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Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

Google Maps Category Mystery Part 2: Backgound

On of the long standing mysteries in managing a Local Business Center business listing for Google Maps has been:“Why does my listing not show up in the same category as my competitor?”. There has not been a topic more frequently raised in the Google Maps for Business Group and one that has been more evasively answered by the Google staff. (For an example of this saga see Google Maps Category Mystery Part I: The Problem.)

Categorization has provided fodder for philosophers & scientist since Linneaus first created binomial nomenclature as a means to understand and classify all living things in the late 1700’s. The battle lines have been drawn between the “lumpers”, those that think there should be fewer categories, and the “splitters”, those that think that there should be more categories. All categorization is an arbitrary human artifact that helps us to more easily understand the world around us. There is no one answer to the “correct” number of categories of any given group.

Business categorization is no different. Add the needs of commerce, the power of computer search and the vagaries of the multitude of ways that humans can search for things make the problem even more vexing. What seems like a simple question: What categories should be used to classify U.S. Businesses quickly becomes a complicated problem that has many solutions. The fact that Superpages has a full-time staff team devoted to Taxonomy Development shows just how complicated.

The SIC code (standard industrial classification) system has roughly 1,500 categories of US businesses. The newer NAICS used primarily for economic analysis has roughly 1200 categories. The SuperPages which has both an offline and online needs has approximately +/-8000 categories and iBegin uses approximately 10,500. Google on the other hand uses only 520 categories and this remains unchanged exactly one year later. (Go here for a complete list comparing Reuben’s 2007 findings and my 2008 results.)

Clearly Google has not added a team of taxonomists to deal with this problem of increasing their limited category sets to a more complete set. Google has not added even one category to their list in the past year despite their exhortation to make suggestions. They obviously fall into the category of “lumpers” in the taxonomy debate although probably due to financial or programing concerns more than philosophical ones. The problem of matching such a small number of categories to a much larger category obviously creates its own very difficult problems.

As we have seen, their category strategy has generated a great deal of dissatisfaction amongst the businesses attempting to control their business record in Google’s Local Business Center. Perhaps if we could just understand enough about how Google uses its categories we could answer the question: How can I get in the same category as my competitor? Obviously the problem is complicated, and Google’s most recent response “The Google Help Center is your friend” does little to shed light on this.

Given that Google gets most of its data from data providers the question that needed to be answered were two:

•Who is the primary provider of categories to Google Maps?

•How does Google relate its limited number of categories to the categories of its suppliers and the greater business world?

The search professionals working with Google local have been exploring this question of how Google manages categories since the introduction of the Google Local business Center in 2005. (Prior to that categorization was handled by InfoUSA.) The understanding has come in fits and starts with many contributors. However the answer to the first question became obvious, Google was, in the United States*, using the categories of SuperPages as their default categories. Those business that showed categories in Map’s results that not listed in the LBC were direct SuperPage’s categories.

Superpages and Google never publicly announced that they had a formal deal to use Superpages data in Google Maps, though it’s now obvious that they do, just as Google has partnered with many other data providers. Sources at Superpages noted that they were “not entirely certain that Superpages’ business development managers were aware that Google was displaying their custom Category names on the listings page in this way, though there’s no specific contractual problem with that. ”

So while it has become clear where the categories were coming from that were not shown in the Local Business Center, it was not at all clear how any given business could get into the SuperPage category if they so desired. It took the hard work of a locally focused webmaster and an apparently off hand comment from Maps Guide Jen to one of his many questions to point the way. More on that in Part 3: Solution.

*It is likely that in each country in which Google Maps operates it uses a default data source for its categorization of business. It would need to be determined on a country by country basis.