LA Dog Bite Lawyers in a Cat Fight over Maps

On May 7, 5:52 pm, “Maps Guide Jen” notified a poster, panzermike, at the Google Maps for Business Group that his business listings had been banned from Maps for the “foreseeable future”: 

Hi panzermike,

I had a look into your account. Your listings aren’t appearing because removed them from Google Maps. At this time even though you’ve reversed spam attempts, you’ve been blocked for the foreseeable future. I won’t be able to answer any additional questions about your listings.

– Maps Guide Jen

Yesterday, the poster Michael P. Ehline, P.C (aka panzermike) posted a comment at this blog:

I was removed from Google maps for mapspam after a guy I hired did all sorts of bulk uploads for the same address who I paid goo money. One of the listings was to a park!! (I found out later).

In all events, Google allows other businesses to claim your listing. Pretty sneaky. I think I discovered a guy who did that to me and went to the Maps group for help. Instead, a forum troll reported me as a spammer and I was removed from Maps.

I fired the webmaster who set up maps for me. Too late, Maps Jen says I am out for the “foreseeable future”. I have suffered at least a 30 percent drop in business.

What’s worse, is that the other sites my guy copied are all still submitting multiple listings for the same location, using multiple mirror sites with different url’s, submitting fakes firm names, that are really keyword names, and are totally controlling all the traffic from Maps.

Do you have any suggestions as to getting back into Maps and to get Maps to enforce its rules in a just manner, rather than the arbitrary and capricious manner they enforce their rules now? It really killed my phone.

Don’t you think they should offer amnesty or a second chance?

I was intrigued by the situation and emailed PanzerMike to see if he wanted to bring his case to a larger audience. So I am providing an interview with him and putting his question to the readers of this blog: Do you have any suggestions as to getting back into Maps? Do you think Google should offer amnesty or a second chance?

Here are his responses to my interview questions:
Continue reading

Local Links of Interest

 Small Business Marketing Success Story: Avante Gardens – Matt McGee, SearchEngineland

This interview with Cathy Rulloda is a great overview of good practices. Cathy is always at the forefront of using the internet for local marketing in the very tough florist arena and she more than holds her own.

Free-411 Rolls Out Dial Directions Nationally & Jingle Goes Nationwide with Dial Directions – Greg Sterling, Screenwerks/Local Mobile

Against that backdrop Jingle needs to continue to develop, market and differentiate its service if it hopes to stay ahead of this increasing competition. One way it has sought to do that is by offering Dial Directions service, which as of today is now available nationally: any location to any other location (by address or intersection).

I see Free 411 services as a critical bridge service between the phones of today and the mobile internet of tomorrow and the services use much the same data set that we have been working with. Greg offers this interesting chart of Free 411 intents:

Free 411 Intent

How do we determine the names of things -  Mikel Maron, BrainOff.com

A mid April post that takes a fascinating look at the politics and policies involved in naming places. What we often assume is an absolute in a Map is really  a fluid, conflicted political & social battle. How does Google handle the conflicts that arise? How does OpenStreetMap do so? An eye opening and educational piece.

 

Local Seo Tracking Software

A reader asked me serveral months ago if I knew of software to track local search standings. Advanced Web Ranking had just implemented the feature (after a year of hounding) and I told the reader about it with a caution that I had not yet tried it.

He just took the time to email his comments:

It’s been a while, but I’m the person who wrote you asking if you knew of a good local seo tracking software option.  You recommended Advanced Web Ranking.  I wanted to let you know that their software is working great!  When I first tested it, the local search tracking had some bugs and did not report the ranks correctly. They have fixed those issues though and the software works great to get results from Google Maps and Yahoo Local Business.  They do not yet have local search tracking for Live (MSN) or Ask, but said they plan to add those as some point.

I subsequently have used the feature and it has become quite useful for automated tracking. The software works on Mac, Windows or Linux and pricing starts at $99.

Are there other products that will automatically track local search standings?

What impact Maps and Coupons?

Earl the Pearl, in bringing up a new site and comparing to an older one, has done a great summary and analysis at SeoREfugee of where local traffic is coming from:

Over the past 10 months, the largest single traffic generator search phrase has been the industry generic term. In google it has generated about 2100 visits and Yahoo about 2600 visits. About 90% of the traffic from google is ppc oriented whereas in Yahoo its all organic search.

Of visits to the site that have the same or virtually analogous business terms with a geo modifier, the clear traffic visit leader with the most traffic has been the business term with the city name, versus the business term with state names. Traffic for the most popular business term with the city (washington dc) has generated over 300 visits in this time period. Meanwhile the next most popular phrases with geo modifiers have been for the 2 states.

Of significance, prior to the insertion of google maps into organic searches, their was no noticable difference between industry terms for the generic business terms and any of 3 different most prevalent geo modifiers (2 states, Maryland, and Virginia, and one city- DC.).

It appears that the insertion of a map which has always featured this business at the top of the search page, has increased visits to the site by about 30-50% over searches without a map.

In other words, there is a significant increase in traffic to the site wherein there is a #1 organic ranking, and a map, and a ppc ad over sites with a #1 organic ranking, a ppc ad and no map.(my bold)

To date it appears that high generic rankings or high ranked ppc with geo terms in the title for generic industry terms are critical; high ranked terms for geo-modified business terms are critical, and the appearance of a business in maps within a 3 pack/10pack/authoritative map are of big help…but don’t have the impact of either high organic rankings or highly ranked ppc.

His assessment of coupons? No customer responses as they are buried too deeply within Maps to be found.

Local Links of Interest

A Technology Consortium Plans a Wireless Network – Matt Richtel, NY Times

The consortium includes a disparate group of partners: Sprint Nextel, Google, Intel, Comcast, Time Warner and Clearwire….

They expect the network, which will provide the next generation of high-speed Internet access for cellphone users, to be built in as little as two years, but there is no timetable on when it will be available to users and the price is not determined. The partners are seeking to beat Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless to the market.

Sprint Scores Coup with WiMax Joint Venture – Greg Sterling, Local Mobile Search

Sprint and Google have also entered into an agreement related to Sprint’s mobile services, whereby Google will become the default provider of web and local search services, both of which will be enabled with location information, for Sprint. Sprint will also preload several Google services – including Google Maps for mobile, Gmail and YouTube – on select mobile phones and provide easier access to other Google services.

Apple and AT&T to launch iPhone 3G a lot sooner than we think – Boy Genius Report

AT&T reps just got an internal email stating that they would be unable to take vacation time from June 15th to July 12th”due to projected increased traffic and an exciting new promotion/product launch.” 

The Ten Commandments of Online Marketing for Small & Local Busines – David Mihm, Mihmorandum

Step-by-step instructions for the small business just trying to get a handle on this whole internet marketing thing. (I missed this one while on vacation but it is worth looking at if you haven’t read it)

Google Maps: More Bulk Upload Mapspam or bad data from a Trusted Source

Recent reports of bulk upload Earthlink MapSpam may in fact be “spam” coming to Google from one of its “trusted” primary data suppliers instead rather than being entered via the Local Business Center. 


Earthlink Mapspam

Last week and again today Imnotadoctor.com is reporting spammy listings in the Google Maps Local 10-Pack. In this most recent case the bad listings are from Earthlink. Stephen at Imnotadoctor.com speculates that this is a case of bulk upload abuse. (image courtesy of ImNotaDoctor.com)

However upon further inspection of the records for both the Big Local and Earthlink spam, it appears that another scenario could be that the listings did not come via Google’s Bulk upload feature. A more likely explanation is that they were fed to Google via a primary data provider.

A normal record in Google has visible attributes that are typically associated with either a bulk upload or a single LBC entry. It is noted in the record that the information is provided by the business owner and the record does not support end user edits. In both of these cases neither condition was met. This leads me to supspect another route other than a bulk upload.

Earthlink Record

The questions might really be “which Google Data Provider has this level of trust and the inability to properly scrub their records?”

Google Maps – User edit abuses happening to Payday loan company?

payday1.jpgI have little sympathy for even the best companies in the payday loan business. Many of them charge as much as 400% interest (as reported in the WSJ) and manage to illegally get their hands on limited Social Security payments (again according to the WSJ), a practice the government is attempting to limit.

Google seems to offer some implicit support for these less than savory tactics of this industry by not having removed their mapspam that I reported at here and at SearchnEngineland.

It appears that in an industry that is used to preying on people is now preying on itself. Advance America is a legitimate (I say that advisedly as there are reports of them charging close to 400% interest) payday loan company that is listed on the NY Stock Exchange and has 2800 bricks and mortar locations. Their local Map’s listings, which they have never claimed, are apparently being hijacked in an effort to claim an affiliate fee.

The search in Google Maps for payday site:advanceamerica.net returns 1941 listings for Advance America, a reasonable approximation of their listings in Google Maps. A little digging into the “View History” of the edited records details a veritable tug of war in a number of the records with a company that varies its domain based on the location but appears to have no role in the process other than an affiliate referral role.

I find it ironic that the sharks of the loan industry seem to be eating each other’s lunch and appear engaged in abuse of the Google End User edit facilities in Maps that was introduced in mid March.

If Google is relying on community policing to keep these kind of practices under control, the system will self destruct. The folks using these services  don’t much care and it appears that the aggrieved party doesn’t have a very sophisticated practice in regards to local. These types of edits should automatically trigger some sort of Google review.

Google Maps Lost Record Recovery Tip

Google’s Maps Guide Tom, who first announced the problem (late Feb) with missing records in Maps and the subsequent fix (late April) has noted a work around for any records still not showing up in Map’s as a result of the problem:

==========================================
TOPIC: Active listing not appearing? Try this!
=========================================

== 1 of 1 ==
Date: Mon, May 5 2008 3:52 pm
From: Maps Guide Tom

Hi All,

I know that there are reports that some listings aren’t appearing on
Google Maps, even though they have an “active” status and have been
verified with a PIN.

If you’re still experiencing this problem, I have a workaround that
may help get your listing to appear!

First, search for your listing to ensure it’s really not appearing:
1. Go to maps.google.com and click “Find businesses” under the search box.
2. Enter the name of your business as it appears in your Local Business Center Account in the “What” field, and then the city/state combination or zip/postal code in the “Where” field.
3. Hit “Search Businesses”.

If your listing appears, rejoice! Your listing is showing on Google
Maps. If your listing doesn’t appear in the search results, please try
the following:

1. Log in to your Local Business Center account at www.google.com/local/add
2. Click “Edit” next to the listing that isn’t appearing.
3. Without changing any business information, click “Finish”. You
won’t need to re-verify your listing.
4. Wait 24 hours, and then check to see if your business listing is
appearing using the steps above.

This should cause some business listings that aren’t showing to finally appear.

For the successful creation of business listings, please, please remember these two points:

1. This workaround should only be for listings that aren’t appearing but HAVE ALREADY BEEN VERIFIED and whose status is “Active” in the Local Business Center. Please don’t try this if you haven’t yet verified your listing.

2. Don’t include non-address information in either the “Address Line 1″ or “Address Line 2″ of your listing. Including such information will create a problem with the listing and Google Maps’ algorithm won’t be able to place it, even if it appears as a correct location
within your account.

Hopefully, this should clear up most issues about business listings disappearing. If you’ve performed the workaround and your listing still isn’t appearing, please let us know.

Best,
Maps Guide Tom

Maps Guide Tom’s advice to first find your record seems self evident but it is not uncommon for posters in the Maps For Business Groups to not really be sure if their record is in the Map’s index or not. This reflects both a user education issue AND an interface problem on Google’s part. A simple solution in the LBC would be to instead of noting that the record is “Active” offer a choice to actually “View” the record in the index so users of the LBC would be confident that it is actually there. It would obviate the need for the record holders to know how to query maps and it would reduce the frequency of one of the most common questions in the support Group.

It is intriguing to me that it is still necessary for a user to need to individually enter their LBC record and flag it so that Google knows to reindex it. Reminds me of the days of dBase/Foxbase and having to spend the better part of a day reindexing when a computer crashed before you could get back to business. Hmmm, the more things change…

Google Maps – The Dog Daze of May

Google has in the past conflated two records but this is the first I have seen a record being confused with its own older version. I sympathized with Nivek’s lament in the Google Maps for Business Group:

dogdaze.jpgTOPIC: Hours duplicated, can’t remove the incorrect set
======

= 1 of 1 =

Date: Sat, May 3 2008 12:13 pm
From: nivek

The hours for my business are listed twice and I can’t remove the incorrect set or hours. The set of hours at the top are incorrect:

Google Maps: Dog Daze Puyallup Wa

When I update our hours, it only updates the bottom set, which is the correct set of hours.

I don’t know how to fix this.

Any assistance is appreciated.
Thank you.

Nivek, Dog Daze Natural Pet Market – Puyallup, Wa.

I would respond:

Dear Dazed in Puyallup:

Do not let this set back affect your self image. You have done nothing wrong here. You will not be able to fix this yourself, you will need the help of the others involved in this unfortunate situation. Things happen to data, what it is though just isn’t clear.

I would go back to Google and explain your plight but remember you are not to blame in this situation. If after 7 or 8 pleas they have not yet responded be assured that sooner or later the record will probably straighten itself out. Remember you are but one record among 13 million or so and keeping all of that data straight is a difficult job.

Mike

Developing Knowledge about Local Search