NZ Florist Facing 7 Years for Hijacking Local Listings of Competitors in GMaps

Apparently Kendra Drinkwater, a Napier, New Zealand florist, has been charged with “using the Google search engine to dishonestly, and without claim of right, cause loss to seven Hawke’s Bay florists” and could face penalties of up to 7 years in jail.

She is accused of logging into Google Maps under multiple sign ins and using the community edit feature to edit the critical contact information of her local competitors.

From the Dominion Post article:

The owner of Flowers by Tanya in Hastings, Richie Davies, said it was frightening how easy it was to alter details. It was a matter of simply clicking “edit” on the company’s details on Google Maps.

Mr Davies said he had called Drinkwater once he and other florists had found out it was occurring. They thought Drinkwater may have been the culprit after someone logged on using her first name.

“I asked her to apologise and to stop altering the details. She claimed she’d had her details changed too. That’s when I went to the police.

According to the article, Google’s spokesperson Annie Baxter said it was the first report of “editing with ill intent” in New Zealand and warned business owners to register as the verified owners of their sites to stop others hacking their details.

What do I think of this whole matter? Continue reading NZ Florist Facing 7 Years for Hijacking Local Listings of Competitors in GMaps

Google Maps and Reviews – A reader’s perspective

Earlpearl, a frequent contributor here and elsewhere, recently wrote up this detailed opinion about Google’s use of reviews as a comment on the Plastic Surgery Co. Settles with NYS over False Reviews piece that I wrote this past July. I thought it too full of interesting tidbits to leave buried in the back library.

Even though I have a number of bones to pick with Google’s current review policy I will leave my opinions to another post. The standard caveats about Earlpearl not representing the views of the management apply. 🙂


It is patently clear that reviews are a mixed bag with regard to businesses and the web. The wide distribution and availability of reviews is positive for a business when honest, and destructive when dishonest.

More to the point, honest reviews are a gift to consumers. What better advice is there than word of mouth either extolling or criticising a business?

Regardless, the proliferation of reviews and its usage as a mechanism for evaluating and ranking the importance of businesses within Google Maps opens up a can of worms.

Ultimately, a clever business or local seo is going to “create reviews” to rank higher in Maps.

I was intriqued when reviewing maps rankings for Dentists in two small adjacent towns.

At the top of the maps listings for both adjacent towns was a dentist with 49 reviews. There was some overlap amongst listed dentists, but of the 15 listed dentists following the top ranked dentist…the next most reviews was 12.

Huge difference between 49 and 12. Bigger difference between 49 and the average number of reviews per dentist (about 6). Its statistically not reasonable.

The dentist with the most reviews uses a medical email/communications system for customers that includes an opportunity for reviews DemandForce. The vast majority of the 49 came from that source. The dentist pays for the communications system.

A totally independant medical review source is ratemds. The dentist with the 49 reviews, most coming from DemandForce had reviews from

I’m not saying the reviews were faked at all as in the example Mike wrote about. I’m simply pointing out how the volume of reviews has an enormous impact on rankings within Maps….and it is incredibly subject to manipulation.

I operate businesses of certain types. In one industry there are virtually no independently generated reviews. Virtually none. In fact before reviews got popular in web use, I scoured the internet for review commentary on the industry and in particular our business.

Two things: Most review commentary was critical. Happily our business didn’t receive any of that negativity for years. There was relatively little positive public commentary anywheres on the internet.

Now I look at some businesses in the industry in a certain market….and the business ranked first in Google Maps has HUNDREDS of positive reviews. HUNDREDS. I was speaking with one of their competitors. The competitor has just under 100 reviews. He laughed in acknowledgement with me……our customer “types” don’t tend to write reviews.

Most of these businesses generate an “internal” critique review for customers. It is given to customers after completing the service. The “internal” review was essentially used to see if the business was meeting customer expectations.

None of these reviews historically saw public light.

Artificially generating reviews to rank higher in Google Maps does nothing for consumers, does nothing for generating a “better maps listing”, and simply creates a lot of busy work to “spam”/manipulate rankings.

Generating reviews as referenced above in the blog piece has been deemed criminal and justifiably so. Faked reviews are manipulative. If they can criminally be used to manipulate consumers they can be used to manipulate search engine algos.

I simply think Google should diminish the importance of reviews as an algo element. At the least it would be simple mathematics to evaluate a relatively large number of reviews…(such as 49) relative to the next highest number (12) or an average of 6….and determine that there is something inappropriate in that volume. Then recalculate rankings with a somewhat diminished value attached to reviews.

That would keep the Maps.Google engineers busy for a while and out of trouble 😀


Google Favorite Places Poster Start Arriving

One of my clients, Barbara Oliver & Co. Jewelry in Buffalo for whom I do some internet marketing, received a Favorite Places poster and a congratulations letter today. Her initial reaction was muted and somewhat suspicious but once I explained that she was one of only 100,000 in the US and one of probably only 20 or so in Buffalo, she was quite pleased.

The promotion is an interesting one, essentially recognizing early and successful adopters of the LBC in higher traffic, retail industries. I was surprised at the skepticism of the client upon first receiving the poster. I guess that SMB’s have been trained in cynicism by years of dealing with the Yellow Page folks and coping with the current onslaught of on-line offers. In her case, a 7-Pack listing has brought measurable and substantial business.

Here is the letter that she received (click to view larger).


Google Local Business Center Categories – The Complete List

Update 02/11/10: These Google LBC categories have now been placed in a searchable database too located on the Google LBC Categories page of my website.

Picking the right category with the Local Business Center is one of the keys to success in Google Maps. Categories are critical to being considered relevant on any given search and should be chosen carefully to meet your short and long tail priorities. Since a business may only enter 5 they become very important.

Given the way that they are presented, it is difficult to plan ahead which categories might be the most appropriated for you or your client’s listing.

Here is a complete list of every category and synonym that Google currently provides within the Local Business Center. At some point in the future, I will provide the information in a searchable database to make it more useful for planning purposes:

Google Local Business Center Complete Category and Synonym List

On the list you will find 2239 categories which includes plurals ie lawyer and lawyers as well as certain geographic place categories like “estuary” and other geographic phrases. The fact that the categories include both singular and plural should reinforce the sense that you need to pick the ones you need for your listing carefully.

When the Local Business Center was first released Google only offered a choice 450 categories and no custom categories. At the time if you used any of the limited categories offered in the LBC, Google would use those to supplant any that had been provided by the Superpages. So the upshot during that timeframe, was that you had to remove ALL categories from the LBC to get into a given Superpages category in Google maps results.

In March of 2008, Google subsequently went to a more free form, expanded categorization structure, initially not requiring the use of any of their categories. This summer, Google started requiring that a user select one preset category and then allowing for 4 additional preset or custom categories.

I would love to hear how you use this list.

Google Maps – New abuses via Wikipedia landing pages?

I have received several reports from the locksmith industry (who else?) and elsewhere of a new “black hat” ranking tactic that seems to push listings to the top of the 7 Pack by using a Wikipedia webpage as the Map’s landing page.

For example, the links on the search for Locksmith Toronto ON head off to Wikipedia location pages (Ontario, Toronto & Scarborough, Ontario) that one presumes have a very strong default Location Prominence ranking.


Google Promoting Maps with 100,000 Favorite Places Posters


Google, which started their Favorite Places campaign in July by placing large statues in front of high profile businesses in major cities, is expanding the campaign by sending a Google Maps “We’re a Favorite place” poster to 100,000 of the “most sought out and researched businesses on on Google and Google Maps”. According to Google this number represents less than 1% of the 28 million U.S. businesses and “that our standards for selecting businesses are as selective or more selective than other companies which have run similar initiatives”.

Interestingly, they are including CR codes on the poster so that a Droid or iPhone user can scan the poster and find reviews and (from Google’s perspective) coupons for that business.

If you are one of the favored businesses send me a photo of the sticker! They are apparently within the next week or two. Currently the program in US only (sorry Canada) and will show up in roughly 5,000 US towns and cities. If you weren’t one of thelucky businesses and are curious as to why, here are the criteria that Google is using.

Google Confirms Local Adwords Display Test

In the third week of November, readers sent me screen shots of a new Google Adwords Local Display Type that included a Blue Map Pin & address. Readers continued to ask about the test as it showed up in their markets so I asked Frederick Vallaeys, a Product Evangelist  for Google AdWords, for more information about the test. Here is what he said:

Hi Mike,

Here’s what we’re doing… For a small percentage of traffic, location extensions (and legacy LBAs) that appear as top ads or top right-hand side ads will be part of an experiment wherein:

  • An advertiser’s business name, address, and phone number will appear with his or her ad
  • Ads will appear with a numbered blue pin alongside them.
  • Ads will be indicated with the same numbered blue pin on the map.
  • There is no opt in or out of this experiment at this time.  If you want to be eligible to participate in the experiment, you should set up location extensions in your account.  If you do not want your ads to take part in the experiment, you can pause your location extensions ads.  Keep in mind that this experiment only affects a small percentage of traffic, so you shouldn’t see any major change in your statistics.

    Hope that answers all your questions.


    Is it possible that this test relates to the recently ended Local Listing Ad tests and is an attempt to create a more unified presentation of the ad results?

    Google Ending Local Listing Ad Test in San Francisco and San Diego

    I just received this email from a user testing Local Listing Ads in San Francisco:

    Dear Local Business Center User,

    Thank you for participating in the free trial program for Local Listing Ads, in Google Local Business Center. We’re writing to let you know that we’re ending the trial period for this feature and are using your constructive and positive feedback to make further improvements prior to releasing an enhanced version more widely.

    We’d appreciate it if you could take a few minutes to give us feedback on your experiences with Local Listings Ads XXXXXX. The survey should take around 5 minutes.

    While we make these feature enhancements, we will no longer accept new sign-ups for Local Listing Ads, and your ad(s) will stop running in mid December. We encourage you to save any account and performance information you might need for your records as soon as possible, as access to the Ads tab in Local Business Center will be also removed in mid December.

    Finally, we’re happy to let you know that you have not been charged for any advertising, even if your ad ran for longer than the 30 day free trial period. As a token of appreciation, we’d also like to offer you a $100 credit towards advertising with Google AdWords, which you can use to target your local market with geographic targeting (and location extensions. To redeem this coupon:

    Sign up for Google AdWords, or log in at
    Click on the “My Account” tab at the top in your AdWords account
    Click the “Billing Preferences” sub-heading
    Scroll down to the “Promotional Codes” section and enter your code exactly as follows: XXXXXX

    As always, thank you for trying new features from Google. We’re looking forward to letting you know about the next evolution of advertising in the Local Business Center, as it becomes available. In the meantime, keep your eye out for new features by subscribing to the Google Local Business Center newsletter.

    The Google Local Business Team

    Coupon Terms and Conditions

    Advertisers will be charged for advertising that exceeds the promotional credit. Advertisers must pause or suspend their ads if they do not wish to receive additional charges beyond the free credit amount. Subject to ad approval, valid registration and acceptance of the Google AdWords Program standard terms and conditions. The promotional credit is non-transferable and may not be sold or bartered. Offer may be revoked at any time for any reason by Google Inc. One promotional credit per customer. Expires April 1, 2010.

    New Web based KML & Geo Sitemap Tool Released

    Google has long looked across the web for geo signals that reinforce their understanding of your business and its location. Since October 2007 Google has been indexing both geoRSS and KML files for inclusion in the Maps index as user generated content and related that geo information to your business listing.

    In the first quarter of 2008 they added support for KML sitemaps to webmaster central to actively alert Google of your geo info and any changes that might occur in your location information. If you want to understand the flow of KML information through Google’s index this flow chart provides an overview the routes it takes into and through the various Google indexes.

    KML & KML sitemap use on local websites has been hindered by its complexity and lack of simple tools, web based or otherwise. Creating KML (but not the attendant sitemap) has been possible with Google Earth but it has remained pretty geeky & tedious affair.

    At least until now.

    Arjan Snaterse, a developer from the Netherlands, has just announced the release of his KML & Geo Sitemap generator. It is a web based tool that makes simple something that was complex and hard to understand.

    While still in beta, the tool is a very easy way to create a KML file and sitemap for inclusion on your business’s site. The interface guides you through the process and allows you to add either a few locations and addresses manually or bulk upload a CSV file with multiple locations. It then geocodes the location information, generates the KML & sitemap files and makes them available for placement on your site.

    Give it a try at and let Arjanse and the other readers of this blog know what you think.

    Disclaimer: I have no personal involvement in the product other than I have helped Arjan debug and polish this tool and have been using it for several months.

    New Google UI wiht Local Listing Ads Heatmap

    Last week I created a heatmap of the main Google search results with the Local Listing Ads in place. I wanted to compare the results to a heatmap of the new UI with the Local Listing ads. Once again I used AttentionWizard which claims a 75% correlation to human interaction:

    New Google UI with Local Listing Ads (Click to view larger):



    For easy comparison here is the heatmap with the current UI and the Local Listing ads:

    Local Listing Ad HeatMap - Click to View Larger


    Things certainly move in different directions and changing what gets looked at initially and subsequently with the local listings and the first ads seeming to be the most affected.

    Developing Knowledge about Local Search