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Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

Google MapMaker Update Summary: One Database to Rule Them All

Now that MapMaker is back online, I wanted to understand the recent changes to MapMaker in the bigger context, how the changes related to the Places for Business Dashboard, the G+ Pages for Local and when it still makes sense to use MapMaker.

I asked Dan Austin to write up his understanding of the changes from the top down and to “school” me. That he did. This article is chock full of useful information so print it out and read it while your relatives are watching football games tomorrow. You will be glad you did.


Recently, with this announcement, Google Map Maker embarked on a project to move their databases into one Maps database, shared by multiple services. Previously, each service (and this is by no means an exhaustive list, just what is publicly facing), including MM (Map Maker), Maps, Google+, and the Dashboard, all ran separate databases, and it was the job of the various sync bots to carry over changes from one database to the next, which they did not always do successfully. While it’s not clear as to how the databases have been integrated, for most changes to the base Maps data, there is now one database that holds these change, and the various UI (user interface) can make visible and affect the data in specific ways, according to the limitations of that particular product. It’s now more appropriate to view the various Maps UI as skins on top of the base Maps data, with various user limitations that control what can be changed. Google still retains much more sophisticated tools to manipulate the data, which, of course, are not publicly available.

Over the long term, as is the case across a lot of Google products (especially with Google+ and a single sign-on and commenting system, most recently seen on YouTube), Google has been working toward adopting a more integrated user interface, to ensure the consistency of user experience and the data they’re attempting to present on Google Maps. To this end, Google has adopted a MM-lite UI for Google+ Edit Details (aka Maps Report a problem), and has slowly been deprecating features on MM that previously gave MM editors discretion as to the popularity and accuracy of geo data. Those options, through lack of use, a misunderstanding as to how features should be presented, and/or a decision by Google to trust their own algorithms, internal processes, and the accuracy of the data as it’s now viewed, are now gone from MM. What we’re left with is a much more simplified MM UI, and we’ll explore some of the changes that might affect SEO operators who work from MM.

The duplicates process has been temporarily disabled while GMM fixes some issues behind-the-scenes. You can still mark dupes by using the Other option during the deletion process or Report this, and GMM will fix it for you.

For the most part, if the listing is claimed, it’s best to make changes from the Dashboard, as this gives the business owner a greater degree of control and implicit trust (instant approval), whereas MM and Maps edits are largely moderated by three groups, Google Listing Editors (GLEs), Google Reviewers (GRs), and Mappers.

GLEs, who are nominally under the supervision of Google Places, are largely responsible for approving edits to claimed listings, regardless of what UI is used. They are the least well-trained of the three groups, have the least amount of experience, have exceedingly high turnover, are the most likely to arbitrarily reject or approve changes outside of the Google Places for Business and MM Quality Guidelines, and usually work during the daylight hours, from India.

Google Reviewers, who are under the supervision of MM, are the best-trained of the groups, have the most experience, have the least turnover, and are the most likely to not only follow guidelines, but ensure the integrity and accuracy of the data. The GRs operate during the ‘night’ (day in India) from Google India, as well as stateside during the day.

Volunteer Mappers can vary, depending on their degree of experience, their familiarity with the rules, their dedication, and/or their desire to assist (or not)—their reviews largely count for nothing, and they can usually only provide feedback on edits that may or may not be helpful.

There’s a sub-group within the Mappers, the RERs (Regional Expert Reviewers), who can approve or deny edits, and have a higher degree of trust within the system, and are more apt to zealously follow the rules than their Google counterparts (who often have a much looser definition of what’s acceptable or not). Since Mappers are volunteers, they also are motivated quite differently than Googlers, who are paid to show up, and the volunteers are more likely to have a higher degree of ownership over their territory. Most Mappers are quite amicable and helpful. Some are not.

Again, whatever changes that you can make from the Dashboard, should be done from there, since it vastly simplifies the review and approval process, and you can always contact Google to work through any issues that can’t be rectified by the Dashboard.

However, MM remains an option, since it has slightly more sophisticated tools for monitoring and making changes that aren’t necessarily available on the Dashboard.

For example, if you have a business that is largely dominated by spammers (locksmiths, garage door suppliers, carpet cleaners, lawyers, flowers, HVAC service, bail bondsmen, or usually any service industry), MM remains an indispensable service for closely monitoring activity in your neighborhood, by tracking keyword changes and new listings, since spammers are always attempting to game the system. And of course, now that it’s ‘all one big happy family’, SAB (Service Area Businesses), that were previously invisible in MM (because they hid their address), are now visible once again, for the time being. Part of the issue with sync bots is that they wouldn’t completely copy data over into the MM database, leaving listings in a limbo state, visible in MM, but uneditable or unreportable. Or data wouldn’t be copied from MM to the Dashboard, causing sync issues to occur that the system would attempt to ‘fix’ (not always to good effect). That issue is now largely fixed. Approved edits now propagate instantly across all products.

Additionally, MM still allows you to add custom categories, so if you want, you can add SEO Locksmith Google HQ 94043 to your listing, if you’re so inclined. Spammers have also been using MM to make an end-run around the Places prohibition on spam locksmith listings, a loophole that has been open since May of this year, which is why you might have seen a huge amount of new cafes, gyms, parking lots, and assorted other features open up on Maps, even though they have no street address and are not the feature they claim to be, and have suspicious names like Locksmith Mountain View (which, incidentally, there’s only two or three legitimate locksmiths in all of Mountain View, unless you believe Google Maps).

If you want to fine tune your geo data, especially if you have a storefront, MM allows you to add building polygons, business boundaries, correct street data and address markers, and tie your marker to either a boundary or to a building polygon.This can be done using either Maps Report a problem or MM, so it’s largely the amount of comfort and familiarity you feel with using either UI. Maps is mostly geared toward one-off fire-and-forget-it edits, whereas MM is suited to constant, broad-based editing.

As for the perennial issue with suites, the same rules still hold true after the changes. MM and Maps have a separate, smartly organized field for suites and other address data (such as building one), whereas the Dashboard has a confusing, free form system that can often lead to unexpected results, such as all the data showing up on one line in MM (even though it appears correctly formatted on Places). Why Places has never fixed the field in the Dashboard is baffling, even though there have longstanding calls to do so. (My note: MM on the other hand ALWAYS puts the Suite BEFORE the street address which is very weird in the US.)

In addition, there appears to be no resolution between the Dashboard and MM regarding Primary categories, which are treated differently. Places has either Boundaries or Establishment/Point of Interest (E/POI) as the Primary category, with the category immediately following (like Restaurant) acting as the “Primary” category, whereas MM has a Primary category that is used to determine the type of icon that appears on Maps.

Last, there’s no longer an option to see changes (or undo them) made from the Dashboard. Previously, MM made most changes (like category or address changes) visible on MM that occurred from the Dashboard, and gave the option to Undo the edit or Undo all edits up to this point. That useful, simplified option is gone (as it allowed you to revert, or undo a series of edits without going in and editing individual fields), and the Rate this edit option for Dashboard changes doesn’t work, either (this gave you the option to communicate feedback on specific edits). Whether this is a bug or just a consequence of the integration of the separate databases isn’t clear, at this point. Regardless, this is likely to be a permanent change.

If you’re familiar with MM and the Dashboard, most of the changes won’t affect you and are largely incremental, inconsequential, and behind-the-scenes:

  • One database to rule them all.
  • Each UI ‘floats’ on top of the database, and has limitations specific to that product.
  • Google is streamlining the GEO products UIs and removing features that they no longer view as useful, or can be carried out by internal processes.
  • Popularity and accuracy have been removed from MM.
  • Duplicates process has been temporarily disabled.
  • Use Dashboard if the listing is claimed.
  • Reviews of Maps and MM edits are handled by different groups with different processes.
  • MM is a slightly more sophisticated product for a more hands-on approach.
  • MM allows you to track changes in your neighborhoods, including spammers.
  • SABs are back in the family, for how long, who knows.
  • Sync issues have been fixed, since there’s no longer any (visible) syncing.
  • You can still add custom categories in MM.
  • Spammers have been taking advantage of a loophole on MM to add more spam, which Google hasn’t fixed.
  • MM has multiple options for fine-tuning your listing.
  • Suites are still messed up.
  • Primary category is still messed up.
  • You can no longer undo edits in MM that are made from the Dashboard.You have to edit it directly.