along by PureShear) this “business owner” managed to fit 5609 characters under the details tab by keyword stuffing the Additional Details fields in the LBC ad nauseum. That amounts to 787 more words than is seen in the typical listing as most listers don’t add very many Additional Details.

The spammer managed to secure a 3rd place listing in the very spammy Toronto Locksmith 10 Pack results with but one citation. Clearly, in any category where the spammers are currently operating, an honest lister doesn’t have a chance.

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What not to do when you visit Mountain View

When I have time on my hands I ponder the big questions in life.

A recent one that popped to mind was whether Google Maps business listings for Mountain View were more spam free than elsewhere. Do the folks at Google do a ground check to see if reality and Maps are at all in sync? Do they look out the window of the corner suite and check whether the listing across the road is correct? Do they have to eat their own dog food?

I won’t leave you in suspsense. Spam is just as bad in Mountain View as any place. In fact it might just be worse.

Good Hotel In Mountain View:
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Clean Hotel in Moutain View:
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Locksmith Mt. View Ca.:

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The measles map view: Continue reading What not to do when you visit Mountain View

Mapquest Adds MapQuest 4 Mobile for iPhone

Sometimes when you get in a car, you are struck by the convenience and utility. You just know that the engineer that designed not just is a good engieer but that she/he loves cars and thinks about how they should be used.

Last week, Mapquest showed me the just released MapQuest 4 Mobile for iPhone and it struck me much the same way. While I have not yet used the final release product (available for download at the iTunes Store ) if it lives up to the demo it will rapidly become the mapping tool of choice for iPhone users. You can read about the full details at their blog.

The product offers a full blown mapping and business listing environment that is intuitive and easy to use. It fully integrates with their on-line product so a trip can be created either on line or in the iPhone and be readily available to either device. The interface allows for simple drag and drop reordering of stops on the Maps and an intuitive way to access common points of interest.

The feature that allows either a list view of driving directions or a full screen landscape view is particularly elegant. The enlargement puts one directions and a meaning graphic on the full screen and allows for a simple swipe to get to the next direction.

Unlike their on-line mapping product, the new iPhone tool puts the user experience front and center without the clutter of Mapquest’s many advertising partners taking top billing. They have included these partners in a contextually relevant way that adds to the user experience rather than detracting from it.

Obviously, Mapquest is in a battle for market share with Maps. This iPhone app will certainly be a reason for those already using Mapquest to stick with the service. But will it attract new Mapquest users? And will it bring those users to the website?

This product, even though not the default Map product on the iPhone, is good enough to do it. Certainly as a stand alone iPhone app it will generate buzz. Whether the web integration is enough to draw wayward users back to the Mapquest web fold remains to be seen.

SEOmoz Whiteboard Friday: David Mihm Part II

SEOmoz Whiteboard Friday – SEO for Local Search from Scott Willoughby on Vimeo.

GoogleBase and Local Business Center experiment to encourage more LBC participation?

Yesterday Google announced at the GoogleBase blog that they’ve “begun experimenting with exposing store locations in Google Product Search…. We think this will help users find nearby store locations, and help merchants get foot traffic into their stores” (thanks to Peter Wyspianski for pointing this out).

Google is inviting existing GoogleBase users to submit their local business locations to the LBC either manually or via bulk upload. If it is done via Bulk they are asking that the business fill out this form to help them associate the Local Business Center data with the correct Google Base account.

It is not clear whether Google plans on showing inventory data in Maps any time soon but do seem to be planning to correlate product information with related local store locations in GoogleBase. Has anyone seen this search result in the wild?

Google LBC Dashboard: Impressions of Impressions and Actions

picture-101I was curious to get an overview of dashboard information to understand both the value of Google’s new Local Business Center Dashboard and to attempt to quantify the value of a Local Universal search placement. I have summarzied impressions, actions and the details of actions for 31 of the Dashboards that I have access to.

On average 6.12% of impressions amongst these 31 businesses generated actions of one sort or another.

The highest total impressions and the highest action rate was 12.9% for a jewelry business in a midsize city (280,000 pop) that advertises heavily on radio and televsion. Over 50% of the actions in her account were for driving directions which I assume is the “recovery” part of the transaction. By that I mean the searcher knew who they were looking for and were now interested in visiting her location.  21% of those who took action “clicked for more info” and 28% clicked through to the website.

On average 36% of total actions across all dashboards were clicks for more info on Maps, 24% were for driving directions and 40% resulted in website visits.

There was some correlation between market size and total impressions. However popular industry search segments like restaurants and real estate did relatively well even in very small markets. Unfortunately I don’t have access to numbers for any given market segment across multiple market sizes.

It is not clear from the dashboard whether a given user that clicked for more information within Maps also took another action. If we assume that all of the actions were discreet (not necessarily an accurate assumption) than 60% of the actions taken would not show up in your web analytics.

Last year, Steve Espinosa published some provacative statistics that indicated that a first place organic ranking generated 1.6 times as many web visits as a Local 10 Pack listing. The Dashboard numbers suggest that non web visit actions are 50% higher than web visits putting the relative merits of a Local 10 Pack listing on parity with a #1 Organic Listing.

Obviously these numbers are not perfect as they do not account for either untracked actions like phone calls or double tracked actions by the same searcher taking two actions but they do give a general idea of the range of results that one might see in typical business.

I would love to know what folks are seeing in their dasboards as to total impressions, actions and action breakdowns. Let me know.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search