Loci2009: Matt McGee’s Most Important Developments in Local Search for 2009

It seems to me that the two most important developments in local search during 2009 both came from Google. I suppose that’s not much of a surprise in the current local environment, is it? Here’s my top two:

Google Shows Local/Map Results on Generic Queries — you wrote about this on your blog, I wrote about it on Search Engine Land, and many others wrote about it, too. I called it a game changer. It’s huge because all of a sudden you have local business listings showing up prominently for thousands of keywords/phrases that they never appeared on before. It excused lazy search behavior. More importantly, it opened up a whole spectrum of exposure opportunity for small businesses. All of a sudden it was possible to rank on generic terms like “insurance agent” and “italian restaurant.” Huge development, and no surprise that both Bing and Yahoo had followed suit by the end of the year.

Google Launches Place Pages — I was in the middle of a two-month travelogue when this hit, and didn’t really appreciate it until much later when I got home and had time to see what it was all about. I think this will become a game changer, too. This idea of a single URL for “every place in the world,” as Google said (with typical hubris), is really compelling. It’s Google doing what the Yelps and Citysearches and IYP sites have been doing, so it’s kinda of a catch-up move in one sense … but Google has so much traffic and so much interest from business owners who want to be found. This can’t help but be big. I mean, Google’s already using place pages to show real estate listings; what else can they use them for?

And I’m shocked that Google isn’t indexing these pages. I suspect they will at some point. The URLs are already fairly SEO-friendly and some of the pages have really good content. Why not index them? So what if they’re already available in the 7-pack listings; why would Google include business listings from Citysearch or Yelp that may have less content and offer a poorer user experience, when it could show a Google place page in the organic search results?

(The flip side of all this Google talk, of course, is the ongoing saga of Google’s terrible support for small/local business owners. Miriam Ellis wrote a marvelous article about that. And no one’s done a better job of writing about Google’s ongoing problems with spam, hijacked listings, and general technical incompetence than you. So Google’s local track record is far from perfect … still.)

Some other things that stand out for me from 2009:

David Mihm’s Local Search Ranking Factors remains the de facto standard for information about local SEO, and I could retire if I had a dollar for every time I’ve suggested a small biz owner read it.

I continue to love and be fascinated by the convergence of local search and social media. Small business owners were especially creative with Twitter last year, and I think that’s just the start of things. Twitter itself has made no secret of its plans to reach out to small businesses with formal services and tools, and they’ve said that local is an important part of their plans, so it should be interesting to see what develops in 2010.

And I think we collectively tend to under-report on Bing Maps and Local. I’ve always received a lot of traffic to my blog from people looking to learn how to get listed on MSN/Bing maps, how to optimize for it, etc. I documented some of that in this post, showing that eight of the top 50 keywords that send traffic to my blog are about Bing/MSN local, and only four of the top 50 are related to Google maps/local. I suspect that means something, though it might just be that you’re getting all the Google traffic. 🙂

Matt’s Bio:
Continue reading Loci2009: Matt McGee’s Most Important Developments in Local Search for 2009

Loci 2009: Daniel Tunkelang’s Interesting Local Posts of 2009

Daniel Tunkelang is one of those individuals that you probably know little about but who will be influencing our lives a great deal going forward. Since November 2009 he has been the a Tech Lead/Manager on the local search team at Google and has a long history of heavy hitting in the search environment. His specialty is what is known in search as faceted search which he believes offers a potentially powerful way to approach a broad class of local search problems.

In early December, he reached out to me and I would like to welcome him to the Local Community (btw he seems to have a tough skin which should serve him well :)).

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Not sure any of it qualifies for your list–the local space is a bit new for me, so I’ll surely have a more targeted list next year! Anyway, here’s some stuff I liked from 2009:

WWW2009 Madrid Proceedings:
Computers and iPhones and Mobile Phones, oh my! (pdf) A logs-based comparison of search users on different devices

Greg Nudelman at UXMatters:
Best Practices for Designing Faceted Search Filters

Cameras, Music, and Mattresses: Designing Query Disambiguation Solutions for the Real World

And a collection of free resources about faceted search and search user interfaces:
Free Chapter on Faceted Search User Interface Design

Daniel’s bio if you are interested in more nformation about him:
Continue reading Loci 2009: Daniel Tunkelang’s Interesting Local Posts of 2009

Google LBC: We’re Sorry, human error

Update 01/07/10: Elaine Filadelfo from Google’s Global Communications & Public Affairs office, has just forwarded me the following communication:

Hi Mike,

I know you’ve been covering the newsletter mix-up. Wanted to make sure you’ve got the latest statement/explanation:

As you know, we send a monthly newsletter to our Local Business Center users, featuring product news and a glimpse at statistics about the traffic Google properties drive to their listing (coming from the LBC dashboard, akin to Google Trends data for business owners). Shortly after sending the newsletter to a small portion of our users (less than 1%) last night, we discovered that some emails included incorrect business listing information. We promptly stopped sending any further emails and investigated the cause, which we found to be a human error while pulling together the newsletter content. We’d like to apologize to all the business owners affected and assure all our users that we’re working hard to ensure that nothing similar will happen again. Those affected should be receiving a corrected email shortly, if they haven’t already.

Also — we put an update in our Help Center in response to some questions as well:
Help Forum Response

We also posted a note on Twitter:

The follow-up emails have gone out already, so they should already be delivered or will arrive any time now.

As always, let me know if you have any questions.

Elaine

James Ward passed along the Google apology for the LBC Stats error sent to his client, Caitlen Allen Acupuncture Clinic in Leeds:

Google Maps LBC Sending Out Monthly Stats to Wrong Businesses?

At about 1 am this morning, Danielle Kraft of Studio Kraft in NJ sent along this comment:

Hi Mike,

Oddly, this evening I received an email that was detailed for a “Google Local Business Center Updates for Maaco Collision Repair & Auto Painting.” I’ve received this type of email before for a business we have claimed, however, in this instance, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES, have I ever claimed a business related to Maaco. This is not totally incorrect.

Glitch perhaps in their system? Very strange. The email header checked out, doesn’t appear to be spam. Sender =”localbusinesscenter@google.com”

Has anyone experienced this before?

Thanks,

Danielle

At about 3 am I received my monthly update from the Google Local Business Center for Kurlon Mattress Dealers, Home, Office, School Furniture Shop : Tk trading a company (with a very long name, hmmm) that is most definitely NOT in my LBC:

Well, Danielle, it does appear to be a fairly massive “glitch”. I am sure that you in NJ and I in upsate NY are not the only ones to get their monthly stats in this way. The only question is did every report go out to the wrong recipient?

If any of you got mine, would you let me know?

Google LBC Requiring Reverification of Some Listings

For historical reasons, I have a number of very small clients that I have done some local work for in my Local Business Center account. While not the best arrangement for many situations, it works well for these small clients that are barely computer literate. It has the added benefit of highlighting certain Google behaviors in one spot. Several weeks ago roughly 10% of the listings in my LBC were requiring that they be reverified.

It is not clear what or why these businesses are being required to reverify.

Some of them had geo phrases in the title, some are home based businesses that use residential phones and some are just main street businesses with nothing to distinguish them. All had been in my LBC for quite some time and doing fine.

I am curious if others have been required to reverify? If so, was there any obvious reason?

Loci 2009: David Mihm’s Most Important Articles in Local Last Year

David Mihm, well known for his writing on his blog & at SearchEngineLand and for his work on Getlisted.org, an smb local listing management tool, offers up the articles that he found most important over the past twelve months…
*****

There were a ton of great articles in the Local Search industry this year & the following list really does not do a number of noteworthy posts justice.  But here are my choices of articles I couldn’t do without from the past 12 months…

General Interest: Why SEO Still Matters for SMB’s (Lisa Barone / Outspoken Media)
Lisa takes Web 2.0 “thought leader” Robert Scoble to task for his short-sighted view of what SEO actually means in 2009, and highlights why it’s perhaps more important than ever for small business owners.  If there were a “rising star” award for Local Search blogging, Lisa would surely win it–although she’s been a regular blogging star for years already.

The State of the Internet Yellow Pages: Brave New World for IYPs (Chris Silver Smith / Search Engine Land)
Chris details the impact that Google’s Local Universal interface has had on IYP companies in 2009.

Tips and Advice: If I Were Launching a Small Business Website Today (Matt McGee / Small Business Trends)
Wow.  A FREE, detailed Internet marketing plan for small business owners just getting started on the web courtesy of one of the oldest-school gurus in our space.  Well-written and spot-on as usual from Mr. McGee.

Analytics (tie): Tracking Local Search Traffic with Analytics (Martijn Beijk / Blumenthals.com) and Tracking Analytics from the 10-pack (Mike Belasco & Mary Bowling / SEOverflow)
Similar to Liebnitz’ and Newton’s simultaneous yet independent discovery of Calculus, Martijn and the SEOverflow team both solve a long-time headache for Local SEOs by detailing an ingenious strategy to segment 10-pack clicks from organic clicks.

Research / Analysis: What Is Location Prominence? (Mike Blumenthal)
Yes, I could have nominated the Local Search Ranking Factors for this award but no one outside of Bill Slawski has ever dived into a Google patent as assiduously as Mike did on this one — and translated it into plain English for the rest of us.

Holding Google’s Feet to the Fire (tie): Is It Time to Send Google Maps Back to the Drawing Board? (Matt McGee / Search Engine Land) and Go-to-Client and Home-Based Businesses Out of Google’s Local Loop (Miriam Ellis / SEOigloo)
It seems a shame for Mike not to win the award in this category, but we’ll use the argument “he wins it every year” to justify his exclusion.  Matt calls Google out very publicly for its over-aggressive merging on Search Engine Land (an issue which was largely fixed within a week) and Miriam continues to agitate for, in her typically polite but insistent fashion, a solution to the service area problem (which has still not been solved despite a constant outcry from the Local SEO community since the very dawn of the 10-pack).

Excellence in Business Listing Data Exposition (tie): SMN Webcast Recap: Local Business Listings (Matt McGee / Small Business SEM) and Who Powers Whom? A Closer Look at the Local Search Data Providers (Yours Truly / GetListed.org)
Matt does a bang-up job of recapping the Search Marketing Now webinar featuring representatives from infoUSA, Acxiom, and Localeze, and I take things one step further with the most up-to-date chart of which data providers feed which search engines.

Corporate Philanthropy: Google Maps Should Consider a Canonical Phone Number Tag (Chris Silver Smith / Natural Search Blog)
Chris proposes a solution to help clean up business listings for the local search engines and data companies.

Business Owner Philanthopy: The Complete List of Google Local Business Center Categories
(Mike Blumenthal)
Mike came across the full taxonomy of Google’s LBC and published for business owners and SEOs everywhere.

Avatar impersonators & Ann Smarty

I run a do follow blog for a reason. It seems like the right thing to do to recognize those regular contributors that have made the blog a success. I require 5 or more posts before the no follow tag is removed and I screen every comment.

But it creates a lot of work. Every limo service & locksmith in the world seems to make an effort to leave inane comments not realizing that I would need to approve 5 for it to be of any value. In the end, I delete probably ~10 unapproved comments every day to try and keep things working smoothly here.

Worth it? I am not sure but I enjoy the conversation and really want to encourage the real thing.

I received the following comment earlier today and I thought, cool…the Ann Smarty has stopped by.. It struck me as odd that she would leave a somewhat plagarized comment…but her gravatar looked right and I was in a rush so I approved it.

  1. Yes, the Google “way” of solving all problems via algo does not work very well when this spam is obvious, painful and contrary to ground truth. In the past they have only removed very high profile cases and all else sits and awaits time for the system to be “innoculated”.The delay, which can seem like 2 lifetimes to a struggling SMB, is a PR disaster waiting to happen.

    Comment by Ann| link building services (1 comments) — January 5, 2010 @ 5:00 am |Edit This

I contacted Ann, and of course she didn’t write the comment. It turns out it isn’t the Ann Smarty at all but rather a Phillipine laborer impersonating Ann, using her gravatar to make it look convincing and trying to create links for “Lease an SEO” in Nebraska. Ah, the benefits of global outsourcing.

Oh, and be on the watch out for comment impersonators using her (and mine as well) avatar looking to get a cheap link.

Google’s Blue Interface (aka Jazz) Is Approaching – What is your Hands on Take?

According to Barry at Seroundtable, more searchers are now seeing the new 3 column Google Jazz Interface. This interface, which Google hopes to push out sometime this year will have a significant impact on local search if for no other reason than because of it showing a 5 pack instead of the current 7 pack as the standard display.

If you have not yet tried the new Google display and would like to, you may do so pasting the following into the address bar of your browser when on google.com:

When you have done so you can then explore the new interface and will see search results like the following:

Clearing your Google cookies in your browser cache will turn off the Jazz interface and return your browser to the current interface.

How do you see the interface affecting local search?

Loci 2009: Bill Slawski’s Important Patents of 2009

Here are links to 10 posts I wrote this year about things that I found in patents and white papers from the search engines. I’ve included links to the patent filings and whitepapers as well, and included the date that each post was published in parentheses after the links to those posts.

I broke them down into the following categories:

– Local Intent in Search
– Ambiguous Locations
– Synergy Between Local and Mobile
– Sentiment Analysis in Local Reviews

I tried to include a short introduction to each section as well, to provide an idea of why I thought those were important.

Bill
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Local Intent in Search

On December 15th of this year, Yahoo started showing Yahoo local results within organic search results for query terms that they thought might have a local intent, even when that query didn’t have a geographic term included with it, according to a Yahoo blog post, Get More Personally Relevant Results When You Search for Local Businesses.

I noticed patent filings from Google and Yahoo, and a Yahoo whitepaper over the course of the year that gave us some hints on how each of the search engines might determine whether there might be a local intent in a query that doesn’t include a location. That kind of local intent associated with a query might trigger the appearance of local search results in organic web searches. Understanding why a query might be determined to have a local intent, without a location, has been helpful.

1. Google Local Search, Categories, and the What and Where of Local Map Listings (April 21st, 2009)

Google patent filing – Interpreting Local Search Queries

2. How a Search Engine Might Determine Whether a Search Involves a Geographical Intent (May 18th, 2009)

Yahoo whitepaper – Discovering Usersí Specific Geo Intention in Web Search (pdf)

3. How Search Engines Might Divine the Intent behind Regional Queries vs. Global Queries (December 14th, 2009)

Yahoo patent filing – Identifying Regional Sensitive Queries in Web Search

Ambiguous Locations

When a local search contains some ambiguous geographic information such as a landmark or area name such as “Space Needle” or “Times Square,” instead of an actual street, city, or state name, it might attempt to associate that limited geographical information with an actual location. People do search for hotels or restaurants or other types of businesses near landmarks. I wrote about a Google patent filing that explained how they might keep track of this information, and score locations when there is more than one landmark or area with the same name (such as “Times Square”). This was also the first place I had seen Google mention that they might include user-added data such as “my maps” submissions to help index what might be found at different locations.

1. Google Geocoding, Ambiguous Locations, and My Maps Submitted Data (July 13th, 2009)

Google patent filing – Geocoding Multi-Feature Addresses

Synergy Between Local and Mobile

In addition to announcing the launch of Google Latitude in February of 2009, Google Maps Navigation for Android in October of 2009, and the release of an official Google phone early next year, Google started taking some other steps that draw mobile phones and local search closer together.

Three Google patent applications published this year describe how barcodes in business windows can be used to help you learn more about a business, how mobile phone cameras may be used with product search and may use GPS to let you look at the online catalogs for stores you are presently shopping within, and how you can rate local businesses by phone while you’re still shopping.

If you’re following local search but skimming past information about tie-ins with mobile devices, you’re missing out on a very important element of local search.

1. Google Barcodes and Place Rank Transforming Local Search (December 10th, 2009)

Google patent filing – Machine-Readable Representation of Geographic Information

2. How Google Might Let you Shop by Camera Phone (December 28th, 2009)

Google patent filing – Image Capture for Purchases

3. Google Approach to Making Online Ratings Easier… (October 2nd, 2009)

Google patent filing – Ratings Using Machine-Readable Representations

Sentiment Analysis in Local Reviews

Google held their second annual Searchology event in May of 2009, and part of the big news was the addition of some “smart snippets” in search results that could contain things like ratings for restaurants. Another major announcement was the addition of sentiment analyis in reviews shown to searchers, in a new options section that provides reviews, and within the reviews that are shown in local search. Three Google patent filings published this year, and a Google White paper from 2008 provided some possible insights into how Google goes about understanding the sentiment of content found in reviews, how it might address sentiment in other domains, and how it might rate raters.

1. Opinion Summaries in Google Maps Reviews (August 4th, 2009)

Google patent filng – Aspect-Based Sentiment Summarization

2. Google’s New Review Search Option and Sentiment Analysis (June 12th, 2009)

Google White paper – Building a Sentiment Summarizer for Local Service Reviews (pdf),

Google Patent filing – Domain-Specific Sentiment Classification

3. How Google May Rate Raters (June 15th, 2009)

Google patent filing – Rating Raters

Bill’s bio if you want to know more about him:
Continue reading Loci 2009: Bill Slawski’s Important Patents of 2009

Developing Knowledge about Local Search