Google Maps:The Authoritative SpamBox?

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Update: 03/04/08 1:30 pm This listing no longer shows on the search.

The Authoritative Onebox when returned on general search phrases is very powerful. The result dominates the page. Google assumes that they know exactly what the searcher wants. We saw last December the impact that this had on a florist in Denver. What happens though when that Authoritative OneBox result is spammy?

An English reader has reported a case where the general search phrase “english language school london” is now returning an Authoritative OneBox on the Google results page that certainly isn’t totally on the up and up.

The address is actually occupied by the Little Italy Restaurant, the photo with the Maps record is bogus, the phone number is used by several businesses but seems to be located at another address, the domain owner has several websites with apparently fabricated adresses. The domain record indicates that the domain holder of record is located in another part of town with the same phone number. It may well be a legitimate business (how legitimate could they be?) that has gotten overly aggressive an getting an address near the center of the city. Maybe they were just following Google’s own ill considered advice and getting a mail location closer to the center of the city.

The problem however is made worse by the fact that Google has returned an Authoritative Onebox for the result, adding legitimacy to the suspect business and denying legitimate exposure to the other businesses providing the service. The problem here is certainly with Mapspam but perhaps even more so with Google’s confidence that they know so surely what the searchers intent is and return such an “indisputable” result.

Local Links of Interest

The No. 1 Thing I Learned at SMX West (about Local Search) Matt McGee, Small Business SEM

Brian Gill was talking about the Yahoo “Local Shortcut” — when they show three local business listings in the regular Yahoo SERPs. Here’s what he said:”Reviews and ratings have no impact on reaching those top three spots in the regular SERPs.

He said they do play a role in the Yahoo Local rankings, but not on the main Yahoo SERPs.

Blended Local Results with Unverified Listings Eric Lander’s Blog

Yellow Pages: The Way into Google Maps? Greg Sterling, Screenwerk

The coming Duopoly Greg Sterling, Screenwerk

Review Sites in the Restaurant World – Dallas vs. Buffalo

Last week I looked at which review sites were considered by Google in the ranking of the Top 10 Restaurants in Buffalo, NY. Here is a similar analysis of the review sites for Dallas compared to Buffalo:

Directory 2008 February Buffalo 2008 February Dallas
10best.com 1 2
AOL.Com 7
ChefMoz.org 8 2
Citysearch.com 70 80
DallasObserver.com 4
Dine.com 4 14
DiningGuide.com 9
Dinnerbroker.com 5
Dishola.com 1
Frommers.com 1 1
Gayot.com 4 7
Google 5 7
InsiderPages 20 2
Judysbook.com 41 3
Mytravelguide.com 1 2
RestaurantRow.com 2
SuperPages.com 1
TripAdvisor 31 19
Virturaltourist.com 4
Yahoo.com 20 11
Zagat 69

Several items of note:

• There were 7 additional review sites referenced in Dallas (those in bold)
• Judy’s Book which shut down last October (although the site is still live) seemed to have much more of a Buffalo presence
•Zagat has a very strong presence in Dallas but little in Buffalo, I wonder why?
•The Dallas Observer, an obviously local site, has a presence
•CitySearch is the obvious leader in both cities

How many Reviews does a Top 10 Restaurant need?

Buffalo, NY has a population of 276, 059. Dallas Texas has 1,232,940 folks and San Francisco has 744,041 people. Yet the number of reviews bears no correlation to their populations in the Google Local 10-Pack results:

Rank Buffalo Rest. Web Site Rev.Totals Buff. Dallas Rest. Web Site Review Totals Dallas S.F. Rest. Web Site Review Totals S.F.
1 Anchor Bar Y 60 Bob’s Steak & Chop House Y 49 Zuni Cafe Y 154
2 Chef’s Restaurant Y 27 Lola the Restaurant Y 18 First Crush Restaurant & Bar Y 145
3 Hutch’s Y 14 Stephan Pyles Y 40 House of Prime Rib Y 142
4 Pearl Street Grill & Brewery Y 13 Old Warsaw Restaurant Y 26 E & O Trading Co Y 28
5 La Nova Pizzeria: Buffalo Location Y 33 Abacus Restaurant Y 43 Restaurant Gary Danko Y 285
6 Duff’s N 35 Capital Grille Y 30 Slanted Door Y 233
7 Pano’s Restaurant Y 24 Campisi’s Restaurant Y 31 Farallon Y 123
8 Mother’s Restaurant N 23 Javier’s Catering Services Y 20 Michael Mina Restaurant Y 126
9 EB Green’s Steakhouse Y 10 Steel Restaurant & Lounge Y 23 Delfina Restaurant Y 138
10 Olivers restaurant Y 13 Nick & Sam’s Catering Division Y 25 Cheesecake Factory Y 84
    Total 252   Total 305   Total 1458

It makes sense that San Francisco has such a large number of reviews; the city has a technically savvy population, has a large amount of tourism and is the home of Yelp. But why would there be such a similar number of reviews in Buffalo, a declining NE city of a quarter million, and Dallas, a much larger and still growing area? Are Texans slower on the uptake?

Some items of note:

•The top review getters in Dallas or Buffalo are in the 50 range vs. SF’s 150

•Only 2 of these 30 restaurants do not yet have websites noted in Google Maps•In Dallas the #1 sites had 2x’s the number of review of the 10th ranked site

•The Anchor Bar has 4x’s the number of reviews of the 10th site.

•Note that while generally the more the reviews the higher the rank that is not always the case. E & O Trading Co in S.F. is a case in point as is Restaurant Gary Danko.

•Several listings appear to have obviously attempted to modify their business name to influence ranking ( La Nova Pizzeria: Buffalo Location, Restaurant Gary Danko).

Google Maps Business Record: A journey in search of accuracy

Earlier today EarlPearl asked the question: Where is the information turning up erroneously? in the comments section of my write-up of the business record in Maps that contained so many errors.

While EarlPearl intended the question in its simplest form it triggered a thought experiment for me. Where could it be wrong? I came up with the following list of possiblities:

•Authoritative OneBox
•Local 10-Pack
•Maps List view
•Maps Expanded View #1
•Maps Expanded View #2 (More Details)
•Organic Search Results w/ Plus Box

The answer was illustrative. For a period this afternoon the record was visible in most of those places with a surpising degree of variability. Unfortunately I didn’t do screen captures of each of them but I have my notes:

Source
Accuracy Details
Authoritative OneBox Accurate
Local 10-Pack wrong phone number (248) 746-0037
Maps List view Accurate
Maps Expaneded View #1 Accurate
Maps Expanded View #2 Many Errors Mostly from Details Section
Organic Search Results w/Plus Box NA No plus box

Much of the information that was showing was information that I had recently entered in the LBC and was accurate: website, business name, accurate phone number, street address, Suite info (added yesterday). These pieces of information had not really been available to Google until last week.

All of the inaccurate information had come from referenced links on the details page. What was surprising was that the Authoritative OneBox had accurate results yet the listing in the Local 10-Pack had an erroneous phone number.

Most of the bad information appears to have come from references in the details section of the business record in Maps. Whatever caused those details to be associated with the record was 1) the source of the bad info and 2)being given precedence over Local Business Center data in the Local 10-Pack (and elsewhere). None of those other references in the details section of the local record had any mention of Dr. Schubiner and most (with the exception of the Carbondale, IL Doctor) were about Providence Hospital.

Curiouser and curioser. I did create a post at the Google Groups Maps for Business titled Local Record of MInd Body Pain Clinic taking on a life of its own. Stay tuned for Goolge’s answer.
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Google Maps Record Failures – Can they handle my personal medical records?

I have recently noted examples (here & here) of merged business records in Google Maps. It appears that this phenomena and the rogue hospital phone number issues of Duke University and other medical centers are related.

Roughly two weeks ago I edited a record in Google Maps for a new web design customer and as has been my recent experience with the LBC, was posted to Maps immediately and correctly with no verification required. My client, also my best college friend, was impressed. However, he called me early this week and noted problems with his Google Maps record:

mergedrecord500.jpg

He had suddenly acquired additional phone numbers and the medical profile of a Doctor in Carbondale, IL with whom he has no relation. The phone numbers were from regional Detroit sites that had his hospital name, St. John Providence Hospital, but no reference to him.

The signals that I had assumed might be causing the problems: website address, web links, web references on his site seem to have had no impact. Like the Duke Center problem, there are multiple offices, phone numbers and doctors at this street address which might explain the confusion on the phone numbers. But there is no descernable relationship on the doctor with whom he was confused.

Google has his complete business record in the LBC so why should they be adding data from other sources anyways? It is one of those situations where one’s confidence in their ability to handle personal medical records might be called into question.

Review Sites in the Restaurant World – Updated Feb 2008

Updated 2/26/08

In the past I examined which review sites were being used by Google in Maps for Restaurants in Buffalo, NY. While the research is not scientific in the sense that I do not look at the same restaurants each time but look at the top 10, it doesn’t provide a complete list of review sites but it does provide insight to the comings and goings of review sites and the dynamic nature of the ones that Google is using at any given point in time.

Directory 2008 February Listings 2008 January Listings 2006 November Listings
10best.com 1 11 3
Allmenus.com   6  
ChefMoz.org 8 7 3
Citysearch.com 70   10
Dine.com 4    
DiningGuide.com   1 4
Frommers.com 1 4 2
Gayot.com 4 9 4
Google 5    
Hotelguide.net     3
InsiderPages 20    
JiWire.com   1 2
Judysbook.com 41    
Marriott.com     1
MobilTravelGuide.com     1
Mytravelguide.com 1   2
RestaurantRow.com   10 7
Sidestep.com     2
SuperPages.com   3 5
Talkingphonebook.com   1 2
Travelocity.com     3
TripAdvisor 31    
Wcities.com   17 7
Yahoo.com 20    

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Local Links of Interest

Google Local Maps Is Not Yellow Pages – Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo

An insightful piece on the conflict between SMB expecations and reality in Google Maps and what Google can do to help improve the situation.

In the “not every Map Idea is a Good Map Idea” Category:

My Neighbors are Nucking Futs – Jerrold, blogto.com

Sometimes truly ill-conceived ideas meet easily-accessed technology and make it to the web. Rotten Neighbors (pardon the American spelling) is one such not-so-bright idea that somehow made it through development and has gone live online.The idea is simple. Using the Google Maps interface, you point to a house or building and tell the world how crazy/sleazy/ugly/horny/etc the occupants are.

Why Google Apps is a Serious Threat to Microsoft Office – Bernard Lunn, ReadWriteWeb.com

Not only is Google miles ahead of MS on collaboration, they have moved ahead on mobile access. I have long believed that mobile would be a key driver for Web Office. Now I can get access to my Docs from my Blackberry. When I switch to an iPhone with that bigger screen, I will be able to say “sayonara” to my laptop even more. In that world, MS Office looks like a real dinosaur.

The changing nature of Local Search

I ran across this ad for a “Local Search Expert” this morning in the Houston Craig’s List:

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This ad intriuged me on a number of levels. One could draw conclusions about the SEM industry, the Local 10-Pack or the need for qualified pros in major markeets.

But the takeaway for me was that Local has arrived. Local is no longer just the province of hotels, restauarants and florists. The percieved value of this type of exposure has reached into the deepest levels of the local business world. For a roofing company to be willing to pay for the service inidcates to me the changing perception and reality that is local.

Google Maps User Survey

Google Maps does seem to be on the Self Improvement Plan of late. Today I noticed a survey to take:

googlehappinesssurvey.jpg

Here is a link to an HTML file of a copy the survey: google-maps-user-happiness-survey.html

I guess Google wasn’t happy with my one person assessment of the situation. So here is your chance to have some input. Head over to Maps, login and let Google know what you are thinking. The survey is quite short with only 13 questions and is very focused on user satisfaction and experience.

Here is the one question that might motivate you to head over:

surveyquestion.jpg

Developing Knowledge about Local Search