Google Maps Report a Problem: Does It Work For Local Spam?


Google’s crowd sourced map building and listing has succeeded on a number of fronts at allowing maps and listings to be updated at a pace that no one else in the industry can keep up. While the mapping side has little economic incentive for cheating, the listing side is prime for self serving activities. For some period of time there has been an asymmetry in that it seems that it has been easier for the crowd to create spam than for the crowd to get rid of it.

Dan Austin has been active in the MapMaker community for a long time. He has, over the past few years focused on reporting and trying to remove spam from the system particularly in the Locksmith arena.  Here is a case study on his recent experiences with the “Report a Problem” feature; Google’s primary spam reporting mechanism.

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After Bryan Seely released the exploits he used to add false and misleading (spammy) listings to Google Maps on Mike’s blog as well as on Valleywag, Google went into full PR damage control and made some changes in how they handle local spam, including ending phone call PIN code verification for new businesses on Places. After reading this statement from Google, I decided to test whether or not the new Maps Report a problem is effective for removing spam:  

We work hard to remove listings that are reported to violate our policies as quickly as possible, and to check bad actors that try to game the system by altering business descriptions once they are live on Google Maps. We encourage users to let us know when they see something that might violate our guidelines by using our “Report a problem” tool, found at the bottom right corner of the map. Everyday there are thousands of great edits that get made to Google Maps through Map Maker.

The problem with Report a problem is that historically it hasn’t worked very well for spam, in my three years using it to report hundreds of spam listings. Either the response was too slow (often months), and/or unsatisfactory (i.e the spam remained on Maps). My success rate with Report a problem (reporting a wide variety of spam points of interest (POI), including locksmiths), has hovered around 5%, which is why I switched to more effective takedown mechanisms like Google Map Maker (MM) in order to remove spam. Unfortunately, MM itself has become more problematic, with the introduction of GLEs (Google Listing Editors from Places), who are now reviewing edits to claimed listings. They have systematically degraded the effectiveness of MM to the point that it’s now impossible to remove many spam POIs, no matter how obvious, as they have been denying almost all edits (including spam removals) to claimed POIs, or closing the spammy POIs instead of removing them (a business that doesn’t exist can’t, by its very nature, be closed).  

Moreover, after Places segregated Service Area Businesses (SAB) that hid their address from MM, many spammy POIs disappeared from MM altogether, making those impossible to report as well. It also broke the reporting mechanisms on Google+Local Edit detailsfor SABs, which uses MM to report edits (and the Classic Maps Report a problem, which also used MM). Here’s an example of a spam SAB with the address hidden that can’t be reported in either Google+Local or MM:  

Aron Locksmith: https://plus.google.com/103220027599977382429

Place page:  1 Aron Locksmith Google Plus 03022014

Fake reviews from spam profiles:  2 Aron Locksmith Fake Reviews Google Plus 03022014

Clicking on Edit details leads to this error page (which is the same for all SABs on Google+Local that hide their address):   Continue reading

Last Week in Google Local


Mb-hairtl;dr: Lots of small updates last week. And soon, very soon I won’t be pulling my hair out. :)

The transition to the new dashboard status: Judging by the fact that there were lots of complaints over the past two weeks in the forums about THE EMAIL and that my crufty, 2007 dashboard was finally converted I am assuming that Google has been making significant progress in the conversion to the new Places Dashboard.  And along comes some new issues and features and changing rules.

Bulk Uploads and Security: When the hotels were hijacked earlier this year, I noted that the bulk upload was a not very secure feed as opposed to true claiming of the new dashboard that locked down the listing. As Google moves to the new dashboard though, those feeds are becoming more secure as people can not add a listing uploaded in bulk to their new dashboard. “New dashboard users are blocked from verifying pages that are already verified by another user (either old dashboard, new dashboard, or G+). Being verified in a bulk account counts as being verified in the old dashboard. So, new dashboard users can’t claim pages that have already been verified in a bulk account”. OK that doesn’t mean that they are yet secure because a bulk listing can still be claimed in another approved bulk upload or an old Places Dashboard but it is step in the right direction. One day the transition will be over and we won’t be able to kick that dog any more. And then the real fun will begin as Franchise and Franchisors will actually have to talk to one another and possibly cooperate on their listings.

Orphan Plus Pages: In early February, Googler Jade noted If you’re creating a listing in the new Places for Business dashboard, now, you won’t have to wait to complete PIN verification before you can see the +page, for most businesses. Just follow the link from your dashboard to see the new page. You will be able to use Google+ social features on this unverified page, but please note — you still need to complete PIN verification before the page will start showing up in Google Maps and across other Google properties. Makes sense that a new claimant wouldn’t want to click on the G+ Link on the right and be confronted with another command to create an additional G+ Page.  Jade just updated that post and noted:

Accounts that have been migrated from the old Places dashboard to the new Places dashboard will have these changes retroactively applied. This means that when the account is migrated, unverified entries in the old dashboard will become unverified Google+ pages. If you don’t want to use this page, please remove it from your account, which should delete the page.

It also means that listings that were suspended, or were otherwise removed from the index but stayed in the old dashboard will also sort of show up once again. These pages are somewhat difficult to find, never showing in Maps but they will show up in G+. If you clients surface them, just go into the new dashboard and delete them

Google Maps for Android now showing owner responses: The mobile apps and mobile browsers have long had fewer features than the desktop vis a vis reviews. The new Google Maps for Android v 7.7 has recently been upgraded to show owner responses. OK that is a step in the right direction but the feature is still missing on Google Maps for iPhone and MORE IMPORTANTLY there is still no way to leave a review on mobile with the iPhone or Android from within the browser. This feature has been missing for nearly 2 years. At the time Google had indicated that they were aware of the bug and were working on a fix. Hows that for release early reiterate often? Baby steps are good but shouldn’t a user be able to leave a mobile review easily in 2014?

One More Reason for an SMB to Engage with Google Plus


Engaging with G+ can seem like a chore to most SMBs who have trouble attracting their local clients to their Plus page. Its main advantage is that Google has integrated it with search, where folks are in fact looking. Google seems to have recently upped the ante in local providing one more reason for the SMb to post on Plus.

Radina Dasheva pointed out on Linda’s forum that local brand searches will show recent G+ posts in the right side Knowledge Panel (I am not sure if this is new but I hadn’t noticed it before).

Several interesting things about this. On a 1440 x 900 pixel  screen the recent post content pushes competitor listings below the fold, making them less visible to searchers. It additionally provides the SMB with more real estate in the panel.

And as noted in Radina’s example, if the post contains a link it will show on the panel as well, giving the SMB one more chance to get a searcher over to their site and away from the rabbit hole that Google has become.

(click to view larger)

area-above-fold

 

Google Testing Moving Directional Local Info Panel Back into Search Results


With the advent of the knowledge graph and the info panel, Google has provided local businesses a lot of territory above the fold. This is true in both the main search results and the area to right of the search results where ads often show.

Kerry Fager of Findlaw.com shared this screen shot (IE) that shows Google returning to the Universal One Box integrated directly in the search results and not as as right side local knowledge panel. It is not clear whether this result is an example of the informational or navigational type of panel. My guess is the latter:

(click to view larger)
Reviews-from-around-the-web-whole-page

Here are the two current possible info panel displays; one that returns when Google thinks it is a navigational search and the other when Google thinks it is an informational search:

Navigational Info Panel (click to view larger):

Local Knowledge panel - navigational

Informational Info Panel (click to view larger)

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 10.28.41 AM

Certainly, on the economic front, it would make sense for Google to return to an in-line result rather than taking up more real estate to the side. That being said, at least in the navigational example provided by Kerry, there is a dearth of content.

It could be that the change is only being considered for the navigational result only. As that result currently hides the information behind the clickable drop down that would make a fair bit of sense to move.

New Look for Google Local Search Results


Google is apparently testing a new, cleaner front page layout that will affect both local and regular search results. First reported by Dan Barker on March 5th, Searchnewz is reporting that they will be rolled out.  I am now seeing this new layout on Safari for Mac.

The differences:

  • The removal of the underlines from all the links that appear in the search results on both paid and organic content.
  • A new font style and larger font size for the titles. This results in only 55 characters visible in the title tag; the same as mobile.
  • When a listing is rolled over and the KG Info Panel is show, the whole area to the right is greyed.
  • Ads are now annotated rather than shaded making them more obviously ads to a color blind person and on LCD screens compared to before.

Here are some comparisons of the change before and after (click to view larger):

Before-after-jewelry

Note that the grey extends down the full screen when the Info Panel is selected for Barbara Oliver & Co Jewelry:
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Why You Got the Google Places Email & What You Should Do


Over the past few weeks, Google has been moving a large number of listings from the old dashboard to the new one. Often these dashboards held listings that were claimed into more than one account or had been claimed in multiple ways.

When there was a conflict in either scenario Google sent out an alerting email. Jade has just clarified when a user would get that email and what they should if they do.

If you recently received an email from Google that begins:

“We’d like to inform you that Google Places no longer accommodates more than one authorized owner per business location. Your account contains one or more listings that have been identified as duplicates of other listings and as a result, some of the information you provide will not be shown to Google users anymore…”

We have upgraded your account to the new Places dashboard, but we ran into one of the following complications:

In one scenario, your account and another account that you don’t control became verified for the same business using the old Places dashboard:

Additional unknown verified account(s) from the old Places dashboard

Google Places no longer supports multiple verified business owner accounts for the same business location, so we are letting you know that your account has a listing that’s a duplicate of a listing in another account. By logging into your Google Places for Business dashboard, you can view the duplicate listing, which will show a banner reading, “You cannot update this listing because it has been marked as a duplicate of another.” If you no longer want to manage this listing, you can remove this listing from your dashboard. Alternatively, you can request administrative access from the current owner of the listing using the link to Learn more in your dashboard.

It’s possible that someone else in your organization, or a third party whom you once worked with, verified the business in another account. If you don’t believe anyone else could possibly be active in managing this business information, other than yourself, you can always contact support directly to help restore your account’s access to the listing.

Or, you may have verified the page multiple times using accounts you control:

Multiple known verified accounts from old Places dashboard

You may remove the duplicate listing from the dashboard in the account we emailed, which won’t affect the information on Maps. Then, please simply use the other account to manage the listing.

Verified same business in both Google Places and in Google+, same account

You had a listing that you created on Google Places as well as a local page that you created in Google+, using the same account. You PIN verified the local page in Google+. The system now has identified that the listing you have in Google Places and the page you have in Google+ as duplicates. We have marked the listing from Places as duplicate. If you log in to Google Places, and you should see your local page (from Google+) as well as the duplicate listing, which will show a banner reading, “You cannot update this listing because it has been marked as a duplicate of another.” You can remove this listing from your dashboard, and continue to manage the business using the account with the listing which is connected to Maps.

Verified same business in both Google Places and in Google+, different accounts

You or someone in your organization used different accounts to verify the Google Places listing and the local page in Google+. If this is the case, please use the latter account to manage this page. You should be able to do so via Google+ or Google Places. You can remove the duplicate listing from the account we emailed in Google Places, which won’t affect the information on Maps.

In any of the above 3 scenarios, you can keep the duplicate listing instead of the active one if you really want.  First, remove the active listing from that account Then, you should contact our support team, who can help make the duplicate listing active again.

If you have questions or concerns, please contact our support team.

Here is a screen shot of what you will see if you fell into the Verified same business in both Google Places and in Google+, same account scenario. Sinply delete the unverified data. 

dual-listings

Google Shuts Down Self Serve Offers Product


Google announced this afternoon that they will be shutting down their Places Dashboard self-serve Offers product.

The product was updated with performance based pricing in the fall of last year and given a new interface in 2012 but like the coupon product upon which it was based, has toiled in obscurity.

The product and the output was actually quite nice. There were two problems with it. Google buried the resultant coupons, never showing them in the mains search results and never promoting the program. The product was renamed Offers in Novemer of 2010. At the time I noted:

Google Coupons had been the Rodney Dangerfield of Google local products, always hidden, never talked about and for years, after anoptimistic start in 2006, they languished.

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 4.04.43 PM

 

Google owns some incredible couponing technology that they purchased in late 2012. Technologies that offer incredible end to end tracking and simple creation that many SMBs would find incredibly valuable.

It is a shame that Google has not yet succeeded in the space. One can only hope that the phoenix will once again rise with new life in some future product.

 

Local U Advanced – March 8th – King of Prussia, PA


Update: 3/3/14: Only 11 seats left.

There are only 9 days left until our next Local U Advanced, just outside of Philadelphia, at the DoubleTree by Hilton in King of Prussia, Pa.

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This year we have limited the total ticket sales (including sponsor seating) to just 65 folks. As of yesterday afternoon there were only 16 spots 11 seats left. Its only $899 and the rooms can be had for $129.

The event starts with a mixer (with great foods and drink) Friday the night before and continues all day Saturday. We cover your  day of breakfast, lunch and post even refreshments. It’s a day and half full of all things local.

Google is sending Derek Wetzel so you can ask him your most daunting question (off the record of course) as well the full compliment of Local U folks including David Mihm, Mike Ramsey, Aaron Weiche, Will Scott, Mary Bowling, Ed Reese and myself. So whether you have an agency related, process related or technical question we will have you covered.

It’s an incredible event with great conversation, great presentations and great learning. The keynote this year will be by Will Reynolds of Seer Interactive sharing some of the most effective strategies for driving local customers.

Sign up now. You’ll be glad.

Consumer Mindshare and Yelp: An Empire in Local Search Or a Wannabe?


Last week Greg Sterling noted: … Yelp and Google. They’re like Spain and Portugal in the 15th Century — rivals trying to carve up the local globe.

The analogy seemed wrong to me as Spain and Portugal were to a large extent equal in their strength. I noted in the comments that “I see the analogy as more like the US vs the Taliban or perhaps Grenada rather than one of equals like Spain vs. Portugal“.

Is Yelp, as Greg portrays, a powerhouse in local search? Or is their position more one of a far distant second to Google as a general local search site with little hope of competing? Or is the answer more complex than that.

When we view Yelp stricly from a consumer frame of reference (and ignore the lack of profitable business model and their thuggish SMB tactics) is Yelp a strong contender in the general local search category?

On the surface, my recent consumer survey would indicate that Yelp is running a far distant second (or third or fourth) to Google with little chance of competing:

Overall

Yet the answer is more nuanced and complex than that. When you parse the data by age, region and urbanicity the picture changes. Much more favorably for Yelp but even with those changes does the data rise to level of proof of Yelp as a general local search engine?

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Have the Hummingbird One Boxes Been Flushed Down the Toilet?


stop-over-onebox

As you know I have been a fierce critic of the bad local results that came out of the Hummingbird update. Search terms that should have returned lists of local businesses would often return a branded one box that often would be complete spam.

When it was critical for a client, I reported the bad results and they would disappear after the second or third report.  Often after writing an article, some would magically disappear. But I was tracking several as markers that I hadn’t reported and those are now gone.

I am curious if others are seeing the same thing. Have the s$%%^&y Hummingbird One Boxes disappeared for you? Has Google final solved this problem? Can I finally put a lid on (at least for now)  the toilet humor?

Or was it just the few that I was monitoring have disappeared and there is still the problem of brand being such a strong signal that spam will surface?

Can you let me know if you are seeing fewer of the Hummingbird precipitated branded one boxes?

Developing Knowledge about Local Search