Google Maps adds new Local Business Center User Guide

Yesterday, Google Maps rolled out a new Local Business Center User Guide. The guide has more specific details about the listing process, the meaning of various messages and an improved interface to the information.

The LBC User Guide is a definite improvement over the previous help system and may ameliorate some of the business listing problems it will not solve some of the more common questions and many of the edge situations that seem to occur.
Continue reading Google Maps adds new Local Business Center User Guide

Hitwise: Mapquest still in the lead but Google Maps is gaining

Update 4/13: Google Maps now in lead over Mapquest, according to Hitwise

Compete.com has shown Google Maps as having more traffic than Mapquest since January. Hitwise on the other hand has Google Maps gaining but not yet surpassing Mapquest. Here are the latest numbers from Hitwise:

mapquest-google-march-2008

Both Hitwise and Compete show an uptick in March for Maps and Mapquest. The more granular view that Hitwise offers, shows most of that uptick occurring after March 28th (the rough start date of the increased local exposure) with Google increasing faster than Mapquest.

Whether this is due to an uptick in pre Easter travel planning or due to Google rollout of increased showing of the Local 10 Pack or both is hard to tell at this point.

Tracking Local search Traffic with Analytics

Analytics is not something that I specialize in but given the increasingly high profile nature of the Local 10 Pack and no easy solution from Google for distinguishing this traffic, I turned to Martijn Beijk for advice.

Martijn Beijk works as a SEO at Onetomarket, one of the leading online marketing agencies in Europe with offices in the Netherlands, Germany and Spain. There he focusses on local search , analytics and SEO in general. You can find him writing on his blog about Local Search, SearchCowboys and other guest appearances. Some of you might know him from his article ‘The Definitive guide on using KML for SEO’ which was nominated for a Semmy Award. 

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This article is for all of you who have already claimed their businesses or those of a client. Some experience with Google Analytics is required
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A good thing for any website owner is to run a Web Analytics package which tells you some things about the visitors of your website. They way they entered your website, with what, where from, for how long and where or even why they left.

It is also possible to set specific goals using a Web Analytics package  like a form that has been filled out or a contact page that has been reached. This can be very useful to determine if your Local Traffic is converting into any phone calls, filled out forms or an ecommerce transaction waiting to be picked up from your storefront.

The following examples with Google Analytics will help you get more insight in your local traffic. Basic knowledge of Analytics is assumed. Google Analytics (GA) should already be set up for the website in order to continue the following examples.

  Continue reading Tracking Local search Traffic with Analytics

Google Maps adds Comment/Review Posting Policy

Review spam in Google Maps has been a problem since reviews started being accepted by Google. There has always been a link to tag the review as inappropriate but no clear indication of what was and what was not acceptable nor when or how a review would be removed. Google has at least dealt with the first issue.

They recently (exactly how recent in unclear) have created a specific Comment Posting Policy that delineates specific review practices that are prohibited:

Please follow these policies when making a comment: 

  • Don’t spam or post fake reviews intended to boost or lower ratings.
  • Don’t post or link to content that is sexually explicit or contains profanity.
  • Don’t post or link to content that is abusive or hateful or threatens or harasses others.
  • Don’t post or or link to any file that contains viruses, corrupted files, “Trojan Horses,” or any other contaminating or destructive features that may damage someone else’s computer.
  • Don’t post any material that violates the copyrights or other intellectual property rights of others.
  • Don’t impersonate any person, or falsely state or otherwise misrepresent your affiliation with a person or entity.
  • Don’t violate any other applicable law or regulation.
  • Don’t use comments as a forum for advertisement.

Google notes that they “reserve the right to review and remove commentary that violates our policies”.

Reviews are potentially a positive contributor to a consumers understanding of local information. However, often in the context of Maps, where a Local 10 Pack ranking is so valuable, they have taken on a life of their own that is often unrelated to an actual review process and has everything to do with maximizing a business’s presence. This has led to inflated, business generated reviews as well as wildly inpappropriate reviews. Creating clear posting guidelines is a first, positive step in making the process and product functional.

However Google has a way to go to make reviews really work. Google has two issues in this regard that I have noted previously. Firstly, their scraping and updating of reviews has a very long and unpredictable update cycle. At best, if a review is removed from CitySearch it will be gone from Google in 6 to 8 weeks. But that is a best case scenario and that is not always the case.

Secondly, on Google generated reviews the only review removal request option is a community feature allowing a review to be flagged as inappropriate. There is no indication that Google even looks at this community input on a reliable basis. If they do, there is no feedback to the harmed business. There are no clear guidelines nor consistent action to indicate which reviews, if any, will be taken down.

The suggestion I made in September of last year still would be appropriate and that would be to implement review transparency in the Google review system by turning the Local Business Center into a relationship management tool and show the business owner EVERY review that you have in your index whether scraped or Google entered. Show us which ones are in our Maps listing and let us respond directly to those folks that created the review in Google. If we flag an inappropriate review from within the LBC, guarantee some sort of review process and a timeframe. And provide a response, even if automated!

Review spam and review policy are but once aspect of the review situation at Google. Miriam Ellis has a new post on the many oddities she has confronted in Google’s handling of reviews.

10 Pack Update affects Mom & Pop’s, McDonald’s, Marketers, MC & Mapqust

mcdonalds
Update:: Google Confirms 10 Pack Expansion

Google’s newest showing of Local results on non geo modified phrases will dramatically enhance the role of local data and of branded local data in search. Its impact will be felt every where from the local dentist to the largest retail brands in the US. It offers up the prospect of modifying the behaviors of businesses, searchers and search marketers alike.

From Mumbai to Missoula, from Mom and Pop’s to McDonald’s, from soccer moms to search mavens, from Mapspammers & Merchant Circle to Mapquest, all are going to feel the affect of Google’s recent increase in showing Local results to non geo targeted, but locally relevant phrases.

Yesterday as news of the development spread, local search writers noted the significance of the increased role that local would play in search with descriptions like game changer, large implications, welcome development, reflects real user intent:
Continue reading 10 Pack Update affects Mom & Pop’s, McDonald’s, Marketers, MC & Mapqust

Google Maps: Whitehouse Listing most recent Hijack Victim

For a brief period earlier in the week, the White House listing in Maps was hijacked by a blackhat locksmith. The hijacking, consistent with previous mapjackings, was reported to me by the locksmith “deepthroat” that previously reported the Maps hijacking technique. It was quickly returned to its normal community editable condition by Google.

whitehouse hijacked

In related news, O’Reilly fan PanzerMike, has reported the Obama Whitehouse for Mapspamming for multiple listings at one address and keyword stuffing to achieve higher ranking in Maps. According to PanzerMike: “Its not fair that first every lawyer in LA but me can Map spam and now Democrats can too!”

Google had no comment to these reports.

whitehouse-keyword-stuffing

Google Maps now showing Local 10 Pack on Broad Non Geo Phrase Searches

Google is now showing the Local 10 Pack on broad single phrase searches with obvious local intent (nods to Florist SEO Watch who spotted this on Saturday and Cathy Rhulloda for pointing it out) without geo modifiers. In US searches, the Local 10 Pack appears on phrases such as
plumber
locksmith
dentist
lawyer
doctor
used car
florist
health food
computer repair

but currently not on the phrases new cars, web design or apartment rental. It is not clear how many and which phrases are being used but they are more common than not. The results appear to be using Google’s IP geotargeting and present regardless of browser type or whether the user is logged in. For me, the default results offered are in Buffalo, NY, over 70 miles away but there is an option to change location.

dentist

Continue reading Google Maps now showing Local 10 Pack on Broad Non Geo Phrase Searches

Google Maps: What might customer service look like?

Over a year ago I compared Google Maps to Yahoo Local in the nature of their communication upon listing a business in the respective services. I praised Yahoo for proactive, if automated, communications and followup. Yahoo, in contrast to Google, made the signup process seem like not walking off of a cliff in the dark. More importantly than the specifics of the process, Yahoo made me feel good about the process with minimal effort on their part. Communication like this improves the buy in process prior to a problem. Customer service on the other hand is an improved communication after the problem inevitably occurs.

I just recently switched my home accounting on Quicken from a very old OS 9 Macintosh Quicken to a newer version on OS X. My customer service interaction with Intuit was exemplary without ever speaking with a customer service rep and it drove home for me why Google’s current model for customer service fails and how they could improve it.

What might Google Maps customer service look like if Google were to get serious about it? How would I feel if they were to do it right?

Google has a very thorough reputation management methodology. They actively scour the web, blogs, forums and every other kind of possible on line resource for problems with their products. This process is automated and the issues found are apparently categorized and ranked. In the case of Google Maps, if a  specific problem is being widely discussed across the web and involves a specific bad record or set of records (think mapspam), it seems the Google staff are authorized to hand jigger the results so that better results are shown and that specific record repaired or removed. If the problem is serious enough, it might also be passed to the Maps group for review and possible future change of way the results are presented. It works great at capping the damage of high profile problems and it provides a long term feed loop to improve the product. Great as far as it goes.

Reputation management however is not customer service. Only high profile problems are solved and only after they become big problems. By only focusing on these high profile problems, many legitimate questions go unanswered leaving many folks with a feeling that Google just doesn’t care. At its best, good customer service is a process that takes that potentially huge problem and turns it into a positive to cement a long term relationship. It is a way of acknowledging the customer’s humanity.

Google’s single customer service option, if you are a business or user, for getting an answer to your problem is to post to the Google Maps forums. These are unmoderated forums and once again it feels like a step off of that very steep cliff. Google Guides might read all of the posts but actually respond to very few, relying instead on volunteers to answer the question if it gets answered at all. Some of the volunteers are authorized to bring high profile problems to Google’s direct attention. (Nothing like shifting costs…)

Thus Google Map’s customer service is a very hit and miss proposition. By the time a small business owner makes it to the forums they are already frustrated and when they find such spotty service, they often go “postal” (is there a maps equivalent of postal?). Google Maps is becoming known for sub optimal customer service and the forums are a veritable breeding ground of discontent

It doesn’t need to be this way. I think that the model of customer support provided by Intuit for Quicken points the way. But before I get to that lets look at how big the support problem is. Being immersed in the “bad results” I often get a distorted view of the reality. I see mostly egregious examples and I, and most people, tend to extrapolate that more widely than is justified. I read the group postings every day and the influx seems overwhelming. The reality? Let’s take a look.

To get a sense of the total number of problems reported I looked at the number of original postings in the three groups where problems and questions with Maps are dealt with since the new forums were rolled out in Mid January. On average there were 53 postings per day. Over time, they add up to many unhappy customers if they go unanswered. I suppose that there could be more postings if Google highlighted access but it would still be a manageable daily number.

Number of Posts Reporting Problems, Daily Average Jan Feb Mar
For Business Owners 10 9 9
Problems and Errors 26 25 27
How Do I? 19 17 17
Daily Total 55 51 53

So given the small scale of the problem why is Google unable to allocate the resources to provide customer service? Who knows? (see Greg’s post for a possible cause)?

Could it be fixed? Yes and here is where the Intuit Quicken solution comes in.
Continue reading Google Maps: What might customer service look like?

Google Maps Interface Tweak

Google Maps has made a small change in the interface (thanks to ever observant LA Florist, Cathy Rulloda) removing the obvious links to toggle between Maps View (seen when entering via Maps link) and Text View (seen when entering via a Universal Local Result). The change, one of many since the August Blue Line role out, is one more step in simplifying the Maps interface and integrating the Maps and Business Listing views.

Screen shot from 3/23/09:

before

In the new view, one simply selects the expand or contract arrows to move from one view to the other.

Screen shot from 3/24/09:

after

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