Google Maps and Library Listings -a replicated Bill Slawski experiment

I wanted to replicate Bill Slawski’s test of how well Goole Local handled libraries and see if our rural libraries faired any better in having the correct URL associated with their local listing. I was also curious if other information could be teased out of the results.

I searched on four rural libraries with & without State Location qualifiers:

Olean NY library & Olean Library

Salamanca NY Library & Salamanca Library

Cuba NY Library & Cuba Library

Wellsville NY Library & Wellsville Library

The results were, like Bill’s, all over the board from spot-on accurate listing of the website in the local listing to results that were incorrect to the point of indicating the website of a library on the other site of the state.

Here are some of my conclusions:

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Best Practices for Local Success

Local Search optimization should be an integral part of every web site marketing plan. The goal is to encourage customers to visit or contact your business and Local Search plays an ever increasing role in this. The ultimate goal in Local Search optimization is a showing your business on the Google Main Search results page (ideally as the “onebox”) on a phrase that generates traffic.

Here is a list of best practices that I have ferreted out so far (what would you add?):

1. Go to the Google Local Business Center (and the Yahoo equivalent) and control your record with correct information, remove all incorrect records and keep it updated. This will override, take precedence over and be more trusted than the default data from a commercial data provider. While there do the following:

–a)include the relevant business categories
–b)Enhance the title of the Business to include the key phrase(s)
–c)Craft the categories and the description to reinforce the key phrase(s)

2. Buy into as many “trusted” sources that Google uses that make business sense i.e. BBB, Mobil Guide, SuperPages. A comprehensive list of these needs to be developed and they will vary somewhat by industry.

3. Monitor your entries and reviews in the relevant web based guides like CitySearch (a list of the ones that Google uses needs to be assembled). Make sure that they are factually correct and if possible be sure that the reviews are positive as that will affect your rankings.

4. Make sure that your business web site has your basic business information readily available. I do not think that you need to be too concerned with its specific format as Google’s parsing and normalization algorithms seem pretty good but as Bill Slawski points out you should attempt to use key:value pairs (i.e. phone: 716-372-4008 not just 716-372-4008).

5. Make sure to have as many references on other web sites to your business as possible and be sure that they include accurate business data: business name, address, phone etc.

–a)This needs to compliment your overall linking strategy.
–b)If you can a get a link AND a description including address & phone you should
–c)If you can only get a listing of address and no link, take it.

6.It appears from limited experiments that running a Google Adwords campaign associated with your listing in the local space adds authority and ranking to your listing and it might also help to have a coupon (proof of this idea is pending).

That being said you need to be the one ultimately responsible to be sure that the information is accurate and does truly reflect the nature of your business. Google has put the technology in place in Google Local Business Center for that to happen and they have done it in a way that gives businesses small and large an equal opportunity.

Will Google Maps (Local) data become more accurate & useful over time?

Bill Slawski of SEO by The Sea and I have been having a discussion about whether the technologies and strategies that he outlined in his Google Local Patent Summary were enough to allow Google Maps to be accurate.

Bill sent me a long list of reasons why Google Local could not be accurate. Up until that moment, in my wide eyed fashion, I had just assumed that Google would prevail and their solution would lead the way forward for a service like Google Maps to finally replace the Yellow Pages (not one moment to soon from most small business owner’s perspective).

But Bill’s email really started me wondering whether I was just an optimist that was rooting for Google to succeed or whether the technology really would become the standard for accessing local information.

Some of the reasons that I thought that Google Local Data would get better that I gave to Bill:

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A summary of Bill Slawski’s Google Local Search Patent summary

In early September, Bill Slawski wrote a great review/summary/analysis of Google’s Local Search Patent Application. I reread it over the weekend* and felt the surge of epiphany flow over me as I recognized the theoretical underpinnings of Google Local search results.

As Bill noted, Google Local is a “structure generation engine” that collects information from a wide range of structured and unstructured data sources, “normalizes” this information and presents that which is trusted to the user in its local directory, the Google organic search results and “responses to others requests for information” (see 520-find and Google SMS).

This Google local engine retrieves structured and unstructured data information about your business from various online and off-line sources & assigns trust factors to this data:

Trusted Structured Data via feeds, comes (via, XML, readable media, web sites) from:
-Commercial Data Providers like InfoUSA, D & B, Better Business Bureau, Mobil Guides
-the phone book companies
-a data feed from a large business with many outlets like Dominoes Pizza
-Google’s own Local Business Center(which was not mentioned in this patent because I am sure that it has its own patent to deal with stuff like its cool automated phone verification system)

Somewhat Less Trusted Structured, Semi-Structured and Unstructured Data comes (via assorted crawlers) from:
-On-Line Directories with known structured data (ie Superpages)
-On-line Directories with unknown structures and unstructured data (ie Restaurant guides & reviews like CitySearch)

Less Trusted Unstructured data from the Web (via crawlers) from:
-Your business web site
-Other sites that mention your business with geographic information

The Google local “structure generation engine” then standardizes all the fields, parses all of the information received via the above methods and then standardizes the information in those fields (with various tests), and presents it in its structured form via Google Maps, Google Organic and other “responses to …requests for information”.

To me the implications to the business owner or search optimization professional are clear:

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Windows Live Does Virtual Dallas

Google Earth Meets Windows Live “Virtual Earth” Search Engine Roundtable –
Extremely impressive release by Microsoft with Virtual Earth. It is basically a Google Earth product with “dramatic 3-D mapping” in …

Windows Live Local Gets “Virtual Earth” 3-D Cities Search Engine Watch (Greg Sterling)-
Tomorrow Microsoft will bring dramatic 3-D mapping to the browser window. Windows Live is set to launch photorealistic 3-D imagery for the “urban core” of 15 U.S. cities: San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Detroit, Phoenix….

Microsoft tries 3D maps, fails ZDNet –
A very cool (but for me, almost unusable) version of Virtual Earth was released today by Microsoft called “Virtual Earth 3D”. Instead…

I, being a Mac guy on a PowerPC, have not been able to see this work…

When will GeoCoding impact Local Search?

In yesterday’s issue (11/2/06) of the NY Times they published an interesting article called: Basics: Pictures, With Map and Pushpin Included on the nascient field of photo geocoding.

I had been oblivious to this technology before but after reading this article I realized that it will have a huge impact on Local Search going forward. Clearly the technology is just now getting into the hands of people who are interested in geographically tagging their images with GPS data. Like all new technologies it might take 5 years or maybe even 10 to be widely adopted and deployed so that the average housewife is geotagging her family vacation images and sharing the resulting map with Grandma.

The possibilities are endless and Bill Slawski pointed out an interesting patent for some of those. He also pointed out a Microsoft technology demo. It gives some idea  of how maps and photos might interact.  ( I can only imagine that while it might change the details of  the husband  & wife  mapping argument it won’t change the nature of it.) Continue reading

What is the click to call feature on Google Maps?

From Google Maps Help:

We’re testing a new feature, click to call, on Google Maps. Click to call gives you a fast and easy way to speak directly with businesses found on our maps. The following are a few frequently asked questions about this feature: 

How does it work?

When you click the “call” link next to a business’s phone number, you’ll be invited to enter your phone number. Once you select “Connect For Free,” Google Maps calls the number you provided. When you pick up, you will hear ringing on the other end as Maps connects you to the business. When they answer, you simply talk normally as if you had directly dialed their number on your phone.

Who will get my phone number?

Google uses the phone number you enter just once, to make the automatic connection between you and the business location. We won’t use the number to make any other calls to you. In addition, your information will be deleted from our servers after a period reasonably necessary to operate the service. We take your privacy very seriously. Learn more about our Privacy Policy.

Whose caller ID do I see when connected?

The business’s phone number appears on your caller ID when Google calls you. This allows you to save the business’s number on your phone so you can quickly call the business again at a later time.

Am I charged to connect to the business?

No. Google pays for all calls, both local and long-distance. However, if you give us a mobile phone number, the normal airtime fees or other fees charged by your phone provider may apply. Continue reading

Google has acquired JotSpot the collaborative Wiki

From the jotpsot.com press release:

We’re writing to let you know that Google has acquired JotSpot. We believe this is great news for our users. More importantly, we want to reassure you that you’ll continue to have uninterrupted access to your account. Both Google and JotSpot are committed to supporting our customers, and we understand that users have invested a lot in our products. In the near-term, we’re focused on migrating JotSpot to Google’s systems and datacenters. We’ll work hard to make that move as seamless as possible so that customers won’t be inconvenienced.

Why is Google acquiring JotSpot?

Google shares JotSpot’s vision for helping people collaborate, share and work together online. JotSpot’s team and technology are a strong fit with existing Google products like Google Docs & Spreadsheets and Google Groups.

Certainly this acquisition makes sense to round out Googles on line application suite and should really elevate Wiki technology into the main stream. This is one more tool that can help small businesses function on the internet. You can read the details here.

877-520-FIND (Goog 411)

Greg Sterling found an ad today for 877-520-FIND that took him to http://www.520find.com/. He looked for but couldn’t find any ownership information. Other than a reference to LanLogic on the terms of use page.

While the facts of ownership may be cloudy, there are several things that are clear:

1)The service works very well. I tested it with 7 calls this morning and only ran into problems on one business name (and no place names) out of the seven attempts and that was the try with the radio blaring. I have started using it instead of my contact directory which can be distracting when driving down the road.

2)It definitely uses the Google Maps local data set. I have optimized the business titles for several local businesses in the Google Local Business Center and those titles are listed in 520-FIND verbatim.

If you haven’t tried the service yet, you should. It demonstrates how local data is quickly being pushed out into the world.

Google Organic returning results from Map in organic search results page?

Google Map result in Organic Search result?Curiouser and curiouser as they say.

In a recent search in Google, the organic search results showed a link to the same search on Google Maps.

This is an interesting way for Google to promote users accessing Google Maps but I have not seen this behavior very broadly. In fact I have never seen if before today and I have yet to find it on other search phrases. Continue reading

Developing Knowledge about Local Search