Conversation with Universal Business Listing’s Doyal Bryant

I recently had a conversation with Doyal Bryant, one of the founders of Universal Business Listing.

Universal Business Listing is attempting to establish itself as a single stop for businesses to create one listing for use across the local internet. They want to become a business resource that provides “internet fresh data” to the various consumers of business data for local search. They charge up tp $30 for a business to create a listing with them and manage and track the listing for one year. They then provide these listings at no charge to the data collators like Axciom & InfoUsa, to the 411 providers like LLSI and to the Local engines like the YP’s, Yahoo and Google.

While the conversation was wide ranging, it helped me understand some of the “back story” on how data is handled across the internet and provided a few other interesting factoids:

• The primary data suppliers like InfoUSA and Axciom will often prioritize 6 or 9 month old telco data over “internet fresh” data. This has implications for any business changing their address or updating their DBA.

•He noted that Yahoo and Google will prioritize their ad system’s address over other sources for that address. I wonder what would happen if there was a conflict between the the Local Business System and adwords.

• For one national rental company with 4000 locations that had actively attempted to manage their on-line listings there were still 200 that contained critical errors at any point in time. In other words there was a 5% error rate on basic information such as phone, street address etc. even when the company was engaged and attempting to keep them correct.

• He relayed a story about a major national insurer with agents & branches in most cities. By the insurance company’s calculations between 40% and 60% of all inquiries and contacts came via local search.

The takeaway? Local search is playing a huge role in local marketing for national firms but the current system for collecting and distributing data across the net to the end user guarantees that there will be errors in the data and delays in information propagating. 


Local Users Bill of Rights

In the past I have run a number of articles speaking to whether Local needed to be held to a higher standard. It has been like the Wild West in Local. One day brings up a case more bizarre than the next and one wonders if higher standards will be achieved and if so how.

While reading complaints today in the Google Maps for Business Group it occurred to me to ask you all: If you were writing a Local Users Bill of Rights, what would you include in it?

Should business users have an easy way to contest reviews with Google? Should end users have an obvious way to report bad map data? Should Local Search Directories provide customer support?

From the point of view of the end user local searcher and the business listing user of Local what would you want in a Local Users Bill of Rights?

Local Links of Interest

Cellphone Tracking Study Shows We’re Creatures of Habit – JOHN SCHWARTZ, NY Times

Research that makes creative use of sensitive location-tracking data from 100,000 cellphones in Europe suggests that most people can be found in one of just a few locations at any time, and that they do not generally go far from home…..people’s wanderings are so subject to routine that by using the patterns of movement that emerged from the research, “we can obtain the likelihood of finding a user in any location.”

Scientists have long wondered how to measure something as ephemeral as movement. If general rules and algorithms of people’s wanderings could be discerned, they could be used to create computer models for understanding emergency response, urban planning and the spread of disease, say the authors, whose work appears in the new edition of the journal Nature.

The use of cellphones to track people, even anonymously, has implications for privacy that make this “a troubling study,” said Marc Rotenberg, a founder of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. The study, Mr. Rotenberg said, “raises questions about the protection of privacy in physical spaces, when devices make possible the capture of locational data.”

There are serious ethical issues as well, said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. While researchers are generally free to observe people in public places without getting permission from them or review from institutional ethics boards, Mr. Caplan said, “your cellphone is not something I would consider a public entity.”

The New iPhone’s New Winner – Om Malik, GigaOm

There are a number of speculative pieces about the coming iPhone. Forbes notes that it might unseat the Nintendo DS in the portable gaming area and Macrumors notes that it is likely to include public transportation on Google Maps.

Om Malik notes with authority that “whether it’s a new 2G model or a super-fast 3G, there is one thing that’s for sure: The new iPhone has Global Positioning System (GPS) built into it“.

Apple’s entrance in the GPS market could have long term affects on the way that GPS is generally delivered and on the sales of stand alone GPS devices. Apple, by integrating it into the iPhone, could change the low end of the market. Automobile companies integrating the device into the dash could attack the higher. In concert these movements could affect the stand alone GPS business significantly over the long haul.

GPS devices and the Nintendo DS are both potential players in the hand held mobile computing market. As a lightweight user of GPS services and games, the single device approach is much more appealing to me and I assume to others as well.

Those Intense iPhone Users

Nielsen Mobile shared some first-quarter 2008 data about how iPhone owners use their phones to communicate with each other.

It’s no surprise that 25- to 34-year-olds make up the largest segment of owners, or a third of all iPhone users. But the over-50 set makes a significant showing, too, as 14.4 percent of iPhone users are aged 55 years old to 64 years old.

Other findings:

The most popular feature for three out of four iPhone users is the iPod function. But slightly more 76 percent send e-mail and 68 percent use the Wi-Fi function.

About 36 percent of iPhone users have a monthly bill more than $100. That is 16 percentage points higher than the average mobile phone user.

37 percent of iPhone users watch video (ten times more than the average cellphone user), 20 percent play online games (nine times more than average) and 33 percent send instant messages (three times more than average).

The iPhone is most popular with personal users, but business employees make a significant showing. About one in four consumers use their phones for business, but pay the bills themselves. Another 15 percent say the company foots the bill.

Google Mapspam now a Global Phenom

Martijn Beijk is reporting on his blog, Local Search, that Mapspam on Google is now cropping up in Europe. He notes that I have become infamous in my vendetta against Mapspam and battering Google in the process.

I like to think of it rather as love taps. To me Local offers incredible possibilities and can be of huge service to end users and small business people alike. But to realize that potential it needs to be real. The standard that Google has used to measure web pages for search results has been relevance. The standard for Local to be useful is not just relevance but  truthfulness. That is a high standard indeed.

In my read of the market, Google is the one player that can make this work, but to do so they need to embrace the higher standards needed in Local. If I seem to be battering them, its because I think that they can and hopefully will do better. 

More cases of Massive Mapspam in Maps

Update 6/6/08: This spam has been removed. Also on Maps Guide Jen noted about the similar Earthlink Spam:

This particular case was added through a bulk feed in our Local Business Center. We’re actively working to implement some processes that will prevent these types of spam from displaying in Google Maps.

map spam

A recent posting in the Google Maps for Business Group has led to uncovering of another case of widespread mapspam very similar to the Big Local and Earthlink reported earlier and covered here.

This review of the company says it all: This company is listing my address because I sometimes do work for them. You will get better price and service by going to me directly. David Ringwald‎

The structure and probably the vector of this spam are identical to both EarthLink and Big Local. It doesn’t appear to have been bulk uploaded as their is no indication of business owner control. A number of the listings have a street address but not building number and are represented with the circular indicator instead of the pin. 

This search on the phrase ComputerAssistant returns 2,495 listings within Maps with listings for every independent contractor that has worked for them previously.

Google has removed the previously reported Mapspam from Earthlink and Big Local. But all of these efforts speak to the idea of showing service area that Carter Maslan spoke of in the interview last week with Greg Sterling last week where he noted: We currently don’t allow for service areas, but we recognize that many businesses don’t have physical locations and are working to accommodate those businesses.

If anyone has a suggestion as to how these listings entered maps I would love to hear them.

Renaming your business for Local

Google has recently made clear that a business can have only one listing per address and that multiple listings for that business at one address would be considered spam. They have made no clear policy statement in regards to naming the business.

Google appears to tolerate and to some extent endorses the idea that a business should be able to readily change their business name. Yahoo’s policy seems to be that you can change your business name in their local system but if you don’t subscribe to their premium listing it will revert to the business name as indicated by the upstream data providers that they buy their listings from. Is it ok for a business owner to rename their business listing for use in Google Maps?

This “tactic” was first suggested by Chris Silver Smith in Extreme Local Search Optimization Tactics. Of late I have reported a number of Maps listing where listers have creatively “rebranded” a business by changing its business name. “Local Marketers” have used keyword phrases like “Brain Injury Lawyer” or “Boob Job” to replace their business names in an effort to achieve ranking. Mary Bowling recently had an insightful post on Taglines-Why You Need One and how a good tagline in your business name listing not only communicates to your customers but communicates important information to the local search engines as well. Certainly in its current iteration, Maps seems to reward business names that relate closely to the search phrase with higher rankings.

Is changing your business name for the internet a legitimate exercise? Can it ever be? Will it be considered spam or otherwise incur a penalty with Google? The answers are yes, yes and who knows but I think not. Continue reading Renaming your business for Local

The time for a “Geo” Sitemap is Now

Yesterday Greg Sterling had an Interview With Google’s Carter Maslan about Mapspam in which Google noted that they are still at the stage of removing mapspam by hand. Also of not was that they will be addressing how to allow non bricks and mortar locations to provide information on their service area (see What Should Google Do About Mapspam? from last year).

Of most interest to me, however, was the clear statement that all websites should have a KML sitemap to clearly indicate to Google the exact locations of your businesses:

SEL: What about a business that formerly appeared among these top 10 listings and no longer does or wants to appear in those listings, what advice would you provide to such businesses?

CM: As a result, there’s no one piece of advice we would recommend beyond providing accurate, well-categorized listings and, for those businesses with web sites, following these tips including location kml in sitemap.

It has been clear that Google has been scouring the web looking for and indexing KML files and it stood to reason that having a KML file associated with your website would give Google clear signals about your physical location.

The time has come for it to be considered a “best practice” to include a Geo Sitemap on any local or regional website. Google clearly wants webmasters to include this indicator of location in a clear and obvious way that allows them to easily confirm geo data. Details on how to create a Geo Sitemap can be found in the Webmaster Help Cetner file: How can I create a Geo Sitemap?

From Google’s Webmaster Help Center:
Continue reading The time for a “Geo” Sitemap is Now

Local Links of Interest

Office Depot Teams up with Google to Provide Online Marketing  – Business Wire (press release)

In a tactic to place their critical local products in front of more eyeballs Google is offering Adwords, Apps and the Local Business Center at Office Depot’s small business portal. These types of partnerships are a low cost way for Google to increase small business awareness of their free and paid products.

Google’s Local Ad Targeting Strategies – Greg Sterling, Screenwerks 

Google is introducing a ZIP-code prompt for local queries that will allow for better targeted local ads.

Phone Keyboards and Seachers Using Predictive Query Suggestions – Bill Slawski, SeoBytheSea

Search engines are also paying more attention to the smaller screens, and the more limited keyboards available to people who access the Web by phone. What influence do these constraints have upon the future of mobile search?

Payday lenders likely doomed– Jim Siegel, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Just as Ohio House did, Senate tightens rules on industry after efforts at compromise failed.  House Bill 545 would slash the annualized interest rate charged by payday lenders from 391 percent to 28 percent, prohibit loan terms of less than 31 days and limit borrowers to four loans per year. It also would ban online payday lending.

My question is will Google be held accountable to this state law?

Getting KML into Google’s Geo Search Engine – Frank Taylor,

As people develop their own content, they might want to make sure Google’s Geo search can find their content. Google has already been crawling the Google Earth Community and looking for KML/KMZ files it finds linked to web pages. But, you might want to tell Google to index your content right away so other people can find it. Google has added a new syntax for “sitemap” files so you can tell it where to look for KML or GeoRSS files. Read more about Geo sitemap files, and the syntax of the files here. According to Lior and Mano, the sitemap will more quickly Geo-index your KML or GeoRSS content if you use the sitemap service. Read more about sitemaps at Webmaster Central. NOTE: as the search index grows, you’ll have to depend on Google to rank its search results so your content appears first. I guess we are going to need GeoSEOs now…

Nascent Demand for Mobile Shopping – Greg Sterling,

In a survey conducted by Lightspeed Research in the UK (n=998), between April 10-14, 17% of respondents said that they would be interested in mobile shopping. According to the firm, “this figure was higher than respondents in France (9%) but lower than in Germany (25%

Google Maps: What can be learned from the Mapspammers?

Last week Matt Cutts implied that I was endorsing Mapspam tactics when he noted:

Mike: I find it odd to beat up Google for not taking enough action on mapspam, then beat up Google on the other side when we start taking stronger action on mapspam…..

During a few parts of the interview I felt like you were giving this fellow “air time” after he’d said that there were multiple listings with bad data.

Actually far from it.

The folks who practice the more questionable tactics in Maps are essentially pushing the system to find its limits; what can be listed, what affects rank, what works. They are doing so in a vacuum of guidance from Google and apparently their motivation is profit. Short term profit at that, as I don’t see it as a sustainable tactic. I don’t find these practices acceptable on any level but I do learn from them.

I study and report Mapspam because it provides insight
• into how Maps works,
• into factors influencing ranking,
• the obvious contradictions in Google’s policies and practices and
• occasionally it provides insight into legitimate techniques that might increases viewer response.

Here is an interesting case of obvious maps abuse (where else but LA) but one that raises the question, does the tactic increase end user response and is it acceptable practice?

Continue reading Google Maps: What can be learned from the Mapspammers?

Local Links of Interest

IPhone’s Hold on Users Not Exclusive – ALEX MINDLIN, NY Times

Nearly half of iPhone users changed carriers in order to use the device, according to a survey by Rubicon Consulting…. The survey also found that 36 percent of iPhone users regularly carried another mobile phone as well, most often a BlackBerry

Yahoo: Mobile Will Dominate PCs by 2016 – Greg Sterling, 

Geraldine Wilson, Yahoo! Europe predicted that by 2016, mobile Internet access will surpass that of PC-based access: “We believe that by 2016, more users will access the internet from their mobile devices than the fixed PC. Currently there are approximately a billion PCs and three billion mobiles.”

[Greg Sterling] informally predicted to a client yesterday this would likely happen in terms of search query volume perhaps as early as 2013. But what will the sessions be like and how effectively will they be monetized? And how effective an ad medium will mobile become for marketers?

Pew: Web Not Key To Final Buying Decisions – Mark Walsh,

While the Internet has become a key information source for researching products, it doesn’t have a major impact on consumers’ final purchases, according to a new study. Findings from the Pew Internet & American Life Project survey tracking buying habits related to music, cell phones and homes suggest the Web is just one of various resources people use before making purchases. And only a minority of consumers actually end up buying online directly

Developing Knowledge about Local Search