In February, Google Mapâ€™s Guide Tom announced a bug where certain business records from the Local Business Center had gone missing in Maps. Records, once edited in the Local Business Center, randomly disappeared from both the Maps listing and the Google Local OneBox. The only fix was to delete the record and reenter it in the LBC however that often resulted in loss of rank and associated reviews. At the time I lauded Googleâ€™s new openeness and responsiveness.
Today (after 2 months of silence), Tom (and Google) announced that the bug has been fixed. The rescue came too late for my record as I had deleted and reentered it about 2 weeks ago thinking that the original had been left for dead in some dark corner. Hopefully though the fix will retrieve some other missing records from the dark recesses of Googleâ€™s storage closet (is that where they go? Iâ€™ve been wondering).
In March, this bug struck one of my records and I had posted the following at the Google Maps for Business Group that had gone unanswered until today:
The City of San Buenaventura, Ca is usually referred to as Ventura. Google Maps correctly substitutes the name of Ventura for San Buenaventura but Yahoo Local seems a tad confused by the use of the name San Buenaventura in a local search query.
For example if you search on Florist+San Buenaventura Ca, it maps the location to just west of the Congo, smack dab in the South Atlantic Ocean about 750 to the west of the African coast, some 6000 or so miles away.
Equally interesting is that the search Florist+San Buenaventura Ca apparently returns every florist in the United States, all 61,035 of them.
Until this bug is fixed the search can provide approximate numbers of total Yahoo listings for any industry. On the search Restaurants + San Buenaventura, CA, Yahoo Local returns 747,782 listings and the number one restaurant is Giordanos Pizzeria in Chicago. I wonder how the pizza is.
Don’t you just love local?
In the past local searches (product + locale) would occasionally return an “inventory” onebox if Google felt that it was more relevant than a Local 10 Pack. An example is the search “Real Estate + Locale” which provides a Google Base search box to explore available inventory.
Recently on the searches for “used cars + locale” Google has started including both the Local 10 Pack AND the Inventory Search Box.
Over time, Google has been increasing the granularity of their results as they have adequate data to provide meaningful results. Providing a list of currently available used autos in an area is certainly part of this trend.
A number of posters (here , here and here) at the Google Maps for Business owners over the past several months have noted that their listing in the Local 10Pack had been missing the phone number. This bug was fairly widespread and had befallen three of my listings including my infamous medical listing.
All instances that I was experiencing of missing phone numbers as well as a number that I checked at the Google Maps for Business Group has shown up.
As an aside my medical record has been totally repaired and all remaining issues of gender confusion has been fixed as well.
Google has not indicated in the Group whether they would look at these records or not, but it appears either that the bug responsible has been quashed in most cases or enough time has passed that the records caught up with themselves.
I am currently traveling with my family from Northern California to Oregon. We needed to book a hotel near the San Francsico airport the other night. My wife ended up booking us into the Best Western Grosvenor in South San Francisco.
As we checked in, there was an obviously placed notice that that if we reviewed the hotel on TripAdvisor.com we would be entered in a drawing to receive a full credit towards our room expense.
We went to the room, set up our laptop and proceeded to struggle with a very flaky wifi connection, calling the front desk who alerted maintenance. We finally logged on through the connection for the Holiday Inn across the street.
The next morning I got serious about attempting to win my free stay and proceeded to create an account with TripAdvisor.com and to locate their record to provide a review. About 15 minutes into the sign up/review process, the WiFi connection started slowing down and finally went bad before ever being able to actually write the review. After another 10 minutes of struggling with the flakey connection I finally gave up.
I was an extremely motivated user and between the time it took to get into Tripadvisor and navigate a buggy wifi connection, I could not make it to the end line. While checking out, we were forced to fill in the hand feedback form to enter the electronic review drawing.
The impact of the hotels efforts are interesting. The Top 10 Hotels in Google all have more than 45 reviews to their credit on the search: Hotels South San Francisco. Our hotel showed up on page 3 of Google Maps with no reviews. Its Google Maps record is unclaimed and has its name mispelled.
At Tripadvsior.com the hotel has received 126 reviews and is accumulating reviews at a run rate of about 1 per week.
It is fascinating to me that reviews have become an integral part of some hotel’s customer relations management. It is also fascinating that it could be so poorly executed as to cause my rating to go down. The lengthy process to get signed up with TripAdvisor speaks to the need for a product like LeaveFeedback.org. The poorly managed WiFi setup speaks to the importance of good execution across all of an establishment’s offered services.
It is also of note that the review process focused so heavily on TripAdvisor while ignoring their Google Maps record reinforcing the poorly thought out nature of the exercise.
Andrew Shotland has a recent report of SEO mapspam from a Vegas company called SEOChampion posting local listings for SEO services in his backyard. When he searched on Pleasanton SEO he found two spammy looking listings in the onebox. He drove to one address and discovered that the address doesn’t exist in Pleasanton.
I did a little more digging and found that this firs has listings in many metro areas around the country. Often with two listings in each. My most frutiful search showed at least 30 listings scattered across the US. With a little digging I am sure that I could find more but I am on vacation. A cursory glance at the streetview address in Phoenix showed their Phoenix address as located in a parking lot.
In their Phoenix listings they even bothered to add an “A” to the beginning of one of their listings. Nothing like those old Yellowpages tactics.
Next time you are in Topeka, Cedar Rapids, Fort Smith (?), Des Moines, Springville, Mobile….be sure to not stop by but give them a call as the Google Directions might just lead you astray.
During the last week of March, I reported at SearchEngineLand on Yahoo affiliate mapspam first reported by eClick. Perhpas more than 5% of the hotel listings in major markets, had url’s that moved through 2 or 3 affiilate urls prior to being redirected to the business listing in question. On March 25th, Yahoo’s Brian Gil, in an interview with Matt McGee noted:
â€œWe havenâ€™t seen what I would categorize as significant abuse issues. Iâ€™m not going to speak specifically to the hotel thing. That one is a unique case. We have been looking into itâ€¦. Weâ€™ll take the appropriate action, but my gut is telling me that itâ€™s not nearly as suspect as what was written up.
The response struck me at the time as a non denial that was meant to leave the impression that it wasn’t spam while leaving open the possibility that it was just that. We may never really know whether it was in fact mapspam or was something more innocuous. From my point of view it seemed that mapspam had moved from self serving gaming to potential criminal activity in its approach.
Regardless the affiliate links are now gone on all records that I checked.
One then has to wonder:
â€¢If it wasn’t spam why has it been removed?
â€¢If it was spam does a 5% (or more) penetration in one industry not qualify as significant abuse?
â€¢If it was spam who initiated it and managed the spam?
â€¢Was it done manually or automated in someway?
â€¢If it was spam, did it break the law?
â€¢ If it wasn’t spam what are the more benign explanations that Brian was speaking of?
Can anyone think of a use for this multi layer affilate linkng strategy that would be considered benign?
I will be on vacation until April 21st and will only sporadically have internet and blog access. Enjoy the world of local while I am gone.
Greg Sterling of Screenwerks gets the last word (well other than mine of course) on the topic of whether Local needs to be held to a higher standard.
Greg: Does Local need to be held to a higher standard? Whether or not it should be in a sense it already is â€“ by virtue of the difference between Local and general Web search. With general Web results users have multiple choices in the majority of cases. If the data or answers they seek are missing or inadequate on any one site all they need to do is “click back” and move on to the next publisher.
In Local there are fewer choices typically. In some cases,accordingly, the consumer is without recourse if the data are missing or flawed. If someone is looking for a specific business location and doesn’t find it on the engine, it reflects very negatively on that site (e.g., “I was looking for restaurants and all they had were fast-food places”). Thus I believe that people do hold Local to a higher standard already â€“ because it’s about the “real world” and their daily lives. In many cases the users are the arbiters of truth;they know what’s correct and what should be there, as opposed to general Web searches where they may not.
The central challenge then, as others have mentioned, is getting good data and making sure it’s “fresh” and accurate. This requires a mix of strategies and an approach that’s distinct from the Web crawling done by the major search engines. Getting good Local data and the objective of presenting an optimal Local user experience require much more structure and working with trusted partners. But increasingly it also means getting the distributed mass of users involved.
Google and Yahoo! have essentially opened up their databases in an effort to get the community involved. Users at large can correct inaccurate records â€“ provided this doesn’t open the door for major spamming â€“ and broaden the database considerably as well. Google is finding this with My Maps, where it’s getting lots of additional information, organized in interesting ways, beyond the standard business listings database.
While I don’t subscribe to unrestrained free market capitalism I think there’s a “Darwinian struggle” going on and the better products and approaches in Local will ultimately succeed. The push back to that argument is Google’s position and power in the market and the gravitational force it exercises over search behavior.
Because Google has become so important to many local businesses and because of the well-documented benefits and consequences of “showing up” or “not showing up” in Local results, there’s almost a “moral obligation” on the part of Google to do everything possible to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the database. This burden resides with the others as well. But Google is in a position of higher responsibility because of its power and influence.
I reported yesterday that new Maps terrain with contour view seemed to have supplanted the Hybrid view. The only thing missing was time for me to look around properly. Gregor Rothfuss of Google kindly pointed out how to find the not so missing hybrid view. Simply select the check box in the satellite view.
Here is it is in all of its splendor: