Local Links of Interest

BBB Reliability Report for MerchantCircle – Better Business Bureau of San Jose

Based on BBB files, this company has an unsatisfactory record with the BBB due to failure to respond to one or more complaints and or two or more otherwise unresolved complaints. However the business has resolved most complaints presented to the bureau.

The BBB processed a total of 87 complaints about this company in the last 36 months, our standard reporting period.Of the total of 87 complaints closed in 36 months, 66 were closed in the last year.

The bolds are not mine, but the sentiment is. FUD on steroids produces fear and loathing not loyal customers.

Why men never stop for directions – Julie Beun-Chown, Canwest News Service

According to a joint study by the University of Lethbridge and the University of Saskatchewan, a man’s ability to find his way out of anywhere armed only with a road map and his sense of direction is due to ancestral testosterone. During the study, which pitted men against women in a virtual water maze, researchers examined how the male hormone affects such spatial abilities as map reading, mental orientation and the ability to use north-south Euclidean directions.

“One of the big things we’ve observed is that men’s ability to use Euclidean directions seems to be innate,” says University of Saskatchewan researcher Jennifer Burkitt Hiebert.

A good example of how bad science or at least bad reporting on science leads to stereotyping and worse. I would like someone to tell Maps Guide Jen that she is bad with maps because her testosterone is too low. :)

Words of wisdom from Google’s CEO

Apple’s iPhone are such search fanatics that they account for the majority of queries from mobile phones on Google….He said that iPhone users search ten times more frequently than those of other phones, underscoring that the Apple device’s design and easy to find browser makes the phone particularly Internet friendly.

Worried about spending too much time at the office? Google had to create a rule to prevent it: No more can workers live at the office, the consequence of at least one employee who made it a practice to pull out a futon at night and sleep by his desk. Schmidt said that Sun Microsystems, where he once worked, had a similar policy 20 years ago.

I wonder if that employee was in the Maps division?

Paid Search on Mobile: Looking Beyond the Hype

The latest much debated topic around the mobile internet is whether mobile advertising will ever take off. Analyst company Juniper Research seem to think it will. In a report out this month they estimated that total annual advertising spend on mobile services will exceed $1 billion (£500 million) for the first time during 2008 rising to $7.6 billion (£3.8million) by 2013. Part of the reason for this growth, they believe, is the availability of higher speed networks and new generation handsets such as the Apple iPhone.

A recent survey by Ofcom stated that only 44% of mobile users were actually aware that they could access the internet on their mobile phone – which might suggest that the opportunity may not be as close as we think. Vodafone recently estimated that 27% of its customer-base regularly used their mobile for browsing, collecting emails, or instant messaging and they predicted this figure will reach at least 50% by 2010. There may be more than a little confusion in what the opportunity may or may not be, so before brands start lining up to promote their services via mobile, it’s important to be realistic about the potential of these new platforms.

Many lessons have been learned over the last 5 years from the ‘big screen’ home/office environment in how to incorporate ads into websites in a way that is acceptable for users. But none of these principles can be applied to the ‘small screen’ world of mobile. We are starting again from scratch and this time, the challenges are much greater. Mobile ads are going to be a lot more intrusive, and if there is going to be significant growth in this area then some compelling incentives are going to need to be offered to the mobile user if they are to be tolerated or embraced.

The Mobile Web Overnights – Steve Smith, MobileInsider

In dueling reports yesterday, Quattro Wireless and Crisp Wireless drilled into the Q1 data from the premium publishers they manage on mobile….

Not surprisingly, overall mobile access to major media brands is way up, 24% in Q1 according to the Crisp Wireless Index and 35% among Quattro sites. When it came to page views per visit, both Quattro and Crisp were exactly alike, reporting just under 4 per visit. Quattro makes the point that the PPV number is very similar to Web behaviors, although the amount of raw content consumed per mobile page is a fraction of the information a Web user gets per page. The two companies diverge substantially on per- month visits, with Quattro seeing five and Crisp seeing two, although there is a wide variance across content types.

…Crisp is finding that mobile search accounts for only 7.51% of overall traffic to its sites….Local search could be the real fuel that drives this category. I know in my personal use I am just starting to default to my iPhone as a local search-and-call device over the Web….

…On campaigns requiring more than 20,000 uniques moving to a landing mobile microsite, Quattro saw an average 2.33% click-through rate….A single banner, even on the diminutive cell phone, beats the clutter of the Web any day.

Local Links of Interest

When Will ‘Mobile Search’ Overtake the Internet? – Greg Sterling, LocalMobileSearch.net

While it might take some time for mobile to pass Internet search in the US or Western Europe, in context of the entire world it’s not hard to imagine mobile search volumes exceeding the desktop Internet, in the aggregate, within 5-7 years.

Google Goes Back to ‘Opt-in’ in Mobile – Greg Sterling, LocalMobileSearch.net

When Google first launched mobile AdWords it was an opt-in program: advertisers specifically had to choose to be in mobile sponsored search results. Then, in a fairly well publicized move, Google decided to make mobile an opt-out for AdWords advertisers:

The company informed me last week that it has gone back to an opt-in policy for mobile at the present time.

I also discussed with Google the degree to which the desktop and mobile might ultimate become more similar than different, in the context of “full HTML” browsers (Safari, Opera, Skyfire, Mozilla, Android). We’ll see. As I’ve tried to argue in the past, while there are some advantages in that scenario for users there are considerable disadvantages for advertisers — chiefly because online ads get lost and become very difficult to see.

The iPhone is probably the model of how smartphone browsing will evolve: native applications + full HTML browsing. But that still doesn’t solve the problem for advertisers seeking to effectively reach mobile audiences.

Move Over Universal Search, Illustrated Search Is Smarter? – Bill Slawski,SEObyTheSea

The authors of these patent filings refer to this approach as a “smart aggregation of search results by concepts.” In addition to helping searchers quickly understand different concepts related to their queries,and view different relevant content types from different sources, is also that focused advertisement can be presented.

What Google’s ZIP Code Targeting Means for Local Businesses – David Mihm, davidmihm.com

I take a look at some of the implications of this development, and expand on an earlier hypothesis about why Google introduced the 10-pack to Universal search in the first place. Yes, ZIP code targeting means more relevant results for searchers, but it’s an innovation that might not be entirely altruistic.

Google Maps Mapspam: Abogados en San Diego

Recently in the Mapspam arena I had reported on the first sightings of bilingual English Spanish Mapspam in LA and International Mapspam targeting Spanish speakers in Barcelona. Now I can also report Spanish only Mapspam in (where else?) Southern California.

I have no idea how big the market is for the search phrase: “Abogado en San Diego” but Mr. Rodenbo seems to have cornered it with 8 out of 10 listings (all at the same address) in the Local OneBox:

He seems to have covered his bases in the Spanish speaking community but if you are concernced that Mr. Rodenbo is missing out on the large English speaking population interested in filing a lawsuit the San Diego area, not to worry. He has taken a multi-lingual approach to his mapspam with at least 20 listings at the same address and at least 3 different websites with similar content:
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Increasing reports of Merged Records in Google Maps

In recent days, there has been an increasing number of reports in the Google Maps for Business Group complaining about two completely different business records being conflated. In just today’s postings there were 5 reports:

•Google Maps Hijacked!
•My business information appearing on another business listing
•Web Pages of other sites?
•Incorrect URL Associated with My Listing
•Wrong URL again

This ssue has been reported on in the past (here, here, here and here). It certainly results in confused customers and annoyed business owners. There have been attempts to explain the cause although it appears that there may be multiple reasons. The bug seems to stem from Google Maps conflating the two records when certain elements of the two businesses (their address, their phone number, directory listings or their website) are the same or similar.

Google ultimately fixed my merged record and Maps Guide Jen responded to Gab Goldenberg’s issue at his blog:

Thanks for flagging this one. This is a tricky case due to the fact that there are two hotels with similar names in the same building, which is quite rare. We don’t have a great answer for that situation right now, but we’ll look for ways to make cases like this better in the future.

Thanks,
Jen (aka Maps Guide Jen)

One would think that increasing adoption of the Local Business Center would mitigate this problem but that appears to not be the case. It is time for Google to either own this problem by responding more proactively to the reports in the Google Maps for Business or to quash this annoying bug!

Making Reviews customer friendly for better Local Search Rank

Reviews add credibility to a business and play a critical role in ranking in Google Maps. However getting customers to actually write them is another story. For a client to actually find your business record within one of the large directories, identify the review link and often times register prior to leaving a review is a daunting process. Most small business owners throw up their hands in dismay at the prospects of actually getting reviews from their customers.

I have been testing Leavefeedback.org with my clients to determine whether it changes the dynamics of the process. In my limited test of 4 reviewers, its seems to have worked well easing review creation.

Leavefeedback.org is a site created by Michael Jensen of SoloSEO that facilitates review creation by allowing a business owner or marketer to create a single URL like this: leavefeedback.org/go.html?code=MB1111 that directs reviewers to a simple instruction set. From there it takes the user directly into a review creation link at one of several previously entered directories for the given business.

Creating the initial business account in Leavefeedback is straightforward and the biggest amount of time is spent actually locating the direct review url’s in the directory sites that you have chosen. It can be combined with a coupon and it allows for multiple coupons, each with a different URL. Alternatively the user can be taken directly to a review with no instructions and no coupon via a slightly different URL.

I recently interviewed a client that I had given the LeaveFeedBack.org URL to, to understand her impressions of leaving a review by this method.

Me: What directory did you end up at?

Client: What directory I ended up at?  I don’t know.  I clicked on the link you provided, and then clicked on Start Your Review & just typed my stuff.  I didn’t have to register. There was one other review already there – a guy from Topeka KS – with elder services, if I recall correctly.  I just went to the link again to see if I could figure out which directory, and got to a whole different place.

Me: Was it easy?

Client: It seemed really straightforward, and I liked the fact that I didn’t have to register to leave feedback (personally, I hate having to register for stuff unless I plan to go back).

Me: Is the incentive motivating?

Client: Is the incentive motivating?  You bet!

It was interest that the incentive of 1 month added to the year of hosting, a 6% discount, was so motivating. The other point of interest was that she had no idea which directory she ended up at (it was Yahoo). I do not know how she would have responded had she needed to register but obviously there is resistance to registering and that should be a consideration in the review directories that you would choose.

Local (Mobile) Links of Interest

Smartphones Now Ringing for Women – Laura M. Holson, NY Times

If recent history is any guide, roughly a third of the people snapping up Apple’s new iPhone are likely to tote it in a purse.

In a big shift for the phone industry, women have emerged as eager buyers of not just iPhones but of all so-called smartphones — BlackBerrys, Treos and other models.

In the last year the number of American women using smartphones more than doubled to 10.4 million, growing at a faster pace than among men, according to Nielsen Mobile, which tracks wireless trends.

Apple’s $199 iPhone: How Can It Be So Cheap? – Yardena Arar, PC World

“There are probably subsidization issues going on here,” he said. In fact, AT&T in a news release issued today hinted that it would be taking a hit on revenues from device sales in hopes of increased profits down the line from data services to what’s anticipated to be a huge customer base.

“In the near term, AT&T anticipates that the new agreement will likely result in some pressure on margins and earnings, reflecting the costs of subsidized device pricing, which, in turn, is expected to drive increased subscriber volumes,” the news release states. It also points out that AT&T will no longer share revenue on iPhone services with Apple, and that the cost of an unlimited data plan for consumers will rise from the current $20 a month to $30 a month (on top of a voice plan available for $40 or more).”

This appears to be a razors and razor blades strategy with Apple picking up the extra commission. In rural areas with no 3g coverage this seems like a bad deal.

TomTom says navigation app already runs on iPhone – Reuters

Dutch navigation device maker TomTom already has a version of its navigation software running on Apple’s iPhone and has plans to sell it to consumers, a spokesman said on Monday.

“Our navigation system runs on the iPhone already,” the TomTom spokesman said after Apple announced a new version of the iPhone that will include global positioning (GPS) capability.

The spokesman did not say when TomTom, Europe’s biggest maker of car navigation devices, would be ready to start selling the software.

Active navigation will be an important application for accelerating iPhone adoption and will facilitate active search.

Google Mobile Advertising: Start Now! – David Szetela, Search Engine Watch

The first concept to grasp: mobile search ads can evoke three different actions:

– (The usual) click-through to the advertiser site
– A click that sends the “clicker” to a Google-supplied Business Page
– A click that immediately and automatically places a voice call to the advertiser’s phone number

The latter two options require zero web site development, and can be perfect options for certain advertiser types:

– Retail businesses that finish many/most of their transactions by phone, such as take-out restaurants, florists, or taxi companies.
– B2B businesses that crave phone leads. Sure, they need to have the processes and infrastructure to qualify and (hopefully) close clients within a call or tow — but many businesses do.
– B2C companies whose aspects straddle the previous two, like professional services: legal, financial, investment, etc.

Cell Services Keep It Easy, and Free – David Pogue, NY Times

A good overview of GOOG-411, Cha-Cha and Jott

The iPhone and local search

Steve Jobs announced the new iPhone 3G and it overcomes most of the objections to the first model:

•$199 price point for the 8 gbyte model
•3G connectivity where AT&T has coverage (most major markets with expansion planned but not in Olean until sometime in 2009)
•GPS capability
•Lots of cool cheap and free software including games, IM and some interesting social networking

Clearly a successful iPhone leads to greater Local Search. According to the reports from the talk Jobs noted:

98% of iPhone users are mobile browsing; 94% are using email; 90% are text messaging; 80% are using 10 features or more. “You can’t even find 10 features on other phones.”

Ease of use and lower pricing will lead to greater adoption. The increased functionality of GPS and better gaming will also lead to increased adoption. Its photo geotagging capability will begin to make that endeavor more mainstream. All in all it bodes well for Local adoption.

Conversation with Universal Business Listing’s Doyal Bryant

I recently had a conversation with Doyal Bryant, one of the founders of Universal Business Listing.

Universal Business Listing is attempting to establish itself as a single stop for businesses to create one listing for use across the local internet. They want to become a business resource that provides “internet fresh data” to the various consumers of business data for local search. They charge up tp $30 for a business to create a listing with them and manage and track the listing for one year. They then provide these listings at no charge to the data collators like Axciom & InfoUsa, to the 411 providers like LLSI and to the Local engines like the YP’s, Yahoo and Google.

While the conversation was wide ranging, it helped me understand some of the “back story” on how data is handled across the internet and provided a few other interesting factoids:

• The primary data suppliers like InfoUSA and Axciom will often prioritize 6 or 9 month old telco data over “internet fresh” data. This has implications for any business changing their address or updating their DBA.

•He noted that Yahoo and Google will prioritize their ad system’s address over other sources for that address. I wonder what would happen if there was a conflict between the the Local Business System and adwords.

• For one national rental company with 4000 locations that had actively attempted to manage their on-line listings there were still 200 that contained critical errors at any point in time. In other words there was a 5% error rate on basic information such as phone, street address etc. even when the company was engaged and attempting to keep them correct.

• He relayed a story about a major national insurer with agents & branches in most cities. By the insurance company’s calculations between 40% and 60% of all inquiries and contacts came via local search.

The takeaway? Local search is playing a huge role in local marketing for national firms but the current system for collecting and distributing data across the net to the end user guarantees that there will be errors in the data and delays in information propagating. 

 

Local Users Bill of Rights

In the past I have run a number of articles speaking to whether Local needed to be held to a higher standard. It has been like the Wild West in Local. One day brings up a case more bizarre than the next and one wonders if higher standards will be achieved and if so how.

While reading complaints today in the Google Maps for Business Group it occurred to me to ask you all: If you were writing a Local Users Bill of Rights, what would you include in it?

Should business users have an easy way to contest reviews with Google? Should end users have an obvious way to report bad map data? Should Local Search Directories provide customer support?

From the point of view of the end user local searcher and the business listing user of Local what would you want in a Local Users Bill of Rights?

Local Links of Interest

Cellphone Tracking Study Shows We’re Creatures of Habit – JOHN SCHWARTZ, NY Times

Research that makes creative use of sensitive location-tracking data from 100,000 cellphones in Europe suggests that most people can be found in one of just a few locations at any time, and that they do not generally go far from home…..people’s wanderings are so subject to routine that by using the patterns of movement that emerged from the research, “we can obtain the likelihood of finding a user in any location.”

Scientists have long wondered how to measure something as ephemeral as movement. If general rules and algorithms of people’s wanderings could be discerned, they could be used to create computer models for understanding emergency response, urban planning and the spread of disease, say the authors, whose work appears in the new edition of the journal Nature.

The use of cellphones to track people, even anonymously, has implications for privacy that make this “a troubling study,” said Marc Rotenberg, a founder of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. The study, Mr. Rotenberg said, “raises questions about the protection of privacy in physical spaces, when devices make possible the capture of locational data.”

There are serious ethical issues as well, said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. While researchers are generally free to observe people in public places without getting permission from them or review from institutional ethics boards, Mr. Caplan said, “your cellphone is not something I would consider a public entity.”

The New iPhone’s New Winner – Om Malik, GigaOm

There are a number of speculative pieces about the coming iPhone. Forbes notes that it might unseat the Nintendo DS in the portable gaming area and Macrumors notes that it is likely to include public transportation on Google Maps.

Om Malik notes with authority that “whether it’s a new 2G model or a super-fast 3G, there is one thing that’s for sure: The new iPhone has Global Positioning System (GPS) built into it“.

Apple’s entrance in the GPS market could have long term affects on the way that GPS is generally delivered and on the sales of stand alone GPS devices. Apple, by integrating it into the iPhone, could change the low end of the market. Automobile companies integrating the device into the dash could attack the higher. In concert these movements could affect the stand alone GPS business significantly over the long haul.

GPS devices and the Nintendo DS are both potential players in the hand held mobile computing market. As a lightweight user of GPS services and games, the single device approach is much more appealing to me and I assume to others as well.

Those Intense iPhone Users

Nielsen Mobile shared some first-quarter 2008 data about how iPhone owners use their phones to communicate with each other.

It’s no surprise that 25- to 34-year-olds make up the largest segment of owners, or a third of all iPhone users. But the over-50 set makes a significant showing, too, as 14.4 percent of iPhone users are aged 55 years old to 64 years old.

Other findings:

The most popular feature for three out of four iPhone users is the iPod function. But slightly more 76 percent send e-mail and 68 percent use the Wi-Fi function.

About 36 percent of iPhone users have a monthly bill more than $100. That is 16 percentage points higher than the average mobile phone user.

37 percent of iPhone users watch video (ten times more than the average cellphone user), 20 percent play online games (nine times more than average) and 33 percent send instant messages (three times more than average).

The iPhone is most popular with personal users, but business employees make a significant showing. About one in four consumers use their phones for business, but pay the bills themselves. Another 15 percent say the company foots the bill.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search