MapMaker Bots and What They Do

Google MapMaker has become a tremendous resource for cleaning up listings in G+ Local. While it can be incredibly confusing, it provides a window into the complete cluster data that Google has for a given listing, provides a detailed history of activities vis a vis that listing and allows for direct editing of it. The results typically show back up in the G+Local listing within days if not hours. But the product is buggy and very opaque.

One of the more arcane mysteries in MapMaker revolves around the many Google bots that work their way through the listings, often with disastrous results. The Regional Expert Reviewers at MapMaker, those high level volunteer editors with more power to approve edits, have assembled this GDoc MapMaker Bot List spreadsheet as a reference to the many bots that run wild in the MapMaker world. It’s a great resource for understanding some of the history of the listing and how certain changes came about.

Current Name & Profile Old Names Stats Date Released Short Description
Anonymous0148 1251 days , 16278 edits 4/13/09 Possible bot; may not be active anymore
Anonymous5784 841 days , 3614717 reviews 5/28/10 Approval bot; either approves an edit or adds a tag
Anonymous6288 561 days , 7160629 edits 3/4/11 Possible bot based on the number of edits
Anonymous6662 907 days , 9692721 edits 3/22/10 Places Import Bot; imports features from other databases if it’s not in the Map Maker database at the time of editing
Google Automated Deactivated Accounts Deactivated Map Maker Account(changed Sept 2012), Google Automated Wipeout (changed Aug 2012) 398 days 8/14/11 When a Google account is deactivated, all edits made using that account are attributed to this profile. ** Not Technically a Bot **
Google Automated Address Fixer 1 521 days , 1486 edits 4/13/11
Google Automated Bounds Fixer 77 days 6/30/12
Google Automated Cleaner 2 1550 days , 117557 edits 6/17/08
Google Automated Flyover Fixer 577 days , 207 edits, 2 reviews 2/16/11
Google Automated Reconciler 3 Map Maker Syncer (changed 8/23/2012) 64 days 7/13/12
Google Automated Reconciler 4 Map Maker Instant Syncer (changed 8/23/2012) 24 days 8/22/12
Map Buildings 192 days , 20 edits 3/7/12 Adds the height to buildings
Map Maker Revert 878 days , 7673953 edits 4/21/10

Google Plus Now Allows Videos on Merged G+ Pages for Local

The ability to upload videos to your G+ Local listing via the Places Dashboard has long been broken and the feature was missing on the merged G+ Pages for Local. I am not quite sure when this happened but you now can upload videos if you have a (re)verified G+Page for Local. As reader Julie Larson from Divas Mobile Solutions pointed out to me, the feature is isolated to G+ and doesn’t allow for easily integrating YouTube channels into to your profile but with drag and drop it does allow for bulk video uploads. And more importantly the feature seems to just work.

The interface is simple, the uploads moved along quickly and I was able to upload both WMV and FLV files simultaneously. The uploads can be easily shared on G+ as well. You can see the results on Barbara Oliver & Co. Jewelry’s merged G+ Page.

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Can a Citation Campaign Cause a Drop in Google Local Rankings?

A customer of ours sent us a question about citations. They have been building citations recently and cleaning up NAP inconsistencies. But they have seen a significant drop in rankings.

I’ve never heard of ‘good’ citation building having a negative effect on rankings – have you?

Also what’s your theory on speed of building citations and if you build too rapidly do you see Google treating this similarly to building links too quickly?


These are  great questions because they touch on virtually every aspect of local ranking and logical thinking.  Rather than just reply via email I decided to respond publicly so that all could join the discussion. Can a citation building campaign have a negative effect on rankings? Can you build citations too fast? The short answer is NO. For the longer answer read on.

As is often said in the SEO field (to the point of cliche) correlation is NOT causation. Certainly correlation of a good data set to certain events can lead to more understanding of a situation but a single instance is a particularly weak data set. Humans have a tendency to see patterns and relationships where none exist. Search involves a particularly complex set of variables many of which we don’t even know.  Continue reading

Google on Reviews: Asking for them is OK, Soliciting them is BAD

Los-Angeles-Enacts-New-Prostitution-Solicitation-LawWhat is the difference between asking for reviews and soliciting them? It seems that a number of SMBS have discovered that one leads to jail time.

Google has been throwing out reviews left and right of late. This is not a bug but the outcome of a newly aggressive review spam filter. The forums were rife with complaints from businesses about lost reviews and from individuals whose reviews would not post. In a consolidated thread Google indicated that most of the reports were a function of the new algorithm and not a function of the problems that had caused lost reviews in the past. Here are Googler Jade’s comments over the course of the post that provide some (albeit confused) insights into Google’s thinking:

Aug 6: Hey guys — popping in to say that we’re investigating. Thanks for the reports.

Aug 15: Still looking into this, guys. Soliciting reviews is suspect behavior for our systems, so please please please make sure your reviews are legitimate and left by your customers of their own accord.

Aug 15: Well, first — mobile reviewing can only be done through: Google Maps or Google+ for Android, or, Google+ Local app on iOS. (Visiting the page on a browser on mobile does not work!)

The technical issues for reviews still exist — those are more common in my experience with pages that have had duplicate or merging issues in the past. The majority of the reviews cases that I have investigated from the forum and other channels are reviews being taken down for suspicious reviewing behavior.

Aug 16: “Soliciting reviews is suspect behavior for our systems.”

What I mean by this is — it’s fine if you reach out to customers to ask them to review, but I do not recommend that you do this in waves. If you want to reach out to legit customers and ask them to review, I recommend you contact them immediately after you have done business with them.

Aug 16: Well, think about it this way — in our ideas, the “ideal” review is by a customer who writes a review of a place completely by his or her own accord, on mobile during the experience or at home after. This would mimic the regular flow of the business.

On the other hand, some SEO companies that resort to spam reviews to deliver “results” would exhibit different behavior.

It’s a system that we are constantly trying to improve, but for now, this is what I can say to try and help. I really don’t want legit businesses with legit reviews to get caught, so this is our effort. I can’t provide specific numbers (and in fact don’t know them).

If the above seems less than clear, that is because it is. Google, in their inimitable fashion, seems content to roll out a new, much more aggressive change in their review spam algo that seems to nuke reviews bad and good and then communicate little, late and in a less than helpful way. Mitigating review spam is good but Google does so while hiding behind an impenetrable cloak that purports to hide the inner workings of their algo. That is a formula for disaster. Google has, over the past few years, been schizophrenic about reviews. It was only last December when Google publicly stated at one of their Get Your Business Online training sessions that that it was OK to use review stations. Now it appears that review stations and many other practices seem to trigger review take downs.

I think strictly enforced and clearly articulated standards are great in the review arena. The constantly shifting sands of Google’s secret policies are not.

Google Testing Lead Generation System for New Car Sales

For the past month and half Google has been testing a new local car lead generation product in the San Francisco market.  The product, officially called Google Comparison Ads for Autos, allows a consumer to anonymously request quotes on specific in stock inventory from dealers within a certain distance of their search.  According to Brian Pasch of PGC Marketing the Google Cars results are “focused on lower sales funnel queries meaning the buyer has already decided on a brand and a model to purchase.   So it will not be showing up for all automotive search queries, just a subset that Google believes have already made a brand/model selection”.  For example the results will show for Toyota Prius or Toyota dealer but not for the search phrase Toyota.

Google has noted the following benefits on their sign up page:

  • Higher-quality leads: Our leads come directly from motivated, purchase-ready consumers who have specifically chosen to contact your dealership. Leads are unique, never resold, and delivered immediately to you.
  • Free inventory listings: You can have your inventory shown to consumers on Google for free, and only pay for leads you receive.
  • More than just inventory: Consumers can choose to connect with you even when you don’t have a specific car in inventory. We know that you can order the car, dealer trade, or find other solutions to help consumers get the cars they want.
  • Greater control over leads: You choose how much you’re willing to pay for a lead and can target consumers based on distance and specific type of car, so you get the leads that are most valuable to you.

To interact with Google’s test, set your browser to San Francisco or Palo Alto and search on a phrase that is model specific like “Toyota Prius” and you will be presented with this sponsored result just below the sponsored ads:

From that screen the searcher is taken to a search result screen of in stock inventory within a certain distance of your location and a faceted interface that allow for additional narrowing of choices trim, engine type, color and options. When you click on the “Google price info” button you are presented with pricing detail that shows MSRP, Invoice AND (again as reported by Brian Pasch) the average regional price paid as calculated from data shared by dealers to the DMV in their state. This pricing transparency is not a number that most dealers will feel comfortable about being shared. Continue reading

Google+ Rolling Out Vanity URLs

Google has announced that they are testing the rollout of vanity URLs for Google Plus:
Custom URLs for profiles and pages: a first stepYour Google+ profile is a place for you to share your passions with the millions of people who come to Google each day. Whether you’re a clothing brand showing off your latest fashions (google.com/+hugoboss), an athlete talking about the game (google.com/+davidbeckham), or an actor recalling a favorite role (google.com/+hughjackman), your Google+ profile helps you connect with the people who share your interests. Today we’re introducing custom URLs to make it even easier for people to find your profile on Google+.

A custom URL is a short, easy to remember web address that links directly to your profile or page on Google+. For instance, +TOYOTA  can now use google.com/+toyota to unveil their latest models, +Britney Spears  can share her upcoming appearances atgoogle.com/+britneyspears, +Ubisoft  can share game trailers and videos at google.com/+assassinscreed, and +Delta  can help travellers find great deals at google.com/+delta.

Custom URLs will also be available to people and pages worldwide, so brands like Globo can point readers to google.com/+epoca, or any of their other Brazilian publications.

At first, we’re introducing custom URLs to a limited number of verified profiles and pages. But over time we plan to offer custom URLs to many more brands and individuals, so please stay tuned!

Google+ Business Pages: To Merge Or Not to Merge, That is the Question

The recent rollout of the ability to merge a G+ Business page and a G+ Local page was a significant sign post on Google’s way to integrating local into social. To Google’s credit the product and process were simple and elegant. The design was more than a notch above previous efforts in local and it just worked when you went through the process. That being said it only satisfied a very narrow use case of business listing types.

Was the rollout a signal that your business or clients should make the merge now or was its limited function a tell that you should wait?

Obviously as Google moves towards social local search it is clear that there will be moment when, for most local businesses, it will make sense to commit to fully Google Plus in one way or another.

It is important though to understand this latest move in the context of Google’s longer term plan for integrating listings into the Plus environment and know some of the pitfalls before deciding whether to go ahead with the re-verification process now or to wait.

Local and Plus both have a lot of moving parts. Google’s tactic of “develop early and iterate often” means that we will be living with a more half baked product than usual as these parts are ripped out and rebuilt. The pieces to the pie are becoming visible very slowly and a great deal of functionality is still missing.

We know that a new dashboard with increased functionality is likely on its way and hopefully better social management tools as well. In the meantime, since we are only seeing a corner of the whole picture, it is conceivable to me that a wrong step now might require a business to back up and execute a complete redo down the road if you commit too early.

What the upgrade is and isn’t: Continue reading

Are Rich Snippet Reviews Making a Limited Comeback in Local?

I am once again seeing semantically marked up pages shown with review stars in the search results . However the frequency of their display is very limited compared to earlier in the year. Summary review stars from the home page, which were wildly abused, are not visible but review stars are visible on this testimonial page.

Google’s displays come and go but rich snippet formatting of local web pages for reviews, location, authorship and publisher makes sense as a standard practice.

Is Google Thinking About Abandoning the Zagat Rating System?

Matt Gregory, a local SEO in Minneapolis, recently sent me these screen shots of an obvious test that Google is conducting to assess the relative merit of stars vs. the Zagat display for reviews in the main SERPS. He has been seeing these results on Safari for the Mac consistently from Monday evening through today on a broad range of searches. I have not been able reproduce the results but the fact that they were visible to him over such a long period time indicates that the results were not a fluke and are likely part of a larger test.

These results lend themselves to speculation. The recent change of review presentation to the Zagat rating system from the 5 star system was jarring to say the least. Minimally the local results with reviews became less visible in the search results and some folks like Matt McGee think that they are difficult to understand by the consumer/SMB and are a big risk for Google.

Marissa Mayer was the person that was most involved in the Zagat purchase and she noted at the time:

“Did you know there’s a place in Menlo Park near the Safeway that has a 27 food rating?” one of my friends asked me that about two years ago, and I was struck because I immediately knew what it meant. Food rating… 30 point scale… Zagat. And the place… had to be good. With no other context, I instantly recognized and trusted Zagat’s review and recommendation.

A well known foodie, Mayer was obviously taken with the Zagat system. She was in charge of Google local when the Zagat review system was implemented and one can surmise that it was her “baby”. With Mayer leaving the company it is entirely possible that there is no longer a strong internal advocate for the Zagat system.

Obviously not everyone at Google thought the the Zagat display was the best choice as Adwords retained the stars. And it appears that someone in Google local search must agree with them.

In addition to the change back to stars, note that the large map is included in the main body of the serps and not off to the side and third party reviews are once again given front page visibility. Apparently the rollover to the full listing content appearing to the right is MIA as well. This layout also obviously frees up advertising space in the right column.

What do you think? Will Google abandon the Zagat display after only 2 months of use?
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What Should You Tell A Client When Google Loses Their Reviews – A 4 Part Plan

With the recent surge of complaints about “lost” reviews in the forums, Google acknowledging that there were a number of reasons that a review might be tagged as spam and that the car industry in particular was being scrutinized, I thought it might make sense to rerun this May article about coping with lost reviews. If you feel that you have suffered unfairly at the hands of Google’s review spam filter, please report your issue to Google in this post in the “help” forum.

Google continues having technical issues with losing reviews (here is my first report from August 2008 of them being lost – the issue goes back quite a ways.) particularly when the CID of a listing changes due to a merge. Also they seem to be tightening down what appears to be a relatively unsophisticated spam algo (first confirmed in November 2010)  that is catching a number of good reviews with the bad.

Don Campbell, amongst many others over the past few days, asked me what to tell rightfully upset clients that lose reviews from their Google Places page.

Here is what I do when I have a client that has lost reviews:

1) Educate the client: I refer people to this Google authored article, Having technical issues with the reviews on your listing?  In it Google outlines most of the issues as to why reviews go missing. The issues range from spam abatement to Google simply losing them in certain situations. Google notes that in most situations there is often little to be done even by The Google themselves until the issues are fixed and appropriate tools are developed on their end. (In fact it really make the most sense to educate your client BEFORE they lose reviews so that they know what to expect and when it does happen you are not the one that they take their frustration out on.)

2) Provide a dose of humor and reality: Since there is not much a client or SEO can do, I also provide them with the 6,6,6 rule for lost reviews to guide them as to what to expect in terms of recovery of the reviews. It might offer some small comfort.

What is the 6,6,6 review rule? (any client imagined thoughts about the devil suggested by my guideline are actively encouraged)

If reviews don’t come back to the Google Places page in 6 days, they might return in 6 weeks

If they don’t return in 6 weeks they might return in 6 months

If they don’t return in 6 months they have descended to Dante’s 6th Ring of Hell

3) Encourage them to stick with the plan: Regardless of what Google is doing (or more likely not doing) in regards to reviews this week, the best tactic is to keep on truckin’… continue to get more reviews ethically at both Google AND 3rd party sites. I know it is hard and discouraging when difficult to obtain reviews are lost but neither the client (nor we) can control what Google does. The client can, in the end, only control what they do. It is better to have some reviews rather than none. A steady stream of reviews at the review sites will guarantee that the business has a solid review base no matter what and no matter whether Google has lost ‘em again.

4) Advise the business to take control of their own destiny: (Contributed by Jacob Puhl) With the realization that some percentage of reviews will likely continue to disappear, the client should take it upon themselves to make copies of the reviews they do recieve at Google. If the reviews do disappear, repurpose those that disappeared as testimonials on the client web site. In the same vein, implement hReview/Schema.org formatted testimonials on your site to highlight these “lost” reviews so that there is the chance of getting the additional review stars in search. Be sure that the testimonial page has enough prominence that there is a chance that it will be used by Google as a review page.

Reviews are hard to come by and painful to lose but just because Google doesn’t have their act together doesn’t mean that your client shouldn’t either. The value of reviews in terms of increased credibility & conversions is too high for the SMB to just give up on the process when confronted with adversity.

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