Google Announces Study Looking at Abuses in Google Maps – What Does it Mean?

Google posted on their research blog today some summary data from a study Pinning Down Abuse on Google Maps that is being presented tomorrow at the  International World Wide Web Conference.

The study details released today, while an interesting necessity on the step to cleaning up  Maps, leaves many questions unanswered.

Our study shows that fewer than 0.5% of local searches lead to fake listings. We’ve also improved how we verify new businesses, which has reduced the number of fake listings by 70% from its all-time peak back in June 2015 

Previous indications from Google were that they had 16.8 million business listings in the local index. If that number is roughly true then they currently are logging roughly 87,000 fake listings in the index today. That means that as of June 2015 they had 280,000 fake listings in the index.

Bad actors posing as locksmiths, plumbers, electricians, and other contractors were the most common source of abuse—roughly 2 out of 5 fake listings.

Another 1 in 10 fake listings belonged to real businesses that bad actors had improperly claimed ownership over, such as hotels and restaurants. 

OK that accounts for 5 out of the 10 that they studied. What were the other half made up of?

And exactly what constitutes a fake listing? Does it mean anything that violates the Guidelines? Or anything that creates a listing that is wrongly at an address? Those are different things.

It must exclude fake names at real businesses in the criteria otherwise the number would have to be higher.

They note that they have improved the verification process and are testing even more rigorous processes in the form of advanced verification of locksmiths and plumber.

They note:

Combined, here’s how these defenses stack up:

  • We detect and disable 85% of fake listings before they even appear on Google Maps.
  • We’ve reduced the number of abusive listings by 70% from its peak back in June 2015.
  • We’ve also reduced the number of impressions to abusive listings by 70%.

It’s interesting that Google is publicly releasing data about the quality issues in Google Maps. The data provides some reason for hope but goes nowhere near far enough in helping the industry or public understand the scope of the problem.

As local marketers with a critical in high value industries where spam is more likely to been see, we see the many abuses first hand. The pov may jaundice our perspective as to the overall quality of the index but if these 84,000 fake listings are limited to 5 or 10 key markets then the averages don’t really mean much. And there is in fact still a quality problem in local.

And if the definition of fake listings doesn’t include everything that degrades them not just fake addresses but fake names as well then Google has undercounted the problem.

Then again, because of our unique point of view maybe we over count.

In a sense it doesn’t matter. Google has a perception issue (see Danny Sullivan’s A deep look at Google’s biggest-ever search quality crisis) and local has long been at the forefront of that problem.

It’s great that Google is studying the issue, its even better that they are being somewhat transparent and sharing their results.

But that still isn’t enough. The quality, at least in those heavily impacted industries, needs to improve. The definition of fake needs to be expanded to bogus naming if it hasn’t been.

And there needs to be increased transparency of google’s efforts in the arena.

Only then can Google overcome the current crisis of confidence that they are experiencing.  Google has become, by hook or by crook, the utility that provides the bulk of driving directions and business discovery.

The public needs to know that they can trust Google 100%.  Given that in come markets the problem is likely much more widespread,  it seems that in this context even 99.5% isn’t quite enough.

My Recent Posts Elsewhere

I have been busy. Here are my posts from an assortment of sites:

4/5 LocalU: Video Deep Dive: Local Ranking Factors, Making Sense Of It All (now also available as a regular podcast)

4/3 StreetFight: The Coming DIY Cataclysm

4/3 LocalU: Video: Last Week in Local April 3rd, 2017 (now also available as a regular podcast)

3/31 GetFiveStars: Understanding Google Schema Guidelines: Review Snippets vs. Critic Reviews       

3/29 LocalU: Video Deep Dive: How reviews positively and negatively impact client satisfaction (now available as a regular podcast)

3/29 GetFiveStars: Basketball Referee Calls Lead To Death Threats & Fake Reviews       

Google Continues Testing of ‘Posts’ As Worldwide Use Expands

The product that was originally called Podium and is often referred to as Posts, continues to be tested as a small business tool that allows a business owner to post directly to their branded search result.

We saw the “Posts” like test in late January that included a call to action and posting on the right. Recently, Barbara Oliver Jewelry, a testing participant since last fall, saw her posts move from the main body section of the search results to the interior of the Knowledge Panel.

Here is the new test that Barbara is involved in (you can also see in this search result):

Click to view larger

To a large extent, a great deal of consumer activity like click to calls & requesting driving directions now takes place either in the general local search results  or from within the Knowledge Panel in the branded result.

In a recent unpublished case study for a hotel, spa and restaurant with great brand recognition, 50% of their total click to calls across all of the internet came directly from the Knowledge Panel or a direct look up in Google Maps. Being able to speak directly to the consumer in this way would be a powerful and visible tool that I think would have rapid adoption.

As Glenn Gabe noted in early March utilization of the product seems to be growing world wide.

When I checked today there were over 30,000 indexed posts. That is a doubling in the past month. I am not sure whether that is a result of increased usage from the same businesses or more businesses creating posts. Regardless that is a lot of content that is being created directly on Google’s servers.

When it is finally introduced, it would be the first Google response to Facebook that makes sense from an SMB perspective and might shift some SMB mind share back to Google.

I am guardedly optimistic that it will make it out of beta into the hands of the world of SMBs. How long it stays there and stays free are open questions.

In related news, Google has announced the expansion of the Posts tests to organizations and individuals:

Starting today, in the U.S. and Brazil, we’re taking it to the next step and opening up the application process so that organizations and people within specific categories can post directly on Google.

Now, when you search for museums, sports teams, sports leagues, movies and, in Brazil for now, musicians, you can find content from that participating organization or person, right on Google. So if you’re searching for the Henry Ford Museum in the U.S. or for Vanessa da Mata in Brazil, you’ll see updates directly from the source with relevant information, like new exhibits, timely updates and interesting facts. Beyond these categories in the U.S. and Brazil, we’ll continue to experiment globally and look forward to making Search even more useful and timely.

Although announced today, it is clear that the Henry Ford Museum has been a participant since September of 2016 and Vanessa Darlene Mata since the first of February this year.  While the program may or may not have been expanded today, Google’s publicity about it has.

Here is a screen shots of Barbara Oliver from last week for comparison and of the Henry Ford Museum for reference: Continue reading Google Continues Testing of ‘Posts’ As Worldwide Use Expands

Google Is Automating Ownership Conflict Resolution

The account owner immediately receives an email

Google has started to roll out a new feature to the Google My Business Dashboard that automates the process of regaining control of a listing that is in another account.

Besides verification issues and the inability for a business to easily get rid of inappropriate photos this has been one of the huge problems that small business owners have confronted. Historically it required requesting access and then waiting, praying, waiting some more and then trying to get in touch with support. The old system was not for the faint of heart.

Making this part and parcel of the dashboard will go a long way towards minimizing the time and expense of resolving these.

Here is the announcement in the forum (and the updated help page):

If you’re a small business owner, time is your most valuable asset. That’s why when it comes to managing their Google My Business account, some small business owners choose to get help from employees, friends, family or other third parties. Sometimes when the people who manage the account move on, we don’t always remember to take back control of the account until they’re gone and it’s too late. 

This week we’re launching a new feature to enable users who can’t get in touch with the current verifier of a listing to start the verification process themselves. This will allow you to prove you are the current representative of the business and take over the location without having to track down the previous manager. 

Just follow the steps to sign-up and request access from the current listing owner and then follow the instructions you’ll be emailed if the current listing owner is unresponsive.

I just ran through the process and it is very straight forward. I am not sure once a rejection happens what the appeal process looks like but one hopes that it is rational:

Some notes from Google:

Currently only available only applicable to users who verify listings individually, no bulk verification listings will be eligible for this new process.

After the claimant verifies as the new owner the original owner’s listing will become a duplicate. It will be unverified and their edits will not be live on maps.

Unless access is granted anything provided by the original owner, like photos and review responses, will not be transferred over.

Reviews and customer provided photos will remain attached to the listing.

Apparently if the requestor is initially rejected, he/she may request and appeal (again within the dashboar). Although it appear that there will be times (when, who, why is unclear) where in some circumstances Google will not be able to offer the option to appeal a rejection from the current listing owner.

The update is rolling out now and will over the next few days be available to all if there are no glitches found.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Google 3 Local Pack – New Display – Test or Rollout?

Over the past six months we have seen numerous tests in the pack display. Today we are seeing a widespread (re) appearance of the snack pack type display that shows images instead of the click to call icon. (H/T to Zachary Palmer of Divot Agency in Seattle who pointed this out on G+)

Previously this display was exclusive to restaurants and hotels but today (anyways) is being seen across most types of retail and service industry results. Although NOT on lawyers or doctors.

We have seen this style before (see this 1/17 screenshot) but the rollout today seems more broad based. A test? The new normal?

View of the new 3 Pack from search. Click to view larger.

The imagery persists across the local finder requiring at least two clicks in to get to driving directions or click to call….. the rabbit hole appears to be getting ever deeper.

View from the Local Finder. Click to view larger.

Here is a comparable screen shot taken last week that shows the same search result and comparable screen : Continue reading Google 3 Local Pack – New Display – Test or Rollout?

Moderation of Business Listing Changes Now Available to Level 5 Local Guides

One feature in MapMaker that has been useful is the ability to edit business listings that you didn’t control. This could be used to note name or hour changes for listings that you didn’t have direct control over but for one reason or another needed to change. With the imminent closing of MapMaker how to get those edits of business listings approved was a question mark. Google is starting to address this eventuality by giving Level 5 Guides the ability to approve these edits via Google Maps on the desktop. Apparently this feature which has been available on Android will also soon be available to iOS users and allow for advanced road editing as well.

From the post:

Today we begin the process of expanding this feature by rolling out the ability to “Verify The Facts” on desktop Maps for all Level 5 Local Guides.

Try out moderation on desktop: 

  1. Navigate to maps.google.com on a desktop device (make sure you’re logged into your Local Guides account).
  2. Open the = menu on the side, and click “Your Contributions” 
  3. Click the “Check the facts” banner under your profile to see a list of places with pending edits awaiting your local expertise. 
  4. Choose an edit you would like to moderate and select “Yes,” “No,” or “Not Sure.” You can also click the place’s title a second time to see the information Google has about the place, or click “Search This Place On Google” to find web results.

Over the next few weeks you can look forward to Missions for iOS, the ability to report issues on multiple road segments at once, and the option to report locations on the map that are missing roads.

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Moz Local 2017 Presentation – Are Words the New Links?

LocalU and Moz have just completed a two day local workshop in Seattle. Day 1 was a LocalU Workshop and day 2 provided a day full of keynotes. Both days included great content, new ideas and great networking opportunities.

To get a sense of my 10,000′ thinking about the Google Local algo read this article that Davi Mihm and I did at Streetfight: How Does Google Determine the Authority of Local Entities?

To get specifics of how I think it is working review my presentation from day 2:

MobileMoxie Mobile Search Simulator

Cindy Krum (@Suzzicks), the diva of mobile and a frequent LocalU speaker*, has produced an interesting tool: a Mobile Search Simulator. It provides the ability to perform local searches in a specific zip code and then compare the results across two different mobile devices.

While the product and interface are not yet tuned for any volume and require a fair bit of input for any one search (Cindy tells me that it is actively being developed for better productivity) the tool captures some of the nuances of local mobile search and highlights the differences that Google might present between different mobile phones.

The results are interactive and you can dig into a result to understand a given listings visibility on different display sizes and at different points in the search journey:

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I am still waiting for a tool that would allow me to track mobile search results across a linear range of zip codes (for example the line between the city and a suburb) and help me understand where on that transect one could hope to find the appropriate demographic profiles for a given business. And automate that process by exporting those searches to a rank reporting tool.

An intersting gleaning is that Google consistently presents results differently across iOS and Android devices:
Continue reading MobileMoxie Mobile Search Simulator

Developing Knowledge about Local Search