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.

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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.

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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

Does Local need to be held to a higher standard? Miriam Ellis Responds

Miriam Ellis and her husband are a web development team in California with extensive practical experience in Local Search. She is always a voice for reason and ethical behavior and writes frequently about local search in her blog.

Miriam understands the frustration of running a small business and often speaks of the needs of small business people. Here is her answer to my question, does local need to be held to a higher standard:

Miriam: I agree with your premise of greater need for accountability. We have already witnessed too many bothersome/worrisome situations in local and have felt the dead air silence in attempting to get help or answers to these issues. Your extreme 5 step workaround for fixing an address is a good example of a system that is failing to be truly accessible/usable.

Your prediction that we’ll be using our phones for monetary transactions is especially thought-provoking. I know some people who still refuse to make ecommerce or banking transactions online because they simply don’t trust the Internet.

I can understand their reasoning, because when ripoffs happen on the Internet, laws governing such activity are vague, poorly understood and poorly enforced. “Tough luck,” seems to be the attitude when bad things happen on-line and, as in many things in life, we tend to carry on with a “it couldn’t happen to me” attitude. The more of our lives are lived online, the greater chance there is for a lack of laws and lack of personal accountability to cause problems.

My hope with local has been that the end result of searches would be dealings with neighbors. It may be a bit of a caveman mentality, but because we know where neighbors live (do business) they may be less inclined to rip us off, right? Their business rep depends on good service. But when it’s the interface that has the problem (Maps, Local, etc.) the good service is hinging on a third party, making Local less local.

I’ve felt especially bad for the Maps/Local users who are coming to the game with a YP mindset. My father worked for a traditional YP company for some years, and I know first hand the efforts he went to to take care of each and every one on of his clients to make sure that their information was accurate and that he was consistently available to them for any help they might need.

Neither Google nor Yahoo has stepped up to the plate with that kind of service. Yahoo is doing a better job, in my opinion, simply because they are providing a phone number you can call. Google’s local program feels like it’s taking place on a misty mountaintop somewhere in space. Feels like no one is minding the store.

Basically, my answer is yes. They aren’t doing what they need to to win legitimate trust, but then, so many people give their trust without a lot of discernment, so my guess is that there aren’t too many of us who are concerned about this, at this point.

I love Local. I use it almost daily. I would like to see the major players make the efforts to man the ship in a more personal, transparent and accessible way. I believe that in order to become truly Local, Google and Yahoo need to move beyond the remote, world-wide-web mentality and step out from behind the curtain to start dealing with business owners and users in a new way that is appropriate to this new medium.
——————
Tomorrow Bill Slawski will present his ideas on the question.

Local Business Center upgrade now allows Plus Box control

In a quiet upgrade to the Local Business Center, Google has provided business owners with the option of using their entered address as the source for information for the Plus Box found in the main search results.

The problem with errors and frustation with the complexities in fixing them had been noted here and at SearchEngineLand. This upgrade should provide an answer to the many requests for assistance with an erroneouse Plus Box in the Google Maps for Business Group. At last count there were 75 outstanding requests received in the last 45 days.

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In a phone interview with Carter Maslan, Product Development Manager for Google Maps, he noted that he was aware of the bug for almost 15 months but that it hadn’t significantly impacted user experience. He also noted that the upgrade would free Maps Guide Jen for the task of correcting erroneous phone numbers in the medical listing records and finding missing local business records lost in a late February mishap.

Matt Cutts noted in an email, shortly after the update went live, that he felt better now that Google had implemented a feature that he claimed was in the Local Business Center at the time of introduction of the Plus Box in December 2006.

Making Local Appointments on line

Last week I reported on the new service, Leavefeedback.org that elegantly closes the circle of consumers and small businesses. The New York Times reports on a new class of small business products that further brings local and smb’s together: Making Appointments for Doctor or Dinner that further embeds the internet in the lives of clients and businesses. The web based appointment generating services work on two different pricing models, a monthly subscription ($20 to $30)and a per appointment transaction fee ($3.50).

Greg Sterling is quoted in the article as saying: “This is something that’s been needed for a while, but no one has been able to do it successfully,” said Greg Sterling, of Sterling Marketplace Intelligence, an online consultancy. “With these new services, there are a lot of circumstances where it can work quite well for both the business and the consumer.”

The monthly subscription model of Hourtown would lend itself to higher volume appointment scheduling that would be more likely in larger, more tech savvy cities. If a business could schedule one appointment per day via this method it would put the scheduling cost at $1 per, a very appealing price point. At this price, if the volume were there, barbers and hairdressers with a lower average transaction amount could participate.

The per transaction model offered by BookingAngel would appeal to lower volume but higher average transaction amount clients like Doctors. This would work even in rural settings, assuming that the volume was high enough to offset the learning curve.

Given the current pricing models most rural businesses would be unlikely to benefit either due to high per transaction costs or very low scheduling volume. Going foward on-line appointments services could be used by a large number of local businesses in many markets and industry segments. Assuming that these services are easy enough to learn and provide significant value to the business in the form of more business or happier clients it will be interesting to see if and when these become widespread.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search