Yahoo Responds to Affiliate Spam Issue – as do I

Matt McGee has in interview, Yahoo Local’s Affiliate Spam: ‘A Unique Case’, with Brian Gil, Director of Product Management for Yahoo! Local in which he responds to the recent affiliate spam articles at SearchEngineLand and eClick:

“We haven’t seen what I would categorize as significant abuse issues. I’m not going to speak specifically to the hotel thing. That one is a unique case. We have been looking into it…. We’ll take the appropriate action, but my gut is telling me that it’s not nearly as suspect as what was written up. “

Matt noted that “Brian did explain that there are times when businesses want to use a unique URL in their business listing for tracking purposes, but this didn’t appear to be one of those cases.”

My response: This activity is either is authorized by the hotels or it isn’t.

If it is authorized then I offer my apologies for the wrong assumptions and any problems I may have caused by reporting it. If isn’t authorized by the hotels then it is suspect. In fact it would be more than suspect and my continuing research indicates that the problem is larger than I originally reported at SEL.

Here is the summary of my research across several markets analyzing the % of affiliate populated hotel records using known affiliate urls:

Market size Cities searched Total Yahoo Hotel Listings for City + Hotel in Markets Number of links Associated with same affiliate %
Large New York, NY LA, Ca
Chicago,Il
Philadelphia, Pa
Houston, Tx
Phoenix, Az
8455 473 5.6%
Mid San Antonio, Tx
San Diego, Ca
Dallas, Tx
San Jose, Ca
Detroit, Mi
Jacksonville, Fl
Indianapolis, In
San Francisco, Ca
Columbus, Oh
Austin, Tx
6280 282 4.5%
Small   3592 107 3%
  Totals 18327 862 4.7%

Note that particularly in the small market segment, there might be some overlap as they frequently abut the larger markets and it is possible that I counted the same listing twice. However, also note that we are only looking at one affiliate’s urls in one market segment. One assumes that any good blackhat practice doesn’t go unreproduced for long.

As for Brian’s satement: “We haven’t seen what I would categorize as significant abuse issues.” That is like saying “there are 7,540 banks in this country and we only had one robbery last month so it is not a significant problem”. Tell that to the Bank president and tell it to the citizen living down the street.

I suppose that if there are only 862 records out of 16 million that are erroneous it is not in fact a significant problem. But I would also contend that one deceptive record is too many let alone the 862 that showed up in my limited research. I would also contend that Yahoo, Google and the IYP’s need to be more transparent on the issue of mapspam, its reporting and removal.

How to change your Business Address in the Internet Age

It used to be a relatively simple job to get your address changed when you moved a business. You simply needed to contact the four or five principal parties; the Post Office, the Phone Company, your Yellow Page Rep (actually he would track you down), the Newspaper and your current customer base.

In the Internet age this process has become more complicated. The PlusBox from Google manages to excacerbate the problem by highlighting your old address for what seems like forever.

I have over the past several weeks written about the problem of erroneous address information in the Google PlusBox (here and here) and recently Bill Slawski covered the issue with one of his Google patent reviews.

But I felt the urge to respond to this familiar sounding message requesting help with their erroneous PlusBox in the Google Maps for Business Group the other day. I posted my response at SearchEngineLand:
Change Your Address In The Google Plusbox In 5 Simple Steps

To Sphinn the SEL article

Mapping Marketshare: Maps Up, Mapquest Down & Yahoo Local is UP!

Google’s addition of the Local 10-Pack piqued my curiosity about its affect on Maps visitation. As I reported yesterday, according to Hitwise, visitation has gone up on the order of 21% since January 23rd.

This begged the question of, at whose expense was this market share gain by Google. In the past MapsQuest has suffered in direct proportion as Google has gained market share in the mapping world. Yesterday, Heather Hopkins, Hitwise provided a current chart comparing market share of Mapsquest, Google, Yahoo & MSN:

hitwiseyahoo1.jpg

•Google’s market share has increased 1.98% since the January 5th.

•Mapquest’s share has declined 2.03% in that same time period.

•Yahoo’s share has increased .05%, mostly since March 6th.

Clearly, the 10-Pack had its desired affect for Google of passing more users into Maps and away from Mapquest. That was to be expected and had been seen in most previous Google “upgrades”. The rate of change though, if it continues, is alarming and could portend a Google leadership position in the mapping market sooner rather than later.

More surprising to me was the upward bounce that Yahoo received from their March 6 Local announcement (see: Yahoo! Maps Updated With New Data and Functionality!) and the obvious effect that it has had on MapQuest’s market share.

Yahoo Local had been in a steady market share decline for the previous year. This upward swing indicates that it is still a 3 horse race and that MapQuest needs to be looking over their shoulder for both Google and Yahoo. Perhaps Yahoo can stem the general downward trend in their market share with their promised upgrades in 2008.

A 2% loss of market share in less than 2 months does not bode well for Mapquest maintaining its market leading position if its makert share erodes with every upgrade from both Google and Yahoo.

Here is the January 5th Market share chart from Hitwise chart for comparison:

Continue reading Mapping Marketshare: Maps Up, Mapquest Down & Yahoo Local is UP!

A New Scourge For Yahoo: Affiliate Mapspam

The question that eClick raised in a recent article about affiliate Mapspam at Yahoo: So, how many instances of affiliate spam are there on Yahoo Local?, motivated me to do a little research.  I have published the results at SearchEngineland today.

This is a cautionary tale for Yahoo, Google or any company that allows user generated content in their local product. These affiliate spammers are deceptively providing a “service” that is unneeded and unwanted. Does it cross the line and become criminal? Read the full story: A New Scourge For Yahoo: Affiliate Mapspam

Sphinn this story

Hitwise confirms Google Maps Market Share Gain from Local 10-Pack Intro

I have noted in the past that Google very much controls their own destiny when it come to traffic to their Maps product. In early January, Heather Hopkins took a year long look at the growth of Google Maps traffic at the expense of Mapquest. Google has often made changes that has improved their traffic while negatively affecting the traffic of their main competitors, MapQuest and Yahoo. You can see a graphic illustration of their power to control their own destiny in this chart.

The January introduction of the Local 10-pack is another obvious example of this trend. At the time of the 10-pack introduction Google clearly indicated that they were striving for increased consumer awareness of Maps. On March 18th Google’s Hanke noted to Greg Sterling: (Hanke) wouldn’t tell me specifics about whether traffic to Maps had increased as a result. However, he said that Google was pleased with the change and it was having the desired effect.

This morning, Heather Hopkins has provided me with updated Google Maps traffic figures that confirm a roughly 21% upswing in Map’s traffic over the past 2 months since the official Janaury 23rd introduction of the Local 10 Pack:

outlook.jpg

It will be interesting to see if this growth came once again at the expense of Google’s competitors, MapQuest and Yahoo. I am betting that it has.

Local Links of Interest

Google’s LBC: Now With More Fiber- Mike Boland, Kelsey Group

A good summary of how the inclusion of video in the Google LBC can benefit local search marketing. Interestingly, he points out that Google was allowing (c)ompanies such as TurnHere and eLocalListing were already uploading this content for their SMB clients via direct partnership, but this essentially makes it possible for more firms to do it with less friction.

State-of-the Art: Trends in Mobile Search – Jeff Quip, AimClear Blog

An good summary of the session at SES New York 2008 search marketing conference. Outlines in broad details the history & future of the mobile search market and why it makes sense to be there now

Google search plug-in for Windows Mobile promises more of the same – Tim Conneally, BetaNews

Notes the availability of a plug-in for Windows Mobile devices, which provides a shortcut on the home screen to Google’s search. He also provides anectdotal reports of Google mobile search dominance and how this supports that dominance.

New comScore IYP Data – Greg Sterling, Screenwerk

The numbers indicate that Yellowpages.com network have a significant share of the IYP searches. But it is hard to tell since as Greg points out “(t)hese traffic data don’t capture local search on the main search engines, which is where much of the local query volume is.”

700MHz Non-Surprise: Verizon & AT&T Win Auction Blocks – Greg Sterling, LocalMobileSearch

Google’s wireless-auction loss called possible win – Eric Auchard, Reuters

Google Inc’s losing bid for coveted wireless airwaves may prove a victory for the Web search leader as it still stands to get access to mobile networks without spending tens of billions of dollars to build one, analysts said on Thursday.

Wall Street analysts said the Silicon Valley Internet search and advertising giant has succeeded in forcing open network requirements upon winning bidder Verizon Communications via Google’s apparent strategy of “bidding to lose.”

5 Edit Session Limit on new Google Map Edit Feature

This thread appeared in the Google Maps Troubleshooting Group in which Maps Guide Jen confirmed that there is a 5 edit limit to the number of Maps edits that can be made at one time:

TOPIC: Editing limits
==================================================

== 1 of 3 ==
Date: Wed, Mar 19 2008 2:04 pm
From: keithdtyler@gmail.com I’m going around my town, looking up places I know of, especially
fairly newly opened places, and updating them in Google Maps.

But after every 5 edits or so, I get a message saying “You’ve edited
too much lately, come back later.”

This is dumb. I’m actively trying to go around my town fixing places,
and I don’t see the point in doing 5 now, then having to wait an hour,
do 5 more, wait another hour, 5 more, etc. I’ll just stop doing it,
because it’s not worth the insulting annoyance.

== 2 of 3 ==
Date: Wed, Mar 19 2008 2:12 pm
From: NWT

Actually, I think it’s great. Google wants to prevent people from
abusing the system. They don’t know if what you are doing is true or
not, so they limit the number of times you can do it.

If you understand, that’s fine. If you want to be insulted by it,
that’s fine too. But, then, how do you propose they prevent abuse?

== 3 of 3 ==
Date: Wed, Mar 19 2008 3:33 pm
From: “Maps Guide Jen”

Nobody likes spam (unless it’s spiced ham, in which case I’m all for it),
but we’re definitely not out to frustrate you and prevent you from using
this feature, either. I’m making a note of your request. Thanks for your
feedback, and thanks as always, NWT, for your insights!

-Jen

Google Maps: Video can now be added in Local Business Center

Steve Espinosa has noted on his blog that Maps is now supporting the option of adding a video to your business record in the Local Business Center. The feature is now live.

The process of adding a video is similar to adding a photo. The business is allowed to display up to 5 videos in their Maps record and once they are added in the LBC, they show up immediately in the Map record. Interestingly they display before the photos.

Maps Record Screenshot:

mapsrecord.jpg

Local Business Center Add Video Screenshot:
Continue reading Google Maps: Video can now be added in Local Business Center

Local Links of Interest

Yahoo Local Full of Affiliate Spam – eClick Performance Blog

A great article on the large amount of affiliate spam in the hotel industry on Yahoo Local as a result of allowing end user edits.  Affiliates essentially highjack unclaimed records and interject their url on a pass through basis to the actual hotel website, thus accruing referral fees. A cautionary tale for Google. Ahh the web we weave for money.

Google sees surge in Web use on mobile phones – Eric Auchard , Reuters

“We have very much hit a watershed moment in terms of mobile Internet usage,” Matt Waddell, a product manager for Google Mobile, said in an interview. “We are seeing that mobile Internet use is in fact accelerating.

The growing availability of flat-rate data plans from phone carriers instead of per-minute charges that previously discouraged Internet use, along with improved Web browsers on mobile phones as well as better-designed services from companies like Google are fueling the growth, Waddell argued.

FCC 700MHz Auction Over: Incumbents Likely Win – Greg Sterling, LocalMobileSearch

The C Block, which was the most closely watched of the various blocks will be subject to the openness provisions that Google pushed for. However, it was probably won by Verizon or perhaps AT&T. This may allow the winner to build next-generation (4G) networks but doesn’t really diversify the competitive landscape. From that perspective the auction might be called a failure.

Given that the $4.6 reserve price was met for the C Block airwaves, the winning bidder will have to allow any legal device to work on it and not play gatekeeper with software. This sets up an independent way for Android phones to make their way into consumers’ hands. Pricing, however, will be an “X variable.” How much will it cost non-Verizon or non-AT&T customers, I’m assuming, to bring their devices to this network?

Adobe begins work on Flash player for iPhone – AppleInsider

Narayen made the revelation during a conference call with investors, explaining that Apple’s recent release of an iPhone software developers kit (SDK) has afforded his company the necessary tools to finally begin work a version of its proprietary media player for the touch-screen handset.

“We believe Flash is synonymous with the Internet experience, and we are committed to bringing Flash to the iPhone,” he said. “We have evaluated (the software developer tools) and we think we can develop an iPhone Flash player ourselves.”

Google Local Business Center Upgrade -Unlimited Category Options

With the recent rollout of Add a Place to Map , allowing everyone to add a listing to maps with its more flexible categorization structure, Google has also upgraded the categorization system in the Local Business Center.

This upgrade comes in response to 18 months of complaints in the Google Maps for Business Group. The all too common refrain: Why can’t I be in the same category as my competitor, will no longer be heard. The very limited and limiting system previously used by Google forced unusual workarounds for businesses that did not fit into the small number of categories. In a February 22nd interview with Carter Maslan, Maps Product Management Director, he indicated that this category upgrade was in the works.

The new categorization system still allows only 5 category entries per business. They can however, be from a much larger list of Google provided suggestions or entered in an ad-hoc fashion in any way that the business owner wishes. Under the previous category system there was but one category choicein the insurance area: Services – Insurance (to see a list of all previous categories)

picture-10.jpg

There are similar suggestions in every business category area. This increased category flexibility also open new possibilities for spam. For lack of a better term, this CatSpam could affect rankings and listings as much as previous Maspamming techniques of Business Title manipulation, location & address manipulation, bulk upload abuse, phone book listing capers and sophisticated combination tactics.

However in the interview with Maslan in February, it was obvious that Google is aware of this possibility:

He felt that over the long haul the best solution was to allow the users to make corrections to the listings and then have some way to make that visible in the ranking. They are definitely pursuing more user input which he hoped would provide an ultimate reduction of the frustration levels. They are also putting in place techniques to prevent abuse. Their general philosophy is that there are more good people than bad but that the bad are very motivated, and that with the right balance of technology they can have high confidence in the data.

This past Sunday, on the Google Operating System Blog, Matt Cutts commented:

I would assume that Google is going to take mapspam quite seriously. I invited someone from the local team to discuss the subject in depth with my entire team just last week, for example, and we talked about lots of ways to work together. So my personal advice would be to make sure that your business name/category is accurate.

Ominous advice for sure. It will be interesting to see how this is policed and managed in the coming months as significantly more data flows into Maps from users and business owners alike.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search