Google Mapspam: Time for a formal solution

Google has handled Mapspam reporting in an ad hoc fashion since it was first identified as a problem in Maps almost a year ago. Despite Google’s recent efforts at tightening up the LBC interface, reports of large scale Mapspam seem to keep coming in. There has never been a formal reporting form on Google’s site for mapspam nor a Google defined procedure for alerting Google to a specific Mapspam instance. Google does read Local Blogs looking for reports and the Google Maps for Business Group has provided a venue for highlighting mapspam. But from where I sit their efforts have been minimal.

Google rarely responds to the mapspsam posts in the groups and often seems to ignore them so one can never be sure if they have been read and if the reported spam will be removed. I received several emails last week that reinforced my belief that Google needs to formalize the process of Mapspam reporting, provide specific tools for the process and aggressively police the index:

Hi Mike

I have been trying to report a company spamming the google local business directory for months now.

When you search for a locksmith anywhere in Sydney, dr lock (www.drlock.com.au) is listed in sydney over 500 times. For example search on Locksmith Parramatta Australia.

I can assure google that there is no locksmiths in Australia that have over 500 offices. It it makes no sense for a locksmith to open 20 shops in the same suburb. I would of thought that it would raise some eyebrows at google…..

A group of local locksmiths including myself are looking to hire someone who can bring this to google’s attention.

Is this a service you provide? We are happy to pay for your time and effort to remove this guy from google maps.

I have filled in the spam form a few times, and i have also been emailing back and forth someone at google in Australia…..

I have also posted about 5 articles in google business forums in the hope that someone will see them

here is the emails i have been sending and receiving. They have been to someone in the adwords department as they are the only email address for google that i could find in Australia.

It would be nice if there is a form dedicated to naming and shaming people who spam in this way. I would think that surely google know it is impossible for a locksmith business to open up 40 shops in the one suburb, or 500 in the one city

i appreciate an help or direction with this problem
Thank you

In the end a locksmith from Australia shouldn’t have to contact me for help with this problem. He shouldn’t have to wave money at me and I should not have to write about it. It shouldn’t take several months and endless fruitless efforts on his part to find a solution to an obviously unfair situation.

It is time for Google to step up to the bar and provide typical business people with an obvious means to report these problems and a clear cut procedure for dealing with it. The time for me to be the industry watchdog has passed and Google needs to accept full responsibility for solving this problem. That means:
1)Providing an obvious reporting mechanism
2)Responding aggressively to reports and removing the reported spam
3)Google should be proactively searching for and removing Mapspam on their own initiative
4)Continue to make it more difficult form Mapspam to enter the index.

Here is a screen shot of the Australian Locksmith Mapspam that the emailer is complaining about:
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Google Maps: Interview with Carter Maslan

At the end of last week, after the upgrade and bug fixes to the LBC were mostly finished, Carter Maslan, Product Manager for Google Maps, took time to speak with me about the upgrade. You may read the full interview at SearchEngineland.

His main points:
• The upgrade was intended to improve the UI to faciliate flow through the data entry process
• They do read the Groups messages and the Local Blogs but did not have time to respond the many reports as they were trying to get the upgrade out the door and finished
• There will be a European version once the kinks are worked out of the US/Canada/Australian version and localization is finished
• There will be some sort of trusted status going forward for higher volume, trusted LBC users.
• Coupons will continue to languish

Read the whole interview here: Carter Maslan On Google’s Local Business Center Upgrade

Google’s Carter Maslan: “Heads were down” during recent LBC upgrade

Google Maps recently introduced a new user interface for the Local Business Center. There were some issues with the upgrade and Carter Maslan, Google’s Director of Product Management for Local, agreed to answer some of my questions about the process in a phone conversation.

MB: What was the goal of the upgrade? What prompted the change?

Carter: We wanted to address usability issues to make it simpler to get through the process and having it flow on a single screen was a big driver.

Usability was the main motivator…simple things like not a big enough map to be able to accurately move the pin, having a clear sense of where you are in the process etc. We were trying to address the flow through the enrollement to make it as fast and simple as possible

MB: What do you perceive to be the greatest improvements from the new interface?

Carter: We do a combo of usuability studies in labs and montior actual useage and user sucess rates. We look at both and try to improve the overall process…this was the first refresh of the UI in a while and was intended to pick up high payback UI changes.

MB: There were a lot of complaints in the Maps groups over the past 10 days. What was up?

Carter: All things will be fixed very very soon and those things not yet fixed should be ok within days…we were not able to replicate the bulk upload problem. But all problems [with the new Local Business Center] should be reported into the Maps Group and we will take a look.

The Maps team read the posts about problems on the local blogs and in the groups but their heads were down. The Team fixing the problems were totally heads down…so no one was available to give answers in the group.

The main point is that even if we need to work on proactive communication, the team is paying attention…and will try to do better on the communication.

MB: Was there a change in listing policy? The Pin is now required on all single entries? What precipiated that change?

Carter: We are experimenting with how much verification vs. how much ease of use. There are variables as to when to prompt…in the past it had been too liberal, and is becoming more stringent. We are experimenting on the quality of the listings and spam…there is no hard yes or no answer to the correct structure.

MB: Will there be some accomodations to facilitate entry for agencies and such? Will there be something like a Trusted Partner status?

Carter: We are contemplating something like the letter of agency policy for cell phone companies…we are fleshing out the details. We are interested in coming up with a way to allow people with good intentions to do so…for both bulk uploads and multiple singles entries.

We initially are looking at it primarily geared toward primary sources…like a chain. How do we make it easier for the chaim to control the records even if there is conflicting info from a secondary data source?

The first step is for to us to provide simplified verfication for use by primary data providers like a national business or chains…whether it extends to other aggregators or agencies is in discussion.

We hope to have this available soon…less than a year and maybe as soon as a quarter. We are working through the process.

MB: Is there short term efforts to integrate analytics and adwords

Carter: What would you like to see with analytics? What should we do?

I am not on the ad word team…we do have joint discussions on how to make everything simpler…the auction concept is difficult and there are discussions on how to simplify and to maximize an ad campaign. But for now we will stay diedicated to getting basic listings up and running.

MB: Is there a plan to roll out the new Local Business Center interface to the international market? What is the time

Google Maps: More Mapspam, Again

Throughout May and early June there were reports of high volume bulk upload Mapspam for Earthlink, BigLocal and Computer Assistant. These listings were national in scope and often noted that the listing was Not a physical Location. Google apparently pulled down the publicly reported Mapspam.

A reader though, has pointed out that similar Mapspam is in the wild and in very large numbers in the Credit Card Processing world and TV Satellite (note the 20,446 hits on the query) installs:

dish-tv-mapspam
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Maps getting squared away – bit by bit…

Google has been fixing many of the broken bits in Maps and responding positively to user input in the Maps Groups (thanks to Martijn for the alert).

One problem with the recent update was the inability to move a map marker after the LBC record had been updated. Today Maps Guide Jen noted:

Hi!
Thanks for this feedback. We didn’t think that the “edit incorrect marker
location” might still be necessary after verification, but you’ve given us
some clear evidence that it is. We’ll be adding this capability back in.
Thanks,
Jen

I previously noted that the Coupon issue had been fixed.

What are your experiences with other recently broken features?
• What features have been fixed that were broken by the new update?
• What is still broken?
• What should have been fixed in the LBC that doesn’t appear to have been?

Google acknowledges problems with Local Business Center

The Local Business Center has never been perfect but since being upgraded late last week, the complaints have been streaming into the Google Maps Business Owners Group and the Google Maps Troubleshooting Group. There have been problems with bulk uploading, coupons, image uploading, location pin adjustment and more in the new interface. Google Map’s Guides have been conspicuously absent from the groups.

Tonight Maps Guide Brian, ever the master of understatement, sent out this alert to Group members:

We understand some users are encountering system errors in the Local
Business Center. We’re working quickly to resolve these issues. Stay
tuned for an update!

Google Maps Local Business Center Upgrade: Bulk Upload MIA

The recent upgrade to the Local Business Center has appeared in Australia and Canada as well as the US. It still is not visible in Europe. 

There were several changes that I noted on Friday that seem to be spam prevention mechanisms. One I missed though and of more import is that the bulk upload option is missing in action. As Joan van Hilten from Canada noted: 
 

Hi – this certainly has a huge impact on doing mass uploads. It’s going to be a mass headache. I was trying to do a bulk upload and kept hitting this single entry snag. I really thought I had lost the plot ! I was singing my ” I hate Google Song” ( it keeps me from wanting to send a 4 letter feed back to Google)

Does anyone have any idea if they will be restoring the bulk upload ability? Do they honestly think a CMR or any company with mulitple locations will be doing individual entry?

I think I’m going to be very busy for a very long time.

The work around according Martijn Beijk is to “change the &gl parameter and/or domain to a european one, you can keep the hl in your prefered language“.

That kludge apparently is working but raises the bigger question, along with the tightening up of the PIN requirements, of how Google will handle legitimate, mid and large volume users of the LBC. 

Does IYP market share matter?

Does the IYP/online business directory market share matter or has the battle already been decided? Has this category been relegated to just another niche search area where money can be made but market dominance is not possible?

A recent press release noted that www.local.com, ranked fifth in the Business Directories online industry category. This was based on the Hitwise analysis of market share of U.S. visits received at the internet yp sites in Q1, 2008. Greg Sterling at Screenwerks noted the other sites in the category as ranked by Hitwise in their results:

Business and Finance – Business Directories
1 maps.google.com
2 www.yellowpages.com
3 www.whitepages.com
4 local.yahoo.com
5 www.local.com
6 www.infospace.com
7 yellowpages.superpages.com
8 virtualearth.msn.com
9 www.switchboard.com
10 www.yellowbook.com

I have small quibbles with these IYP comparisons. Maps.google.com has a tendency to be over counted due to its integrated mapping function and Yahoo tends to be undercounted due to the fact that it splits its local, yp and maps products into different urls. A resolution to this methodology issue is likely to move Yahoo local closer to first in this list but these are small details.

I see a much bigger problem in that it appears to me the battle for local business listings has already been won and not by the properties on the Hitwise list. These comparisons are simply measuring who has 1st, 2nd and perhaps third of the remaining, ever declining market share left to them by market leaders Google’s and Yahoo’s universal search results.

Here is my math….
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Google Maps: Coupons not functioning; Upgrade coming?

Update 9:20 PM 6/16/08: As of this evening, the coupon feature started working again. I was even able to add an ending date. I received the following when posting a new coupon:
Your coupon was successfully created and saved.
Your new coupon should appear on the details page for your listing in Google Maps within a few minutes
.”

Now if Google would just start promoting them! :)

The coupon creation function in the Local business Center has been broken for a number of days. Repeated reports of the inability to create or modify a coupon have been flowing into the Google Maps for Business and the Google Maps Trouble Shooting Groups. About June 10th, Coupons were able to be entered but stopped appearing in Maps, on June 11th attempts at entry failed and generated a message that the category and label you had entered were incorrect. Google, as of today, has not responded to the many queries in the Groups.

Google Coupons have been somewhat problematic since their inception. Google has never properly promoted nor displayed them adequately and expiration bugs have dogged the coupon system. As a result market uptake of Google Coupons has been erratic at best.

Given the update to the Local Business Center late last week, it is possible that the error message noting the new need for a category and label precedes a much needed upgrade to the Coupon feature.

Local Links of Interest

The Growing List of Things You Can Do With Google Maps – Brian Ussery, Blogoscoped.com

Great summary of the many new features rolled out for Maps over the past 6-8 weeks

Google and Yahoo! lead for mobile search traffic
– Alex Farber, nma.co.uk

Google and Yahoo! account for 79% of all mobile internet search traffic, according to the latest data from Nielsen Mobile.

Google was the most used mobile search engine in Q1 2008, accounting for 61% of share, with Yahoo! attracting 18% of usage. Consumers made an average of nine searches each month using Google, ahead of Yahoo! with 6.7 per month.

However, Nielsen discovered that mobile searches are similar regardless of search engine with information, local listings…… and websites the most common terms.

Google Speeds Up Mobile Search – Erick Schonfeld, Techcrunch

Google made some improvements to its mobile search, making it load faster on most mobile browsers. It does this by caching the page.

Google also added an iGoogle link to its mobile homepage. It also now allows you to customize and rearrange the widgets on the mobile version of your iGoogle start page so what you see on your mobile iGoogle can be different than what you see on your desktop….. This should make iGoogle a much more viable mobile start page. And, arguably, you need a start page with shortcuts to your favorite content on your mobile browser more than you do on your desktop. It’s just faster that way.

An Eye-Opening Local Exercise – Greg Sterling

It’s probably quite rare that you sit down and perform the same search across multiple sites to compare results. However, it’s a very interesting and helpful exercise to observe the user experience and the quality of the data. In many cases results (springing from the same commercial databases) are comparable. In other cases they are not. In almost every case the user experience is different, sometimes dramatically so.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search