Today’s Google Mapspam report – 75% chance of rain

tirerack2.jpg

Update: 12/23/07 The Tire Rack mapspam has been removed. Since none of the other spam mentioned has yet to be removed, I presume that the company rather than Google did the removing.

There have been three new reports of Mapspam at the Google Maps For Business Group in the last few days.

Our reporter in the trenches of the florist industry, Cathy, noted a variation on an old theme where a national flower reseller with local phone exchanges makes a common appearance in the Maps for the top 60 or so markets but without any local address (note the map indicator is roundmappinround.jpg and not pointedmappinpoint.jpg.)

I also noted a new type of Mapspam where a national company, The Tire Rack , created a listing for each and every independent tire store that may or may not carry their product and gave each a local business name of “TireRack Independent Recommended Installer” a local business address and the corporate #877 number.

Thus each local Tire Rack installer is listed in Google Maps twice, once with their own phone and once with The Tire Rack’s #800 (877-596-5090). The number when called took me to the corporate switchboard. They seemed to have achieved a new upload record with 3,576 listings. I tired at listing 500.

This practice does not bode well for Maps or independent tire installers. Obviously the day is near in Maps when every Addidas shoe seller or Nikon camera store will be listed with the corporate phone number. And what local retailer wants to forgo their local brand identity to have the supplier of one of their product lines pick up the phone and do who know what with the call.

Now taking nominations: The 2007 Top 10 List of the Bizarre, Funny and/or otherwise Irrelevant blog entries in the Search World

rubber_nominee.gifWe are now accepting nominations for:The 2007 Top 10 List of the Bizarre, Funny and/or otherwise Irrelevant (or Irreverent) blog entries in the Search World.To add a sense of gravitas to this exercise I have invited Bill Slawski and Greg Sterling to act as judges. To honor the SEM world’s grace while shamelessly promoting the industry and others in the industry, I have asked Rand Fishkin and Danny Sullivan to also act in the capacity as judges. And for balance and impartiality I have asked Matt Cutts (answer pending) to be the final arbiter in case of ties or other disputes (Mapsguide Jen has been disqualified as some of the nominated articles may be about her. She has acted in the capacity of comic foil for the whole year so why stop now?).We are now taking nominations. Oh and the rules.There are no rules as to whom or what you can nominate to be on this list with two exceptions:1)In the vein of shameless self promotion I am allowed to nominate my own stories/entries and2) You may also suggest your own categories and entries for those categories ( a hint…great category with but a single entry could be a winner and achieve world wide distribution…well ok I only have 380 regular readers but I am working on that).3)Judges, employees and their families may participateWhat do the winners get? Besides glory and 15 seconds (its a fast paced industry) of fame, you ask? Glad you asked: The Rubber Chicken Award of Literary Excellence to hang on your wall ..er I mean blog (I am way too cheap to actually pay for a wall plaque).Copyright Notice: This blog entry may be copied in whole or in part AS LONG as there is a link back to my site or not. Some restrictions may apply** The link should preferably be from a page with a PR of 4 or higher, it should ideally be in page or category that retains high page rank AFTER it has dropped off the front page. Nofollows are prohibited except where required by (Google’s) law. Sphinning is allowed but preferred if done by groups of 20 or more. Due to server limitations (and fear of controversy) Digging is prohibited BUT stumblupon is encouraged. However if you are inclined to Digg refer to the first rule above.

Google Maps Vs. Yahoo Local Smackdown from a programmer’s perspective

I had an interesting conversation with a programmer whom I respect this morning who was looking at Yahoo Local and Google Maps business listings (in an industry that presumably has nearly 100% website penetration). He pointed out the following:

• Google and Yahoo seem to have almost the same name/address/phone info
• But Google has much better abstracts and web pages (i.e. web site url).
• Google has about 80-90% of its business listings associated with web pages,
• Whereas Yahoo has 52% of its business listings associated with web pages

I have found Yahoo Local’s ranking algo to be simpler than Google’s but it appears that there is more difference in the backend than just that.

Today’s Google Mapspam report – 70% chance of rain

There has been an increase of late in reports of MapSpam in the Google Maps for Business Group with three reports in the last day. As Mapsguide Jen, our intrepid guide to the netherworld of MapSpam, had warned us in August: “these types of issues may also become more prevalent”.

Some of these Mapspam exploits are subtle and one has to marvel at the intricacies of their elegant implementation. However with some instances of Mapspam one can only marvel at the crassness and apparent unsophisticated nature of the attempt.

Of note in that regard is the newly reported mapspam exploit by the Gurus2go Onsite Computer Service. They have recently (?) created 1188 entries to Google Maps throughout the US.

Unlike TechPros in the original mapspam, they didn’t bother using addresses in most of their listings. Does Google Bulk Upload not require addresses? Did Google close one bulk upload crack and open another?

The on-site computer repair business seems to be a magnet for these types of efforts. Maybe the same SEM firm is selling the same trick multiple times to unsuspecting (?) clients. Hey for all I know its the same on-site repair guys, I haven’t really checked.

The forecast for tomorrow? Let me know what you think the future of mapspam holds in 2008 and beyond.

Continue reading

Google Maps API Terms of Use- no stalking in autonomous vehicles

Sometimes legal documents have a way of tickling one’s funny bone. Lawyers have no clue how funny they can be. Here was a section from Google’s Maps API Terms of Service:

1.4 Appropriate Conduct and Prohibited Uses. The Service may be used only for services that are generally accessible to consumers without charge.


In addition, except where you have been specifically licensed by Google to do so, You may not use the Service with any products, systems, or applications installed or otherwise connected to or in communication with vehicles for or in connection with: (a) real time route guidance (including without limitation, turn-by-turn route guidance and other routing that is enabled through the use of a sensor); (b) any systems or functions for automatic or autonomous control of vehicle behavior; or (c) dispatch, fleet management or similar applications.

You agree that You are responsible for your own conduct and content while using the Service and for any consequences thereof. You agree to use the Service only for purposes that are legal, proper and in accordance with these Terms of Service and any applicable policies or guidelines. By way of example, and not as a limitation, You agree that when using the Service, You will not:


•defame, abuse, harass, stalk, threaten or otherwise violate the legal rights (such as rights of privacy and publicity) of others;

I guess this means you can’t take an autonomous vehicle and while using Google Maps for directions to stalk someone. Go figure! They sure know how to spoil my programmers fun.

Mapspam Update

Several weeks ago I reported in detail new techniques that were taking mapspamming to the next level in Google Maps and Yahoo Local.

The basic technique was simple:

• Rent a mailing address with forwarding in every major market near the centroid of the city (UPS is one of many that offer this service)
• Obtain a domain name for each city with a relevant “location + service” domain
• Create a website that returns an optimized “location + service” page for the domain
• Enter the businesses in the Google Local Business Center or Yahoo Local
• Enter the PIN numbers when they are forwarded to you (if using google)

One area that I didn’t explore in the original article was the use of 800#’s in the on-going spammy promotional effort. The power of Google Maps search can play a significant role in discovering more spam. By searching on the spammer’s phone number(s) you can more easily ascertain the depth of the activity. The power of this research technique was brought to my attention by a new post at the Google’s Maps For Business Group detailing another instance of mapspam.

In an effort to avoid detection (and perhaps for other reasons) the Cash Advance Payday Loans folks used each of their #800s for only 3 Google Maps Local Business Center listings. Here are the numbers that I uncovered and the cities for which they operate via a Google Maps search:
(888) 342-0634

(888) 587-7057

(888) 482-1878

(888) 326-2568

877-867-7326

888-743-4130

888-447-6857

888-865-3016

888-799-5812

888-478-6679

888-587-4756

888-723-7314

The one search that demonstrates this is when searching on the #800 number used on their website as this returns 3 local listings + all of the other listings that reference their website :

(888) 345-8598 (it shows 37 total listings referring back to their website and master #800)

Have the spammers identified a Google threshold that causes increased scrutiny? Or is there some other reason for the plethora of numbers? What are the economics of the enterprise and the 800# deployment?
Continue reading

Google Maps Reviews- Was this review useful?

Google Maps is now soliciting input from users as to whether reviews that are listed for a business are useful.

There has been an on-going discussion at convertoffline.com whether the recent purging of CitySearch reviews reflects a new effort by Google could to develop a way of indentifying more trust worthy reviews based on the number of reviews that a reviewer has provided. While that may or may not be the case Google appears to definitely be making an effort to determine review quality from user input by soliciting that information directly.

In the past Google has used review quantity not review quality as a critical ranking factor. Maybe that is changing.

reviewratings.jpg

The Case of the Missing Google Reviews (cont’d)

Tim Coleman from ConvertOffline.com has written an interesting speculative piece: Is Google Filtering Reviews or Reviewers? in response to my piece last week noting the loss of CitySearch reviews from Google Maps. Tim did some interesting research on the volume of each reviewer’s reviews and theorized that Google might be attempting to filter out “spammy” reviews on this basis. There was also some interesting discussion from David Mihm, Matt McGee & Miriam Ellis and others about this and other theories (Matt asked whether it might be age based) to explain the decline in reviews.

What is known is that CitySearch reviews seem to have disappeared but it also seems that some of Google’s own reviews (see here) have as well.

My comments summarized the questions outstanding on the dissapearance of reviews:

Certainly it makes sense if Google could actually develop a way of indentifying more trust worthy reviews and your idea might actually work…

I will play the devil’s advocate. If Google were doing that (ie keeping reviews from more active reviewers) then we could assume that some CitySearch reviews would still be in their index. I haven’t poked around to look but that should be something we can ferret out.

I also like Matt’s idea of time as a criteria. Certainly reviews become stale and worth less over time as businesses change. The bugaboo with that theory is that Google removed some their own reviews as well which are all very recent. But it would be interesting to look and see if the review dates are more recent than they were. To quote from an old Buffalo Springfield song: “Something is happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear”…

I would encourage others with ideas to join the discussion at ConvertOffline and help figure this out.

Local Links of Interest

More GoogleClick News: Influential Congressman (Very Publicly) Asks a TON of Interesting Questions (John Betelle – BatellMedia.com)
Lots of interesting questions are asked of Google in the context of the Doubleclick merger. One that caught my attention:
Please explain how Google uses the information or data described in Question 1(a) – (l), including, but not limited to, the following uses: perfecting Google’s search algorithm; operating Google’s advertising programs such as AdWords and AdSense; and research or analysis of user activity on www.google.com.

… 5. In particular, please explain whether Google Maps directs advertisements to IP addresses based on that user’s Google Maps search query history.

Increasing user satisfaction on the mobile web: Technical considerations and a white paper on user satisfaction on the mobile (Martin Kleppmann  Yes/No/Cancel)

The use of internet and web services on mobile devices is expected to revolutionise our attitude to information and communication in the near future. However, in order to attract mainstream adoption, the mobile web must overcome some fundamental user experience problems. In this white paper we approach the user experience from a technical point of view, explaining reasons for deficiencies of the current approaches, and introduce some technical means for improving the user experience.

Google’s Online (Local) Marketing Challenge (via Greg Sterling)

Student groups will receive US$200 of free online advertising and then work with local businesses to devise effective online marketing campaigns. They will outline a strategy, run their campaign, assess their results and provide the business with recommendations to further develop their online marketing. 

Developing Knowledge about Local Search