Local Links of Interest


Incomplete and Wrong Data in Google Local Search

- Bill Slawski, SeobytheSea.com

Bill covers some of the patents that relate to the post here last week: Google Plus Box – Where does the (wrong) data come from?
Deer Blogs His Own GPS Position in Google Earth – Frank Taylor, Google Earth Blog

A report on a very cool  real time animal  tracking experiment. I can’t wait until worried parents start the same experiment with their teenage children. Or perhaps overanxious citizenry implant this technology in sex offenders (only in America).

Google on SDK Competition with iPhone: We’ve Had More Downloads  – Greg Sterling, LocalMobile Search

Clearly the move from cell phone to mobile internet mobile platform will not be Apple’s market alone. Google is going to be right there. It will be interesting to see which of the two has more success convincing the owners of the “walled gardens” to open up their networks and if one of them becomes the leading mobile computing platform.

Google Maps offers Instant User Created Locations


For an update and detailed slide show on this feature see: Google Maps: Everyone can create a business listing

Jean-Noël Anderruthy of the GoogleXXL blog alerted me to the Google Operating System blog reporting of a new Google Maps feature that allows users to create new content to be added to Maps.

I have yet to see the feature but according the blog:
The option seems to work only for the US and you can enter few details about the local business or the place: address, name, phone, website and category. Google promises that “once you save your place, the whole world can find your addition by searching for it within a few minutes.”

Here is a a screen capture courtesy of the Google Operating System Blog:

add-place-to-google-maps-22.png

add-place-to-google-maps-3.png

The posters at the blog wondered about the impact of spam in this user gnerated content and Matt Cutts responded:
I would assume that Google is going to take mapspam quite seriously. I invited someone from the local team to discuss the subject in depth with my entire team just last week, for example, and we talked about lots of ways to work together. So my personal advice would be to make sure that your business name/category is accurate. :)

How many Google Coupons are there? Up 54%


In November of 2oo7, I used Google’s coupon search function to estimate the total number of coupons that Google was showing in major markets. Google introduced the coupon program in August 2006 and they announced a partnership with ValPak to help promote coupon use shortly after.

Here are the numbers of coupons in NY, Chicago, San Francsico and Olean as of March, 2008 compared to November 2007:

Coupon
Search
Total Coupons for search “City”
Nov. 2007
Total for “City
+ Valpak” Nov. 2007
Total Coupons for search “City”
Mar. 2008
Total for “City
+ Valpak” Mar. 2008
Notes
New York City 536 410 631 268 18% overall increase despite 34% Valpak decrease
San Francisco 580 200 605 162 4% increase despite 19% Valpak decrease
Chicago. 519 165 694 139 34% increase despite 18% Valpak decrease
Olean, NY 12 1 8 0 what can you say? Its Olean.
Totals 1647 776 1938 569 18% overall increase in 4 months despite 27% decrease in Valpak presence

Google Coupons have been the poor step child of the Maps world since their introduction. They just haven’t gotten any respect. Now though, four months after my first analysis, Google is seeing annualized growth rates of 54% despite the fact that it appears that ValPak now has a significantly lower presence. In fact if you calculate the growth in coupons just from the Local Business Center and remove ValPak from the equation, there has been growth of 171% on an annualized basis.

All of the old questions are still there: Why do they promote the program so little? Will it ever achieve greater exposure? Will it play a role in the world of coupons in the future?

And there now is a new question: Is ValPak cutting back its commitment to Google Coupons?

The total numbers are still low in an absolute sense but the growth rate augurs well given the low overall rates of growth that have been reported elsewhere in the online coupon segment. This growth has occurred despite a lack of promotion, virtually no visibility and a number of bugs in the coupon implementation in the Local Business Center.

iPhone SDK: a tipping point for Local Search?


Apple’s announcement of their software development kit was big in the tech news arena but got scant coverage in the search world. From where I sit, it appears to be a seminal event that will define local search for the next decade and will lead to a dramatic upsurge in hyper local searches.

There was much speculation about the iPhone tools prior to their release and developers expressed fears about limited access and undocumented api’s. Apple seems to have exceeded developer expectations on that front and delivered a product that can access all of the capabilities of the iphone and iPod Touch while simultaneously offering low barriers to entry and ready distribution. The SDK, despite its early bugs, appears to have been widely embraced and there are significant rewards in the offing to the developers that create popular apps.

The release has moved the iPhone from being a very cool cell phone to being the archetype of the mobile internet device; always on, always present, no limits to what or when something can be retrieved. It will put gaming, calling, music AND search in the hands of users all the time in every location and will (or something very much like it), like the iPod before it, become annoyingly present in our lives.

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Local Links of Interest


Milestone Talks To Matt Cutts From Google: Best Practices For Promoting Hotels Online. – Milestone, 4Hotliers

Question:
We have been doing a great effort for mobile devices and I think in the past year I have been struggling with what is going to be the future? Should mobile sites be designed for iPhones or SmartPhones?

Answer:
The short answer to this question is the target market. If your target market is in the United States, it is quite evident that phones are going to get better and smarter. Soon phones will be getting even smarter, and have browsers that will be able to support richer websites. So I think the focus should be to concentrate on creating good websites that would look good in mobile browsers as well as regular browsers, instead of creating specialized websites for smart phones only.

GOOG Goes North – Greg Sterling, LocalMobileSearch

The Goog-411 service now works exactly the same in Canada as it does in the US. From LocalMobile: you are right that Goog411 is testing in Canada. The business data for Goog411 is coming from Yellow Pages Group.

Google Local Business Referral Rep - Ms. Crystal

Last August Google announced their Maps Referral program. Little has been from it since. Apparently the Google Maps incentive program is still alive and occasionally adding new recruits.

NSA’s Domestic Spying Grows As Agency Sweeps Up Data – WSJ.com

Five years ago, Congress killed an experimental Pentagon antiterrorism program meant to vacuum up electronic data about people in the U.S. to search for suspicious patterns. Opponents called it too broad an intrusion on Americans’ privacy, even after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But the data-sifting effort didn’t disappear. The National Security Agency, once confined to foreign surveillance, has been building essentially the same system.

According to current and former intelligence officials, the spy agency now monitors huge volumes of records of domestic emails and Internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit-card transactions, travel and telephone records.

How to get help with your Google Maps problems


Google Maps has a tendency to be a bit “quirky”. You never know if the problem is something the business owner has done or whether you are running up against Google Map’s unusually “beta type” personality*.

Besides this blog and myself there are a number of resources that you might want to review in your quest of “cracking the code” of Maps in the self help mode:

Google Maps Help files

This has the rudiments of how the Local Business Center works but little in the way of troubleshooting.

• Google Local Business Help Center

Google Maps Help Group

According to Google, “a Google employee will be popping in from time to time to post announcements, share tips, and answer questions”. The frequency of these visits is quite low and there are more questions than answers but if you dig deeply, you may find some answers. There is a lot of crossover between the groups.

• Google Maps Help Group: How Do I Tends towards broader mapping issues, apis etc but some bug and problem reporting that relates to business listings.

• Google Maps Help Group: For Business Owners Lots of the nitty gritty business oriented problems that one sees with not nearly enough answers from users or Google. This should be your second stop in the Google Groups.

• Google Maps Help Group TroubleshootingTends toward geomapping issues but with some bug and problem reporting that relates to business listings.

• Google Maps Help Group Current Issues Google occasionally announces bugs here so it should be the first place you stop.

End User Forums:
• SeoRefugee GeoTargeting A general resource for all things local, not limited to Maps but the folks there are very helpful and knowledgeable in a range of local search marketing technologies and techniques.

• Local Thread at Cre8aSiteforums This is a new thread at the SEO forum that has recently been started by the new forum moderator, Miriam Ellis

Other Blogs

These primarily deal with local search marketing on a range of topics and frequently have Google Maps related content and research:

• Convert Offline – Local Search Engine Marketing by Local Hound Tim

• SEOIgloo by Miriam Ellis

What resources do you use to solve your Map problems? Let me know and I will add them to the list.

If you or your business offer consulting help or turn key listing management for Maps, let me know and I will publish a list of commercial Google Map solutions.

*A beta personality is like an alpha personality except that it causes heart attacks in others rather than one’s self by virtue of it never being finished with the job at hand.

Google Maps: Business listings disappear


Over the past several weeks I had experienced a business listing that was present in the Authoritative Onebox, present in the Local 10 Pack (Michael Donnelly Interior Design – Buffalo), but was nowhere to be found in the Maps listing even when selecting the “more” info link showing in the Authoritative OneBox or the 10 pack main search results. It was not visible with a direct Maps search either except as a blue MyMaps entry. This problem had been reported in the Google Maps for Business Groups as well.

Apparently this is a known problem that Google acknowledged last week in the current issues section of the Maps Group:

Alert for Business Owners: Some verified listings aren’t displaying on
Google Maps. Our team is aware and currently investigating. Stay tuned!

My kudos to the king of search for having started alerting users to bugs rather than waiting for several hundred struggling users to fight, fear and futz with the problem. If we are seeing a new openness in the Google Maps Group, that is indeed a significant “upgrade”. (For the record, that is my second compliment to Google this week. :) )

Google Maps Local Business Center now offering instant listings?


One of the dreaded aspects of dealing with the Local Business Center in the past was the long delay of the PIN/postcard validation and the listing process in the Maps business directory. The phrase Awaiting Next Update took on a sinister character that often meant 6 to 8 weeks delay and sometimes never for the record to show in Maps.

Recently Google Local Business Center has been posting my new entries & edits immediately into the Maps listing with no verification and no delay.

Here is a screen shot from the LBC of a listing I created today at 2:30 p.m.:

lbcposting.jpg
Here is the screen shot from Google Map listing within minutes after entry:

newvisionsmaplisting.jpg

The listing is also showing at position 14 on the general search phrase “consulting Olean NY” within minutes of being posted.

This is a dramatic shift in policy on new business listings that I first noticed in early February and I mentioned here. Is Google doing this for every listing? From what I understand, no. Please let me know otherwise.

Is Google auto-approving certain types of business listings or do I have some “super user” privileges by virtue of the quantity of entries that I have made?

If it is some “signal” about the business, what could it be? This particular business is my wife’s run from our home and has been operating under the radar of the data collection world. There is no external indication to Google that it is legitimate other than the whois record with a 2006 creation and the fact that the phone and street address jive. She had no YellowPage listings, no public filings, no listing in other on-line directories or primary data providers that I know of. The phone is residential and has her name listed.

If they are providing me as an active LBC user more privileges due to the large number of entries in the LBC what is the benchmark? I have 43 entries in my Local Business Center and I noticed this on entry number 39 and each of the last 4 have been “instant” on in Maps.

Regardless, this is a welcome update. It is a relief to not have to worry about when it will show up, if it will show etc. It also feels good to compliment Google. I must have the title of grumpy google basher in San Jose.

Google Plus Box – Where does the (wrong) data come from?


One of the more vexing problems in local search has been erroneous address & phone data showing for a bricks & mortar location in the main Google search results in the Plus Box. For a screen shot of the issue click here.

Small business owners have flocked to the Google Maps for Business Group in search of answers on the apparently untrue assumption that the data in the Plus Box comes from the Local Business Center record.

I recently theorized that the primary source for this erroneous information was the business website itself. That seems true as far as it goes. Apparently though there are other web “signals” that will trigger the Plus Box and if a business has relocated in the past several years it is likely that the information will be wrong, even if the website and the Local Business Center record has been correctly updated.

This recent request to the Google Maps for Business Group motivated me to look deeper into where this information might come from if not the business’s website. It appears that the source is either a high page rank directory site with a Maps API display or one of the many Yellow Page resources that Google uses as a secondary, confirming source for address information.

The upshot is that the (incorrect) Plus Box data appears to come from:
•Your Website
•Secondary business listing data suppliers to Google like the YellowPages
•High PageRank Directories that use a Google Maps API to geolocate the incorrect address

These sources would need to be changed for Google to “get it right”. There may be other sources but a creative search of Google should turn those up. I would suggest your prioritize your “cleansing” efforts by the list above. In this particular case, I found 62 web references to the wrong address. I do not think that all need to be changed.

Clearly Google could simplify this correction process in a number of ways. They could simply prioritize Local Business Center data when they have it. Barring that choice, they could provide details as to the sources of their data so that it could be purged more easily from the index.

The current system of begging in the Groups is obviously an inadequate response to a problem that from the SMB’s perspective is pressing. It is particularly so when customers end up at the wrong address due to the erroneous Plus Box. In these cases the business complaint should be addressed immediately and the business treated as a partner that helps Google generate accurate data.

Here is the original query from the Maps Group in its entirety and my research and response:
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Developing Knowledge about Local Search