Where does a Psychic turn when they need an answer? Google Maps

On late Monday afternoon I received a call from Elissa Heyman, a Psychic Counselor from Santa Fe, NM inquiring as to how she might show up in the Local OneBox for Psychic in Santa Fe, NM. I was intrigued that a pyschic would turn to me from results she found in Google. After a bit of due diligence to make sure that she wasn’t some sort of flim flam artist I decided to take the case.

What interested me was the fact that Google, Yahoo or SuperPages had no record of her business. She had operated out of her home for a number of years and had never registered the phone number with the phone companies as a business number. Her website, which ranked well in the organic results, had been in place since at least 2004 but she had managed to avoid being identified as a business by all of the major data collection players.

Entering her new record (as opposed to editing an existing one) in the Google Local Business Center I learned several things:

•The Business Title field allowed an almost unlimited length for her business title. When editing an existing record the length seems to be limited to some small percentage of increase but with a new record the sky seemed to be the limit.

•There was no verification of any sort required. There was no automated phone call to answer, nor post card sent with a required PIN entry. It just accepted my entry with no questions asked. Hmm….

•The record was listed in Google Maps almost immediately. I went to check Tuesday morning and the record was visible in Maps. It was not yet in the OneBox but there is every indication that the OneBox has some sort of waiting period before it ranks Maps data.

•And finally I was able to get listed with other Psychics despite the fact that a category for it doesn’t exist in the Local Business Center(details to follow).

Perhaps now I will have another resource to figure out some of Google’s more cryptic behavior. :)

MerchantCircle makes me feel…

Last week I received an automated email from Yahoo Local that hit the target for automated communications. It sent me relevant information in a timely fashion about something that I cared about. I was impressed. I had encouraged Google to follow a similar path. But alas not all surveys work equally well.

MerchantCircle must have been reading my blog as they also sent along a request to fill out a survey. While the email and survey were an improvement over MerchantCircle’s previous bait and switch (see here and here) promotional efforts the survey still didn’t quite make the grade. email.jpg

The survey questions all seemed pointed to MerchantCircle wanting to know how good of a prospect I was rather than what information I might provide to actually improve their service:

survey.jpg

MerchantCircle has a history of less than stellar promotions. This one, like all of theirs, came unsolicited and filled no particular need of mine. It seemed like they were more interested in my money than in my opinion. Again, another lesson to be learned. They are getting better, but still a ways to go.

I can only imagine what their sales promotion manager is like. Here is the full survey if you would like to look at all of the questions.

Google Maps Category Mystery Part 2: Backgound

On of the long standing mysteries in managing a Local Business Center business listing for Google Maps has been:“Why does my listing not show up in the same category as my competitor?”. There has not been a topic more frequently raised in the Google Maps for Business Group and one that has been more evasively answered by the Google staff. (For an example of this saga see Google Maps Category Mystery Part I: The Problem.)

Categorization has provided fodder for philosophers & scientist since Linneaus first created binomial nomenclature as a means to understand and classify all living things in the late 1700’s. The battle lines have been drawn between the “lumpers”, those that think there should be fewer categories, and the “splitters”, those that think that there should be more categories. All categorization is an arbitrary human artifact that helps us to more easily understand the world around us. There is no one answer to the “correct” number of categories of any given group.

Business categorization is no different. Add the needs of commerce, the power of computer search and the vagaries of the multitude of ways that humans can search for things make the problem even more vexing. What seems like a simple question: What categories should be used to classify U.S. Businesses quickly becomes a complicated problem that has many solutions. The fact that Superpages has a full-time staff team devoted to Taxonomy Development shows just how complicated.

The SIC code (standard industrial classification) system has roughly 1,500 categories of US businesses. The newer NAICS used primarily for economic analysis has roughly 1200 categories. The SuperPages which has both an offline and online needs has approximately +/-8000 categories and iBegin uses approximately 10,500. Google on the other hand uses only 520 categories and this remains unchanged exactly one year later. (Go here for a complete list comparing Reuben’s 2007 findings and my 2008 results.)

Clearly Google has not added a team of taxonomists to deal with this problem of increasing their limited category sets to a more complete set. Google has not added even one category to their list in the past year despite their exhortation to make suggestions. They obviously fall into the category of “lumpers” in the taxonomy debate although probably due to financial or programing concerns more than philosophical ones. The problem of matching such a small number of categories to a much larger category obviously creates its own very difficult problems.

As we have seen, their category strategy has generated a great deal of dissatisfaction amongst the businesses attempting to control their business record in Google’s Local Business Center. Perhaps if we could just understand enough about how Google uses its categories we could answer the question: How can I get in the same category as my competitor? Obviously the problem is complicated, and Google’s most recent response “The Google Help Center is your friend” does little to shed light on this.

Given that Google gets most of its data from data providers the question that needed to be answered were two:

•Who is the primary provider of categories to Google Maps?

•How does Google relate its limited number of categories to the categories of its suppliers and the greater business world?

Continue reading

Local Links of Interest

Semmy’s Local Search Winner: Anatomy & Optimization Of A Local Business Profile – Chris Silver Smith, Search Engine Land. The official results are at the SEMMYs website. If you haven’t read this article yet, it well worth a read.

A Local Look At Microsoft’s Bid For Yahoo – Greg Sterling, SearchEngineLand

Microsoft: “We have not made decisions at that level, such as what to do with maps or mobile products. Every alternative is on the table. We will evaluate all those options and decide. We’ll pick whatever we think is the best options.” 

Garmin announces the nuvifone  -Joshua Topolsky, Engadget.com

In reporting on MacWorld Highlights: On The Future Of Mobile it struck me that the only category that Apple had not yet entered of mobile computing was the GPS market. This phone while still 6 months off has the feature set that might make for interesting mobile computing with a GPS focus.

Google Maps Category Mystery Part I: The Problem

One of the longstanding mysteries in the world of Google Maps is summed up in the question:“Why does my listing not show up in the same category as my competitor?”. There has not been a topic more frequently raised in the Maps Group and one that has been more evasively answered by the Google staff since the dawn of the Local Business Center.

Here is a exchange from July 12, 2006 in the Google Maps for Business Owners Group titled: Wrong Listing Categories that is typical of both the questions asked and the answers that Google has provided.

From: “Google Maps Guide”

Date: Wed, 12 Jul 2006 16:45:43 -0700
Subject: Re: Wrong Listing Catagories
Hi Ian,

Some of the categories appearing on Maps are supplied by third-party data providers, and so they aren’t in the Local Business Center (LBC) yet.

But do use the category suggestion page in the LBC so that we can add it in the
future.

> On 7/12/06, i…@yorkselfcatering.fsnet.co.uk wrote:

> > I am an owner of a self catering holiday house in york and I have
> > added my listing to Maps. When i created my listing the only applicable
> > catagory was ‘Travel- bed and breakfast’ and ‘Travel-vacation rental’
> > neither of which are entirly appropriate. I have noticed other listings
> > that appear under a ‘Self catering York’ and wondered . How can access
> > that catagory? Thanks Ian

There have been literally hundreds of similar complaints and similar responses since the inception of the group. There is hardly a week that goes by when the question is not asked and answered multiple times in similar fashion. The only thing that has changed is the ever increasilngly frustrated tone of the person posing the question and possibly the name of the Map’s Guide that answers.

Here are the most recent postings dated Feb 2, 2008 with exactly the same questions and the same answer but 18 months later:

TOPIC: Editing my listing
============================================

== 1 of 1 ==
Date: Sat, Feb 2 2008 9:34 am
From: “happypets@purtonvets.co.uk”

I have the same problem and the answer in the help section explains
why it happens but does not actually help you. All my competitors are
listed under a category I have no access to and to make things worse
if I type the most basic search term for my business i.e. VET (for
veterinarian or veterinary surgeon) it does not use googles available
categories but uses the unavailable category.

I have suggested the category my competitors use (veterinary surgeons
and practitioners) using the submition process but why would google
add that category when the have a perfectly good category already for
veterinarians. That leaves me out in the cold and unlisted despite
using google correctly.

Perhaps someone can address this issue rather than giving a
patronising answer about how friendly the help center is!

On Jan 30, 7:24 pm, “Maps Guide Sirene”

wrote:
> Hi there,
>
> Keep in mind that the Help Center has a lot of great insight to questions
> like these. Be sure to check out the following for information about
> Categories:http://maps.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=17105&
>
> Remember, the Help Center is your friend!
>
> S.
>
> On Jan 24, 2008 8:43 AM, sr…@bbmofic.com wrote:
>
>
>
> > I am a landscape contractor who builds water gardens. There are a
> > number of local “pondbuilders” listed in Google local Under the
> > category “ponds, waterfalls, water gardens, and Fountains”. When I go
> > to the Local business center to edit my business, I find no such
> > category (I’m listed under services). I’ve looked under every category
> > and don’t find anything remotely close. I feel like a dummy because
> > all my competitors seemed to have found how to have list. Can you
> > please help?

How could a problem that causes so many complaints go untended for 18 months? Why have the Map Guides (the names have changed but the answer remains the same) not provided a clear answer? Why have no obvious categories been added to the Local Business Center despite many suggestions? What is it about Google Maps LBC categories that makes this so difficult? And the obvious: Why can’t a business be in the same category as a competitor?

This is the first installment in a 3 part series. Next Google Maps Category Mystery Part II: Backgound.

Yahoo Local makes me feel good

Many small business people feel embattled, besieged and forgotten. The move toward the “free” business listings of the Internet has removed one monkey from their back – the FUD of the Yellow Pages only to replace it with the inscrutable Google Maps.

Small business people hate standing in line and begging for help ala Google Maps for Business Group. Why isn’t my listing showing? Why can’t I get in the category of my competitor? How come my competitor has the only OneBox on the search results? The questions are asked but not often answered.

At some level Yahoo seems to understand what SMB’s feel better than Google. Last week after I modified a local listing with Yahoo they sent me this email: email.jpg

It made me feel good and I dare say would make most small business people feel the same. I knew that the listing was live, I had received an acknowledgment of my effort and they had reached out to me.

I recognize it for what it is: good but automated communications. None the less I felt a certain warm and fuzzy. There was a lesson to be learned here. I even took the time to take the survey and was further impressed. When taking the survey it seemed that they were sincere about wanting to know what I thought and that they did get what it takes to deal with small business folks. Continue reading

Google Experimental Map View: A look into the future of local search

The new Google Experimental Map View provides an intriguing look into the future of local search (as envisioned by Google). Between the the Google Maps API being used by a large number of vertical search engines like Trulia and their widespread indexing of geotagged information, Google has a significant trove of geo referenced data to bring to the local search party.

Their recent introduction of Map View in Google Experimental demonstrates how Google might make this vertical search category information available to a general search inquiry in the main search results. For example if a user were searching for “houses for sale, Olean NY” they could be presented with the view now seen via Google Experimental:houseforsale.jpg

It is of interest to note that these results come from trulia.com and similar sites. For a searcher with limited need in the housing market these results might just be enough to satisfy their needs. If she were driving around with an iPhone looking at homes it might totally satisfy them.

Google is the elephant in the room of search and of local mobile search. I have always felt that there was space for the vertical search engines in the room if ultimately only in the corners. These engines provide passion (yelp), details (trulia & zillow), and a unique business model (ibegin).

But as the Google Experimental Maps View demonstrates, the corners of the room just got a little smaller. Google is positioning Google Maps for Mobile as the mainstream search tool of the hand held future. As they integrate results in this way fewer search visitors are likely to click through to the vertical engine as their superficial queries have been answered. While there will still be a viable business model for these engines it may include a future with a lower percentage of total traffic. Mobile search will expand the market for local search but even so these verticals will need to be vigilant to maintain their customer base.

Google Coupon results in Main SERPS Part II

Yesterday I noted that Google Coupon results were showing up in the main search results page for coupon related search phrases. Miriam Ellis who writes a local oriented blog SEO Igloo asked whether using coupons for non-retail oriented deals was a useful strategy.

I have several local search clients that have added service oriented coupons in an effort to 1)test the coupon idea on the premise that they couldn’t hurt* and might generate direct traffic and 2)to see if they helped their rank in the local results. While we have not seen many coupon redemptions, it does appear to have a positive impact on the local standing.

However we had a pleasant surprise as in addition these coupon results also started showing up in the main search results pages for “general service + location” searches. Google Coupons are low cost and easy to implement. Given Google’s penchant for increasing “localness” in their search results, these coupons may just show up that much more often in the future.

For example on the search insurance Olean, NY the Google Coupon results linking to the client coupon are on the first page of the results:

couponserp.jpg

*The Hippocratic Oath of Search: Do no harm.

Google now integrating Coupon Results in Main Search Results

Google has recently refined their coupon promotion techniques. One such refinement is including Google coupon results in the main search results page. restaurantad.gif

In November, 2007 Google started using Adwords to promote coupons. For specific searches (pizza coupon) google would present Adwords that would take the user directly to view local coupons in Maps. Now on these specific searches Google is promoting Adwords to restauranteurs instead.

Of more interest and of more impact is the change in how Google is handling results on more general and higher volume coupon searches. On the coupon search phrase like “Coupon Buffalo, NY” Google is now integrating a link to their coupons very high in the ogranic results. In this example the coupon link appears above the Expanded Local OneBox.

couponsearch.gif

The take away: Anyone creating local search marketing campaigns needs to consider the value of coupons and whether they can achieve some additional exposure by using Google Coupons. Particularly now while the coupon inventory in Google is the opportunities to be found are greater. It is also possible that coupon ranking authority may be related to the age of the coupon.

Google Maps – No address required

It has always struck me that one of the bigger problems with the internet yellow pages is that often they are used to find out what people mostly already know or to confirm the last emotional inch of the purchase cycle. They look up the directions betweein two known locatiions to get the specifics of the directions or to confirm them. They look up a business or even a business category to find the phone number of a particular business that they had already decided to contact. They are not really looking for new information and thus are not very receptive to an ad.

Part of this behavior is that people are looking to expend as little energy as possible and partly it is a function of long term training both offline and on. The Yelllow Pages or Rand McNally functioned this way and to some extent despite integrating maps and business directories many IYP still do function this way. Most folks really have been conditioned to to use these resources in this limited way. While the search for “pizza olean ny” makes for good blog fodder it is unlikely that most people other than search marketers writing about local ever use Google that way. It may be that this behavior limits the upside advertising potential of local and services like Goog-411.

Google has taken a small step to “recondition” users to the many possibilities of they IYP search process with their upgrade to Maps: No Address Required announced in the Google Lat Long Blog:

Have you ever been traveling and needed to get directions from your hotel to another destination in town, like a restaurant you keep hearing about? You may have been a bit frustrated that Google Maps required you to look up the addresses of your starting and end points before ultimately getting your directions.

Well, we felt the same way. So we fixed it. Now you can type in any location where you want to go — whether it’s a specific street address, a business name like Fuzzy Buddy’s Dog Daycare, or even something more general like “florist” — and we’ll help you get directions. We’ll even automatically try to find the closest results for you.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search