Does Local need to be held to a higher standard? Greg Sterling Responds

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 – 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 – 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 – provided this doesn’t open the door for major spamming – 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.

Google Plus Box – for real

This week I wrote an April 1st post about an upgrade to the Local Business Center that apparently a lot of people wanted to be real. I wanted it to finally work as well but unfortunately it doesn’t.

Here are my previous posts about the Plus Box issues:
•How to change your Business Address in the Internet Age
•5 Simple Steps to fix the plus box (yea right)
•Google Plus Box – Where does the (wrong) data come from?
•Google and the PlusBox Blues

Here is Bill Slawski’s excellent piece on this issue:
Incomplete and Wrong Data in Google Local Search

Erroneous Plus Box
I’ve been following the Google Maps for Business group and there have been many reported Plus Box problems that would be corrected if Google could only get the LBC to correctly feed the data over to the Plus Box in the main search results page.

In December 2006 upon introduction of the Plus Box, Matt Cutts noted that the LBC would supply the correct info to the Plus Box.

Was he misinformed? Seems unlikely. So the real question at hand is why has the most reliable source for local data, the verified LBC listing, not yet been integrated into the Plus Box in the main search results in a reliable way?

Are there bigger architectural issues? Is it just something that will get fixed eventually?

This problem has existed for 16 months. The motivated business owners and those that notice the errors, contact the Google Maps for Busines Group and may get some help. Maps guide Jen heads off for a week, or two or more and the erroneous Plus Box may disappear. There are business owners that report up to 9 months to get the wrong data removed. It is not replaced with the correct LBC data, it just disappears.

There have been a number of anecdotal reports of it affecting business and of end users going to the wrong end of town or competitors benefitting. It certainly highlights both the difficulties with Maps AND the difficulty of dealing with Google.

It doesn’t seem very productive for Google to have to make hand exceptions every time that their Plus Box algo goes awry. And it makes no sense to make the procedure for correcting it so difficult.

Major Affiliate Mapspam on Google for New York Hotels?

Updated These url’s have been removed and replaced with maps.google.com as the url. I would infer from this that it was in fact spam.

Greg Sterling of Screenwerks has reported a possible affiliate mapspam incident on Google for the search New York Hotels.

mapspam.jpg

These listings look very similar to those noted by Matt McGee in his article on the restaurant industry in Google Using Surrogate Web Sites? where he noted an upsurge in assigning review site url’s to unclaimed listings in Maps.

Historically Google has assigned its best guess website algorythmically often with upredictable results. These new reports might actually indicate a change in policy or algo rather than affiliate mapspam.

It is possible that rather than Google making a best guess of the url for an unclaimed listing, they are now, either for their benefit or the benefit of trusted sites, sending the traffic to those sites instead. It might just be the assessment that the earlier method was more prone to error than sending the visitor to a know quanity like Yelp or UpperEast.com.

Google Maps now offering contour lines – Hybrid view gone?

Updated 9:00 04/03/08 Gregor J. Rothfuss of Google.com notes that the Hybrid view is now moved under Satellite view. Click on it to see “Show labels” (the old Hybrid view).

Frank Taylor, Google Earth Blog reported that New Contour Lines in Google Maps.

Google has announced a new feature to the terrain relief maps they added last November to Google Maps. Now when you zoom in closer, the terrain shows contour lines to give you an even better feel for the lay of the land. These types of maps are the type most hikers use to plan their trips. Unfortunately, the degree of resolution at this point is not quite good enough for hiking, and the trails aren’t shown by default in Google Maps. But, the enhancement is a really nice feature that enhances the understanding of the terrain and it looks excellent.

Martin has noticed below that the hybrid view has gone missing with this upgrade.

Here is a Google Map showing contour lines in the area where my house is located:


View Larger Map

Local Links of Interest

UniversalBusinessListing.Org Partners with NexxLinx to Jump-Start Local Search 

UBL is the industry initiative to help businesses create and expand their online presence. Instead of spending countless frustrating hours of trial and error, businesses create a central listing with UBL, and for a small fee their information is securely distributed to all major US online Yellow Pages, search engines, industry directories and 411 directory assistance. 

Adding A Business to MSN/Live Local Search – Matt McGee, SmallBusinessSEM

MSN’s Local Search property, Live Search Maps, used to rely on Localeze for all its business listings. If you wanted to add or edit a listing in MSN Local, that’s where you went to take care of it.

That’s since been replaced by MSN’s own Local Business Listings Center, which operates quite similarly to Google’s version of the same tool.

Western Union to Offer Mobile-to-Mobile Transfers – Laura Sydell, NPR

Western Union is teaming up with two other companies to offer customers money transfers over their cell phones. It’s aimed at immigrants, who often don’t go to banks or use the Internet to conduct business.

Rumor: eBay to Sell Skype to Google? – Sebastien, Praized.com

What it means: I think this potential acquisition/partnership makes complete sense. IMHO, call tracking and pay-per-call represents a large portion of future local search revenues and Google clearly sees that local search is where they will get tremendous growth in the next 5-10 years. By buying the Skype infrastructure (and user base) and combining it with the GrandCentral technology and expertise, they instantly get core assets to execute that strategy globally.

Call Tracking Data Reveals YP Print ROI – Greg Sterling, Screenwerks

The Yellow Pages Association has put out data from a call tracking study this morning that shows a high return on investment for display advertisers:

  • Yellow Pages sales revenue is more than 27:1 for national display advertisers and nearly 13:1 for local display advertisers.
  • 60 percent of advertisers experienced an increase in call volumes in the second year of the study.
  • Of the advertisers that experienced a growth in call volume the second year, the average increase of leads was 49 percent.
  • The median Yellow Pages local display advertisement delivers 444 calls per year at a cost per call of $29.The median national display advertisement delivers 979 calls per year at a cost per call of $15.

Does Local need to be held to a higher standard? Matt McGee Responds

I have put the following to a number of folks whose opinion I respect.

Premise:
The internet is coming face to face with the communities we live in. Local is at the nexus of this juncture. With the iPhone we now listen to our music, answer our phones, read our email, look at our maps and browse the yellow pages. In the near future we will likely be using our iPhroid (or whatever the device will be called) to replace our wallet, the ATM machine and who knows what else. In the past we have been satisfied with search providing relevant results but we are now in a time when we expect the map and business listings to be not just relevant but correct as well.

Question:
As we move forward to what I call the age of the iPhroid with who knows what transactional and social capabilities, does Local need to be held to a higher standard to “truly” succeed and play a trusted role in our lives?

What is your opinion?

Here are the previous answers:
•Danny Sullivan & Chris Silver Smith
•Ahmed Farooq
•Miriam Ellis
•Bill Slawski

Matt McGee of SmallbusinessSEM now has the floor:

Matt: It would be great of Local could reach a higher standard, but no, I don’t believe Local needs to be held to a higher standard. It should be held to a high standard, of course, but I don’t believe it deserves special treatment; it doesn’t demand any higher standard than we expect from traditional search, e-mail, social networking, and the other tasks we do online each day.

Local, like any of those things, probably has to meet two standards:

1.) It has to be good enough most of the time.
2.) It has to maintain an appearance of relevancy (accuracy).

Look at Google: It’s not perfect, but the searching public has obviously decided it’s good enough most of the time. I don’t always find what I want via Google, but I succeed there often enough that I always start at Google. I’m guessing that’s a common experience among online searchers.

Look at another vertical, like travel search: Among Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity, and others, which one offers the best fares? Which one offers the best options? The best tools? I have no clue. But I use Orbitz as my starting point because it’s always been good enough. It gives me the info. I need to choose an airport and/or an airline when multiple options are available. Then I go to the airline web site to make my reservation because I believe it’ll be less expensive that way. But sometimes the process isn’t clean; it breaks down, and what I find on the airline site doesn’t match what Orbitz told me. Still, I don’t hold the Travel vertical to any higher standard; I use it the same way I would any other online tool.

I would assume Local to develop in the same way, particularly where mobile search is concerned. Am I going to stop performing local searches on my iPhone just because every once in a while the directions are off, or the business’s phone number has changed? I can’t imagine I would stop, and I can’t imagine anyone else would, either.

Spam hasn’t stopped me from using and relying on e-mail. We accept spam as part of the convenience of e-mail. Likewise, I bet we’ll accept the occasional wrong left turn, the occasional wrong address, the occasional product that is not really in stock, and whatever other flaws will exist as Local continues to develop over time. We tend to be very forgiving, us humans.

Comparing Yahoo & Google Market Share in Local

Comparing market share and market share trends between Google Maps and the various Yahoo local properties is complicated by the fact (pointed out by Steve Espinosa) that Yahoo spreads their local traffic across three sites: Yahoo Local, Yahoo Maps and Yahoo Yellow Pages,

To clarify I once again went back to the well and asked the ever patient, Heather Hopkins of HitHiwise, to compare Google Maps with all three of the Yahoo local properties. Hopefully this will satisfy Steve’s desire to characterize the issues fairly.

revisedmarketshare2.jpg

The outcome:

•Yahoo is still down roughly 7% for the year

•Google has increased their market share by almost 100% and has managed to pass Yahoo with their January 10 Pack upgrade.

If you add MSN Live Local share to Yahoo in the event of a merger they would have greater market share than Google Maps. But the momentum is certainly on Google’s side and with their increased display of local listings in the main search results, the need to go into Maps has been decreased.

Does Local need to be held to a higher standard? Bill Slawski Responds

Bill Slawski of SeobytheSea brings a deep understanding of the underlying techniques that Google & Yahoo have developed to assemble their local data.
Here is his answer to whether Local needs to be held to a higher standard:

Bill: I’m not sure that local can succeed without the actual involvement of people on a local level who have incentive, inspiration, and impartiality to verify, to explore, and to arbitrate.

I think that differences in local language usage and in knowledge of local areas can play a role in whether local succeeds or fails.

Right now, local search involves at least three different paradigms, and methods of collection of data:

1. Providing map information – with an emphasis on purchased data from data suppliers, and from information (mentions) from directories and web sites. The most authoritative site for one of these listings may not even be the web site of the business owner located at an address.
2. Providing a business directory – with an emphasis on listings from actual business owners that is verified by those owners.
3. Providing contact information for a business in Web searches – with an emphasis on identifying the best contact information from a web site. This contact information may only be shown in queries which are identified as navigational ones, where the business listed is, to use the words of the recent Google Relevance testers document, a “vital” listing in response to the query.

The potential for this information to clash is based upon the differences in data collection methods and purposes. For example, the most important information to a telecom is a phone number, and listing an actual physical address is much less of a priority. Nearness to cross streets is fine with them.

Some types of organizations have very little motivation or desire to verify their businesses. Some may not even know that if they don’t have a web site, they can still verify the location of their organization in Google Maps.

There is no set standard way to display location information on a website, and attempts to scrape a site for the “right” contact information may be hindered by multiple addresses (old, new, multiple locations, etc.), poor formatting (images, incomplete data, uncrawlable information, etc.

Google Maps Record Failure Update- Health Improving

In late February I reported on a Maps Record failure with a medical listing where the record had been conflated with another physician and it turns out with a hospital as well (image of physician mixup / image of hospital-dr. mix up). I reported the problem to the Google Groups for Business forum.

The problem had not been resolved as of March 20 so I posted again. I have not received any communication from Google but definite if uneven progress is to be reported.

The good news:
• The wrong number has been removed from the 10Pack listing,
• The wrong number has been removed from the authoritative OneBox
• The multitude of numbers have been removed from the Maps listing
• The conflated record with SJ Providence Hospital has been removed

The remaining bad news:
•The maps record still has some gender & ethnicity confusion as it
still has the following listed for Dr. Schubiner (a white, Jewish, male):
Physician Name‎: Yasoda Modali (MD)
Educational Experience‎: Andhra Pradesh University Of Health
Sciences, Gandhi Medical College
Professional Certification‎: Psychiatry
Gender‎: Female

The slightly bad news (I mean it could be worse)
•There is no phone number listed in either the authoritative
Local OneBox or the Local 10-Pack

The not so bad news
•They have associated someone else’s reviews with the record

medicalrecordupdate.jpg

So while there has been a lack of any feedback to my posting there has been some progress to report. I have no idea if the progress would have occurred without my posting at the group or whether Map’s Guide Jen was busily at work behind the scenes to avoid another poison pen letter from me. Regardless, it is getting better. He doesn’t mind the ambiguity but if I could just get his sex changed before his mother sees it, life would be good. Continue reading

Developing Knowledge about Local Search