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.

Google Map Local Business Center Update – New Interface & Features

Upon entry in LBC

Update 6/16/08: According to Brett Gilbertson, the new interface is available in Australia and in Canada but according to Martijn Beijk not in Europe as yet. Also of note is that the bulk upload capabilities are not included in the new interface. For a work around for the absent bulk upload, read the comments below.

Google appears to be in the process of a major facelift to the Local Business Center interface. The new interface:
•asks your business name and lists out a choice of countries

•checks against and match the business up to a listing already in Maps at that address,

•requires confirmation that the business is yours

•takes you a new single page entry from with no tabs

•and then onto the PIN verification

The upgrade consolidates the interface and appears to standardize it accross the 24 countries listed. It appears that the upgrade is on-going as not all fields were functional in my test. The verification and matching of your entry with an existing business should limit duplicate erroneous entries and may play a role in spam control.

Another difference was that it now once again requires that I receive and enter a PIN. This requirement had been relaxed on LBC accounts with large numbers of entries. That may also be a spam control measure.

Click to view a pdf of the new data entry screen. Here is a screen shot of the old tabbed interface for reference. Some additional screen shots of the new steps and processes….
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Does Google Maps hate Advertising Agencies?

I spend way too much time looking at Maps and so I often see the “mistakes” that remind us the Google is human too. EarlPearl, the moderator of Geo Targeting Forum at SeoRefugee, pointed out to me the odd results on the search advertising agencies + locale on which he wondered “What does Google Maps have against Advertising Agencies?”:

It doesn’t seem to matter which city you search on, Advertising Agencies New York or Advertising Agencies San Francisco return equally bizarre results; hotels, book stores, restaurants and museums. No agencies though. The search phrase in the singular or agencies other than advertising agencies return reasonable results.

While I doubt that Google hates advertising agencies there is more than a little irony in the error which I presume is caused by bit being switched in their tagging/category structure and not a personalty quirk.

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.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search