Google Maps: Short term fix and long term problems in LBC

Update 6:00 pm 10/15/08

Maps Guide Jen has commented below:

Looks like the team was able to get a fix through faster than expected. Most people who were experiencing this error should find that it’s resolved. There may be some people who are still seeing a server error. Those people should file a reinclusion request for their account.


Today, Google’s Maps Guide Jen has announced a short term fix to the recurring system error in the Local Business Center. She notes that Google will provide a fix to anyone reporting the problem in the Group while they work on a longer term repair. If you are experiencing the dreaded System Error report it to Google in this thread and they will take care of it.

TOPIC: System Error accessing Local Business Center
== 1 of 1 ==
Date: Tues, Oct 14 2008 4:39 pm
From: “Maps Guide Jen”

Hi All,

I know this update was a long time coming. The issue is spread throughout the Local Business Center. Because of this, we’re trying to implement a wider-spread fix. In the meantime, we’ll be working to restore access for those who have reported receiving a System Error in this and other threads throughout the group. If you’re still seeing this error next Monday, feel free to push back and let us know.

Thanks for your patience,

Google Maps: Hijackers hit Major Brands

Searchengineland has published my newest installment in the ongoing series on hijackings at Google Maps: Problems Continue With Google Local Business Listings. The same hijackers that hit the florist industry hijacked the local listings of major brands like Mariott, Hertz, Avis and Thrifty changing location, url and business name. The change of business name was such that the listings achieved Authoritative OneBox status with searches like: Orlando HotelsMiami Discount Car Rental & Dallas Discount Car Rental.

It is an interesting story which leads to as many questions as answers, not the least of which being: Why would Google not shut these spammers down after they had hijacked the florists?

You can Sphinn this story here.

Google Maps: relative value of a OneBox vs top organic results

Steve Espinosa has some interesting preliminary research on the relative click thru rates of a #1 listing in the Local 10-Pack and a simultaneous #1 listing in organic. The organic listing showed 1.6x the click thru of the the Local 10 Pack listing. As it is preliminary research and only looked at click thru not call in or other measures of action, it is an important piece of research but doesn’t speak to ultimate customer action.

According to TMP’s  Local Search Usage Study : Following online local searches, consumers most often contact a business over the telephone (39%), visit the business in-person (32%) or contact the business online (12%).

If one works out the combined math of the two studies (a not very reliable number I assure you), in the end the top local ranking would still provide more client contacts either via phone or in person than the organic ranking.

At the end of the day, Steve’s research can not be viewed as a reason to not focus on local but rather as a call to action on the organic side. I think he would agree that, in the excitement around local, you can’t forget organic’s power and that in an ideal world a business would use every tool available to them. However, many times, due to the nature of a business, a business may not be able to legitimately play in the Local space and their only recourse is to optimize their website for local phrases. 

Another interesting outcome of Steve’s initial research was “the fact is that the majority of the users who got to the site via the natural link had resolution above 1024×768 and the majority of users who visited via the Onebox result had resoultion of 1024×768 or under.”

As Steve pointed out, this could be do the greater real estate visible to those with larger screens and thus greater visibility of organic listings above the fold. It could also, however, be due to the differences in font size with which Google represents the results. Steve has also done some interesting research on the value of visual authority and in this case the user might be attracted to the greater font size of the organic listing and wandered away from the smaller type faces presented in the 10-Pack. I have seen some recent heatmaps that seem to indicate that more users are moving further down the page when presented with a Local 10-Pack.

Great area for further research! If anyone has the heatmap info I would love to see it or if anyone is doing the research I would love to hear about it. Your thoughts? Does anyone have a recent heatmap?

Google Maps: LBC broken and more

This posting from yesterday’s Google Maps Business Owners Group was of interest to me.

The Local Business Center has been broken for several weeks, preventing many business owners from updating listings. There have been numerous reports in the Groups of this problem.

As noted in the comment, when a business attempts to update an LBC record, the following message is frequently recieved:

System Error
We’re sorry, but we are unable to serve your request at this time.

Google acknowledged the error on October 1 and it was reported of and on since late August. Google has not identified a timeframe for its repair.

TOPIC: Unable to list my listings on google map.

== 1 of 1 ==
Date: Sat, Oct 11 2008 2:46 am
From: “”

Hello, I am a freelancer from india and working from home. I currently
got job for adding 1400 google business listings of uk restaurants and
each listings needs to be added under individual google account. The
verification method i have to choose is verification by post card. So
that those individual restaurants can receive confirmation pin code at
their end and they can login to google with their account and can
confirm their listing.

I am able to create 10 listings until now under 10 individual
accounts, but now i am not able to add more listings, I am receiving
below mentioned error.

“System Error
We’re sorry, but we are unable to serve your request at this time.
Please try back in a few minutes.”

But this error doesn’t shows when i login from my personal account to
check same if also i am getting the same error.!

I know i am not spamming google, its the genuine work which i am
doing. Those people in foreign doesn’t have time for such tasks and
thus they had hired me.

Any help on this issue is very much expected and welcome!

The Indian subcontractor aspect of the post also intrigues me. Think locally, but act globally appears to be the new motto for Map data entry. It is an interesting development that low cost Indian workers are getting involved in Maps and that companies are choosing this route versus the bulk upload choice. It indicates to me that, as it is currently designed, the bulk upload option is not perceived as functional enough. For example, listings entered that way can still be modified via community edits (in the US) and often do not have the authority of a manually entered and verified record. I am quite sure that WalMart doesn’t want their listing fiddled with.

This posting is an interesting contrast to my earlier post about an Indian IT firm that outsourced local US mapspam to-itself.

It clearly demonstrates the growing perception of value of having a Local OneBox listing. I wonder how much it costs to have a sub contractor on the sub continent of India, enter these records manually. Can anyone enlighten me?

Google Maps and other Google Apps vulnerable to attack

In Friday’s InformationWeek there is an article detailing “bug that could let hackers use Google Maps to infiltrate Google, Google Mail, or Google Apps accounts“.

According to the article, a frame injection attack could be used to phish login credentials from Google users via Maps:

The Butler Group Adrian ‘pagvac’ Pastor, a security researcher with, on Friday posted proof-of-concept code that can inject a third-party page — a fake login page in Pastor’s example — while the user’s browser address bar still displays the Google domain. This could dupe the user into entering login details.

“The beauty of frame injection attacks is that the attacker is able to impersonate a trusted entity without needing to bypass XSS/HTML filters or even break into the target server,” Pastor explained on the GNUCitizen site.

Google Adwords Phishing Alert

I received the following phishing email:

Subject: Please Update Your Billing Information.
Date: October 11, 2008 12:44:39 PM EDT


Our attempt to charge your credit card for your
outstanding Google AdWords account balance was declined.
Your account is still open. However, your ads have been suspended. Once
we are able to charge your card and receive payment for your account
balance, we will re-activate your ads.

Please update your billing information, even if you plan to use the
same credit card. This will trigger our billing system to try charging
your card again. You do not need to contact us to reactivate your

To update your primary payment information, please follow these steps:

1. Log in to your account at
2. Enter your primary payment information.
3. Click ‘Update’ when you have finished.

Thank you for advertising with Google AdWords. We look forward to
providing you with the most effective advertising available.

This message was sent from a notification-only email address that does
not accept incoming email. Please do not reply to this message. If you
have any questions, please visit the Google AdWords Help Centre 

(c) The Google AdWords Team

The link goes to where a convincing login (screenshot) and credit card request (screenshot) are presented.

Local Mobile: Dinner table market observations

On my last night at SMXEast, I took four 20 somethings out to dinner, two women and two men. It was interesting in that they all seemed to be connected to local mobile across the spectrum of possibilities. One had an iPhone, one could barely use her cell phone for texting, and two would have an iPhone if they could afford a data plan.

Of the four of them, two thought Windows Mobile was an abomination (volunteered not solicited), and not one of them had heard of the impending G-phone rollout from T-Mobile. The iPhone user immediately started wondering if it would make her iPhone obsolete and whether she should get one.

Admittedly not a huge sample but interesting none the less. The iPhone has a great reputation amongst all of them, Windows Mobile sucked (from their point of view) and their was immediate interest and trust in a Google phone. 

The next day, having returned to Olean and I dined with a 50 something, female lawyer friend who owns an iPhone. She didn’t have her iPhone handy and we wanted to locate the neighborhood where one of the previous evening’s 20 year old lived. I pulled out my four year old Nokia 3620 with its early WAP browser and successfully pulled up a Google Map of the location. I handed the phone to the lawyer who immediately started poking the screen and double flicking in an effort to zoom the view. She was annoyed at the lack of response and just assumed that all phones had an interface like the iPhone. It points out the huge advantage of being first with a usable design and if that translates to significant market share how hard it would be to unlodge that early leader once the habit is ingrained..

The anecdotes demonstrate how deeply the iPhone has penetrated our culture and their ready market for a lower priced phone/plan. It doesn’t bode well for Microsoft’s mobile future and it is clear that Google, while having a lot of brand equity, has not yet moved their phone onto the radar of most people.

Local Links of Interest

Piper Jaffray: 8% of teens own an iPhone, 22% will – 16th Semi-Annual Piper Jaffray ‘Taking Stock With Teens’ Study

In addition, 8 percent of students indicate they own an Apple iPhone (up from 3 percent in fall 2007), while 22 percent of students expect to buy an iPhone in the next 6 months (up from 9 percent in the prior survey).

Search Data Reveals Opportunities and Overlaps for Chase and WaMu – Heather Hopkins, Hitwise

This isn’t just an opportunity for Chase. Imagine the work for some enterprising Local SEM? WaMu has somewhere on the order of 950 branches listed in Google Maps that minimally need a name change. Imagine getting all of the ancillary iyp’s and errant internet info squared away

Google on Android: Maps – David Conway, Product Manager, Android Team,

When we designed Google Maps for the T-Mobile G1, we set out to create a great mapping application that took full advantage of the G1’s hardware, like the touch screen, accelerometer, and GPS, as well as the deep system integration made possible by the Android platform.

Salient points from his post:

•as I wander the city, I can search for nearby businesses (like restaurants), and use Android’s integrated Map features to save search results to my contacts.
•Maps is also integrated with email, IM, and the web on Android. For instance, street addresses that appear as plain text in these apps become touchable zones that you can click on to take you straight to Maps.
•most of the resources, flexibility, and functionality in Google Maps are available to any application written for Android.

Google Maps for mobile Updates! – Maps Guide Tom, Google Maps for Mobile

Map Data disparities with the desktop version of Google Maps – In terms of updates to map data, imagery and road data is first deployed to the desktop version, and is then disseminated to other Google Products that use map imagery. This includes Google Maps for mobile. In terms of timing, it can vary, but generally it may be several weeks before new imagery you see at gets updated to your mobile phone.

New Satellite Imagery Galore Coming – Frank Taylor, Google Earth Blog

Wow, you just have to take a look at the first of these new images from the GeoEye satellite that Google will soon be using.

Can the IYP’s survive and thrive?

The other day I noted that “As I have pointed out before, it is my belief that the IYP’s have already lost in this race. From my point of view they bring little of technical or marketing value to the space. Their core product, business listings have been commoditized to the point of being available for free and without significant innovation there is no reason for their survival going forward.

But I had coffee with Ahmed Farooq of iBegin on my way home from SMXEast and he pointed out that there was a path for them to success. Everybody these days has access to cheap or free YP listings. InsiderPages, Dex or Superpages no longer have exclusive listing data. What they do have is “feet on the street”.

They have the sales staff and customer relations that could solve the remaining problem in Local. That is to gather all of the deep local data about real, extant businesses that people care about….not just hours, but brands, niche information, context and other details that will make Local truly useful and not just a broken Yellow Pages.

They have what Google, in their algorithmic approach to Local, will never have; conversations with real businesses on the other end of the phone. Unlike their upstart competitors, they have scale and capital. The IYP’s could once again provide unique data that is valuable and that could push local to the next level of accuracy and functionality.

It would seem a so much more successful strategy to gaining links than their Payola approach. It would create value to themselves and the greater internet, obviously a concept that they have yet to grasp.

Google Maps: One (data) Ring to Rule Them All

Yesterday I asked whether Google Map’s upward trend continue? Can Mapquest maintain its market share? Or like the IYP space does Google just have too much presence in search to not win this race also?

From where I sit, these Map & IYP Market Share comparisons only look at a narrow sliver of Local results being delivered to end users. I have taken the liberty of adding an estimate of Google’s % of total Internet traffic that shows a Local OneBox to Hitwise’s chart. I am assuming that has roughly 6% of total traffic and that the Local Onebox shows for geo specific queries on roughly 10% of all searches. It could be as low as 7% and perhaps as high as 15%.
Mapquest Vs Universal Local

Regardless, it indicates that is displaying a map with attendant local results 2 to 3 times more frequently than Mapquest. Thus when you combine the reach of Google Maps and the Local OneBox, it is approaching 1% of total Internet traffic. This aggregate is 3 to 4 times the market share of MapQuest.

Google has never sat on it’s laurels in regard to Map’s market share. At every opportunity they have directed traffic inwards towards Maps as opposed to elsewhere. As Matt McGee noted on SearchEngineLand:

We’ve noted on Search Engine Land that two factors likely began to change the traffic trends for map sites: First, when Google stopped linking to MapQuest and Yahoo! Maps; second, when Google Maps began to be featured prominently in Universal Search results.

The imminent release of location aware browsers will further refine Google’s ability to deliver locally relevant results to the desktop. I am sure that this not the only trick up their sleeves.

But even this analysis captures but a share of the local information flowing from the Google Map’s data siloh into end user’s hands….
Continue reading Google Maps: One (data) Ring to Rule Them All

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