Google Maps Data Quality: Where do we stand after the Locksmith Onslaught?

I have written extensively about the hijinks in the Locksmith industry and the impact that the massive amount of mapspam was having on the Maps Index quality. Google noted that they had fixed the vector in January and another in March. Google however, when they fix a technical iisue like Mapspam rarely if ever seems to go back and clean up the resultant pollution in the index. It really begs the question: What does fixed mean?

One of the many tactics that the Locksmith industry used was to hijack unclaimed records in other industries (like hotels & restaurants) that had large numbers of web citations and reviews to achieve ranking cred for themselves. Over the past 6 weeks I have received various reports of these listings still showing up in the Local 10 Packs and spotting some myself as aI meandered through Maps.

David Mihm, Local SEO in Portland, sent me an example of a hijacked restaurant listing showing up for the search Restaurant Portland. We quickly (less than 10 minutes each) found 10 additional high profile searches that still are showing the affect of being hijacked by locksmiths. Literally one of every two searches in major metro areas showed polluted results. One can only presume what a thorough review might find. A motivated locksmith discovered that in the Maps records of locksmiths for the top 50 metro areas in California, he found 60,000 spammy locksmith listings.


Here are the searches that included obviously hijacked listings:

Restaurant Albuquerque
Restaurant Salt Lake City
Restaurant Atlanta
Restaurant Kansas City
Restaurant Tampa
Restaurant Nashville – a new one, towing
Restaurant Boston
Restaurant Miami
Restaurant Phoenix

Local data is hard enough to get accurate when all the players are honest and focused on that goal. However, leaving this detritus in the index takes the quality to a new low. As I noted in a previous post, when the plumbing breaks you don’t just seal the leak in the pipe you clean up the mess from the broken sewage pipe.

It is time for Google to give the records back to the rightful owners and provide the quality user experience that they so often reference as their standard.

InfoUSA – calls to verify our basic record

I just hung up the phone with an InfoUSA staffer who called to verify our business record. Never one to miss an opportunity, I think I may have asked him more questions than he was able to ask of me. As my daughter noted on a apron she gave me for my last birthday: “Cooking up good questions for over 50 years”.

1)They attempt to call every business in their list on annual basis.
2)They verify very little information about the business:
-Primary Business (does anyone have a single primary business?)
-E-Mail address

It is nice that someone, somewhere is attempting to verify core local listing data. By the same token, they sure don’t verify much information. Why didn’t they ask for hours? Why did they let me only list one primary business function? Do I have handicap access?

I could go on but with very little more energy they could have gathered both more and better information to feed into the local ecosystem.

Google Maps Counts CityVoter Reviews Backwards

Update 4/26: It appears that all of the reviews have been removed from Google. It is a little hard for me to understand how these reviews can be removed so quickly from Maps but can not be updated with equal speed.

Reviews from are heavily referenced in Google Maps with over 1,113,968 instances. However, it appears (pointed out by Avante Gardens – Florals Unique Anaheim, CA) that a positive review in CityVoter knocks down your star rating in Google Maps.

Here is a screen shot of the first sites referenced when searching for in Maps. Note the glowing reviews but the low star ratings:

I clicked through to one of the entries. Note its affect on in San Jose. He obviously worked pretty hard at fabricating reviews (ok so maybe this isn’t the best example) to get a single star. Take a look at his Maps record: Continue reading Google Maps Counts CityVoter Reviews Backwards

Review Removal Process- How Yahoo Succeeds and Google Doesn’t

I have recently added a new local account, The Option House Restaurant in Bradford, PA, the next town over. I soon discovered that they while they had a new business and a stellar local reputation, their on-line reputation was less than savory .

Sam Sylvester, the dapper 75 year old owner, moved back to his home town after 55 years of world travel, for help & support caring for his terminally ill wife. After her death and with the help of Rosie (his high school friend) as a marketing manager, he embarked on on a whole new life, but this time in Bradford. This spring, he opened a lively pub and cosmopolitan restaurant in an early 1900’s building that he had meticulously restored.

Bradford, PA was home to one of the first oil booms in the US. and in the early years of the 20th century, oil field owners would stop into the Option House for lunch and to trade oil contracts. It became an elegant depression era Vaudeville stop before falling on hard times in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. When it was shuttered it had become a less than reputable bar on the first floor and a flop house on the upper floors.

In a few short months early this year, after months of restoration, Sam  opened the restaurant to rave local reviews. It doesn’t take long in a small town like Bradford for an excellent restaurant to become wildly popular.  But as I soon found out, after contracting to build a new website, their on-line reputation reeked of sleazy rooms and a disreputable bar. From their Yahoo Local review (here is the Google cache):

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  1. by RIOT


    Now that this place is under new ownership it has been completely restored to its former glory. Everything has been restored and renovated! This used to be one of the trashiest places in town, and now it is elegant and beautiful!!! You really have to see it for yourself. They now offer fine food thanks to the acquisition of a high end chef from another local business… 5 stars

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  2. by a Yahoo! Local User


    I have to be fair: I haven’t really been to this place since I was about 23. It seems like a lot of underage people hang out in here. I guess that would be cool if I were underage. when I used to go there a lot, it was great.

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On-line reviews have become the double edged sword of on-line marketing for many small business. Greg Sterling repored on recent research that Online Reviews Influence 84% of Americans. They are a reality that impacts sales whether they are truthful or not, current or not, spammy or not. I decided to see how Yahoo would respond to my desire to have the review noting service to underage drinkers pulled down.
Continue reading Review Removal Process- How Yahoo Succeeds and Google Doesn’t

Google Maps: Upsurge in reports of Map Hijackings

Over the past few days there has been a steep increase of reports of legitimately claimed LBC listings being hijacked in Google Maps. The reports (here, here, here & here) all follow the hijacking pattern that Locksmiths widely suffered during the second half of last year. The last of these recent reports, Hotel Hijacking Map Spam or Does Google Suck? is the most recent and happened to a friend of Marty Weintraub of AimClear.

There is a bug where Google has a problem with merging records. They often conflate two records that have similar attributes but usually these two records have the same addresses, or share a phone number and/or have similar web urls. The above examples, while possibly severe cases of merging, show all of the attributes of hijacked records. Given that Google Maps is the ultimate black box, one can only guess at the actual backend processes that occur but it shure looks similar to the mapjackings. Regardless the result to the end business is no less severe. In Marty’s case, he noted a likely 50% drop in visitation due to the problem.

The methodology in the Locksmith hijacking was for the bad guys to create a totally exact duplicate record of the real business in the LBC with but one change, the phone number. The record would be verified via the phone system and over time, this listing would be merged with the original LBC record in the cluster. Because it was more recent the LBC records it would be identified as the authoritative source by Google and the bad guys could change then change the record at will and modify URL etc.

These records when viewed in Maps are characterized by showing the wrong url, multiple phone numbers in the more info view AND multiple Provided by the business owner entries created each time the record was reclaimed via this process.

As he notes in his article there are many types of hijackings and mapspam that occur in Google’s wiki world of Maps but the one that is most disturbing to me are the ones, like the Hotel Hijacking Map Spam or Does Google Suck?, that occur to claimed records. Firstly it indicates incredibly malicious intent on the part of the folks to perpertrate the action. Secondly it indicates an incredible violation of trust on the part of Google. A local business has every reason to trust Google & needs to trust Google when they say that claimed records can not be hijacked. This trust is the lubricant of all transanctions in our commercial world and in local this goes in spades. For Google to offer up the platform where that chain of trust can be broken portends the failure of Local Search if it can not be brought under control.

It is possible that these records are just now showing the results of hijacks that occurred before Google closed the vector, they could be new hijack technique or it is possible that there is a new extreme problem of merging taking place within Google Maps. Hopefully, Google will let us know what is going on. Regardless, its impact to the affected businesses is severe.

What is Merchant Circle up to now?

Why is Merchant Circle buying up thousands of trade name + locale domains?

Over the weekend Nick Reese contacted me to explore what appeared to him, and to me, very unusual domain activity by Merchant Circle. It appears that Merchant Circle has purchased as many as 10,700 domains. These domain purchases have been going on for a number of months and are often in the format of MC has gone on to create a website for the business based on the unverified Merchant Circle record and appears to have done so without permission or engagement of the business.

Here is an example of an MC purchased domain that shows up on a Google OneBox result – Art & Faux, San Jose Ca:

The whois records show MC as the admin of record for all of these domains.

Many searches on these trade name domain with locale show the MC result in the One Box (due to Google assigning it to unclaimed records) and in positions one and two on the main results page.

I called several of the business owners, including Art & Faux, to determine whether any had in fact authorized MC to purchase the domain on their behalf. The three owners with whom I spoke indicated that they had not given them any authority to purchase domains in their name nor had they paid MC for a domain.

Is this MC’s newest SEO strategy to gain additional footing on the first page of Google? Are they taking cybersquatting to a new level to gain Maps traffic from the new local focused Google SERPS or are they just giving away domain names to businesses that “forgot” to buy them? I am trying to understand why MC would spend $70,000 on domain purchases, many of which have include the trade name for local businesses.

Here is another interesting example of an apparently unapproved domain: It shows up as the number one organic listing on the search Leak Detecting Service in Sarasota, FL and it takes you to a link farmy type page with a PR2 that links to 20 additional MC listings. Here is the Site Explorer Link from Yahoo for the domain. Does Google still allow this stuff?

Hitwise: Google Maps passes Mapquest showed Google Maps overtaking Mapquest in visitors in January as did Comscore. At the time Hitwise showed that Maps as nearly passing Mapquest but dropping back. As recently as last week Hitwise indicated that Mapquest was still in the lead but that gap was closing.

Heather Hopkins of Hitwise took a fresh look at the numbers over this past weekend. Google has now surpassed Mapquest in monthly visitors.


It is of interest that starting on March 14th, Google Maps shows almost a month of sustained gains while Mapquest shows an equivalent drop. It would be a reasonable to assume that the date coincides with the start of Google’s expanded Local rollout.

Google Maps adds new Local Business Center User Guide

Yesterday, Google Maps rolled out a new Local Business Center User Guide. The guide has more specific details about the listing process, the meaning of various messages and an improved interface to the information.

The LBC User Guide is a definite improvement over the previous help system and may ameliorate some of the business listing problems it will not solve some of the more common questions and many of the edge situations that seem to occur.
Continue reading Google Maps adds new Local Business Center User Guide

Hitwise: Mapquest still in the lead but Google Maps is gaining

Update 4/13: Google Maps now in lead over Mapquest, according to Hitwise has shown Google Maps as having more traffic than Mapquest since January. Hitwise on the other hand has Google Maps gaining but not yet surpassing Mapquest. Here are the latest numbers from Hitwise:


Both Hitwise and Compete show an uptick in March for Maps and Mapquest. The more granular view that Hitwise offers, shows most of that uptick occurring after March 28th (the rough start date of the increased local exposure) with Google increasing faster than Mapquest.

Whether this is due to an uptick in pre Easter travel planning or due to Google rollout of increased showing of the Local 10 Pack or both is hard to tell at this point.

Tracking Local search Traffic with Analytics

Analytics is not something that I specialize in but given the increasingly high profile nature of the Local 10 Pack and no easy solution from Google for distinguishing this traffic, I turned to Martijn Beijk for advice.

Martijn Beijk works as a SEO at Onetomarket, one of the leading online marketing agencies in Europe with offices in the Netherlands, Germany and Spain. There he focusses on local search , analytics and SEO in general. You can find him writing on his blog about Local Search, SearchCowboys and other guest appearances. Some of you might know him from his article ‘The Definitive guide on using KML for SEO’ which was nominated for a Semmy Award. 

This article is for all of you who have already claimed their businesses or those of a client. Some experience with Google Analytics is required

A good thing for any website owner is to run a Web Analytics package which tells you some things about the visitors of your website. They way they entered your website, with what, where from, for how long and where or even why they left.

It is also possible to set specific goals using a Web Analytics package  like a form that has been filled out or a contact page that has been reached. This can be very useful to determine if your Local Traffic is converting into any phone calls, filled out forms or an ecommerce transaction waiting to be picked up from your storefront.

The following examples with Google Analytics will help you get more insight in your local traffic. Basic knowledge of Analytics is assumed. Google Analytics (GA) should already be set up for the website in order to continue the following examples.

  Continue reading Tracking Local search Traffic with Analytics

Developing Knowledge about Local Search