September 2008

My Response to Google’s Maps Happiness Survey

Many thanks to Mike Blumenthal for alerting me to the Google Maps User Happiness Survey. I was pleased as punch to be able to give Google some feedback about my experience with using Maps, and I hope it will be useful to them. I thought you might like to read my responses to the 3 main questions on the survey. Here we go:

What if anything do you find frustrating or unappealing about Google Maps?
As a web designer with a keen interest in Local Search, what I find most frustrating about Maps is the inability to make direct contact with a support team when problems become apparent in my clients’ LBC listings or in the accuracy of Maps.

Though I applaud the help group Google has made available, this is not a replacement for being able to have a live conversation with a Google rep in the event of map spamming, missing or inaccurate data or other issues.

The current situation with the switch to TeleAtlas is a good example of what I am trying to illustrate. We are now seeing numerous businesses reporting errors, but Google is faced with the reality that many business owners and private citizens are still unaware of the existence or power of Google Maps, and therefore, will not even attempt to report errors. This means that wrong data may sit in Maps indefinitely, because Google has not developed a one-on-one rapport with business owners or citizens regarding Maps. Having taken on the responsibility of becoming the nation’s finest source of local business data, Google has not yet backed this up with a live support system that ensures citizen awareness or accuracy of data, made secure by an easy, fast and well-known reporting system that would truly enable citizens to partner with Google in keeping Maps accurate and relevant.

Just this week, I was approached by an automotive repair shop owner in the town of Hayward WI. His business address is located at 15989 Nursery Road in this popular tourist town. Unfortunately, both Navteq and TeleAtlas’ data on this business not only puts him in a wrong location on the map, but does not even show the road he is located on. The road is missing. Obviously, this is causing major problems for a small business owner like this whose clients are being sent to a wrong location by Maps, and who cannot even find the correct road if given directions, because the road is missing.

My understanding is that I can come and report this problem to you via the help group, if this business owner becomes my client, but that I shouldn’t expect a direct response from your Maps guides, and that it may be many months before a correction is made. This business owner also reports that his whole corner of the Map is inaccurate, showing wrong road names and a railroad that hasn’t existed there for over 40 years, and now I am hearing that TeleAtlas appears to be producing numerous maps with very old data on them. This is obviously a major concern and the lack of a live support team only augments the level of frustration business owners feel, seeing their businesses inaccurately represented by Google.

I want Google to span the bridge here and get talking with the business owners whose data they’ve collected, because I genuinely believe in the awesome power of Maps. To me, Local Search is all about being a good neighbor, and I would like to see Google adopt a good neighbor policy by making communication accessible and responsive. I want to see Google succeed at this, because of the tremendous potential Maps has to improve life for everyday people. But, it all comes down to trust, like everything else on the web, and in my opinion, Google has built the stellar application, but has yet to build the trust needed to back up what they’ve created.

What changes or additional features would you like to see for Google Maps?
As you might guess from my above response, I would like to see Maps backed up with a real, live support team, whether by live chat, email or telephone. I would like to see a real data validation system put in place to reduce the prevalence of Maps spam. And, because Google has now gotten into the business of User Reviews, there has got to be a system in place for the moderation of said reviews. Transparent review guidelines and the ability for business owners to respond to negative reviews would be a big improvement. I would like to see a quick response to errors that is commensurate with the fast pace people have come to expect from the Internet. In short, it’s one thing for the Yellow Pages to say that they can’t fix errors until next year’s phone book comes out. But this is Google. This is the web. With the right support, the accuracy and trustworthiness of Maps and the LBC could be improved 100%.

What do you like best about Google Maps?
The user interface is handsome and very easy to use. The potential power of the application is simply wondrous and for all of my criticism, I stand in awe of the technology and usefulness of Maps. I really enjoy the My Maps application and like the simplicity of leaving reviews. I really appreciate the ease of embedding the maps into blog posts and web pages. These are great things!

Maybe that’s quite a mouthful, but I continue to long for real communication with Google and I wanted to make the most of this rare opportunity to give them a picture of my experience with their incredibly powerful and influential application. What do you think of my answers? Do you agree/disagree? What would you tell Google about Maps?

New Search Refinements in Google Maps

Maybe I’ve just missed this, but today I ran into something I’ve not seen before in Google Maps while doing a search for architects berkeley ca. Look at the options I was given to refine my search by neighborhood or user rating.

User Ratings in Google Maps

When I clicked on user ratings, I was shown this:

User Ratings in Google Maps

As you can see from the above, we’re being given the option to sort LBC listings by three stars, two stars, and ‘has a rating’. Unfortunately, the data returned to me when I try choosing from the among these three refinement options was useless and rather silly. Take a look:

User Ratings in Google Maps

To you and me, calling the Butterfly Restaurant for architecture services may not make sense, but as you can see from the image above, bizarre categorization of restaurants, hardware stores, and landscaping under the category Architects is leading Google to believe that these are appropriate results for my refined search. Sheesh!

I then tried out the refine by neighborhood option and was shown this menu of choices:

Refine by Neighborhood in Google Maps

Unfortunately, this refinement option is working about as well as the other one, and by searching within the various neighborhoods, I was being returned SERPs for theaters, hotels, and other irrelevant businesses. Here’s an example:

Refine by Neighborhood in Google Maps

The one thing I saw in common with this set of data was that reviews of these irrelevant businesses contain the word architecture, as you can see in the above screen shot.

I’m led to believe that because my initial search for architects berkeley ca was bringing up zero businesses in the A-J rank with stars, and only one business with one review, Google has defaulted to other local businesses like restaurants and hardware stores that do have sufficient data.

Come on, architects, go get some citations!

Has anyone else run into this?

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Update:
I’m a goofball. Local wizard Mike Blumenthal says he’s been seeing this since February. I don’t know how I haven’t run into it. Perhaps it’s just appearing on some searches and not others. Thanks for letting me know, Mike, and thanks for saying I shouldn’t feel silly.

SMB Dilemma – When All Maps Are Dead Wrong

What do you do when the three major mapping sources – Google, Yahoo, and MapQuest – not only can’t pinpoint your local business, but also don’t believe your road exists?

That’s the situation that came to light in a recent conversation I had with a very nice small business owner in the town of Hayward, Wisconsin. All three of the major sources for local information are returning very bizarre data about this man’s corner of the world, and I would like you to take a look at what I’m seeing and tell me what you think.

Searching By Address
Let’s begin by searching for this business’ address, which is 15989 Nursery Rd., Hayward, WI. MapQuest has incorrectly located this address. The correct location for the business is on a road that MapQuest doesn’t know exists. As you will see in the graphic below, Nursery Road is supposed to connect up with Dyno Drive and the business is actually supposed to be located at the corner of Dyno and Nursery, but MapQuest doesn’t know that:

Missing Road in MapQuest

The business owner pointed this out to me, and also asked me to notice the railroad tracks appearing alongside the highway. According to him, there hasn’t been a railroad there in 40 years. Just where did MapQuest get this weird information from?

So then, we turn to Google Maps, hoping for better accuracy, but this is what we see:

Missing Road in Google Maps

As you can see, Google is having the same problem as MapQuest, with the same incorrect address data and missing road.

So then, we turn to Yahoo, and it gets really weird. Yahoo is putting the business in a completely different location, and as you can see, they also don’t know about the missing road:

Missing Road in Yahoo

Searching By Business Title
Now for the part that will really make you throw up your hands. When I searched for the title of the business, Quast Automotive, Hayward, WI, look at what Google Maps shows me:

Another Wrong Road in Google Maps

As you can see, Google is now showing the business’ address in a completely different location, despite the fact that it is giving the address as 15989 Nursery Road (the same as in my original search for the address). In essence, Google is saying the 15989 Nursery Road is located into two different places. And, yes, the missing road is still gone. *You may notice that this weird new location being given for the business is pinpointing it in roughly the same place Yahoo is erroneously pinpointing it.

What To Do?
What can this business owner do to rectify such huge discrepancies and errors across all three mapping entities? It isn’t just a case of moving a marker to the correct place, because according to the three maps, that road doesn’t exist! I’m putting a proposal together this weekend for a website design project for this nice little company, but what can we do about the major problem of the major engines sending people in every direction but to his door? What would you advise this small business owner to do? I’d appreciate your response.

Paging Mary Bowling, Local SEO

I’ve had Mary Bowling’s blog Optimized in my feedreader since several of my friends came back from the Local SEO conference in San Francisco a couple of months ago and told me what a neat lady she was.

Her latest post regarding adding attributes to your Google LBC record proves to me that she is not only a neat lady, but an extremely smart Local SEO whom I would love to get to know.

Mary, if you come across this little hello, I wanted to tell you how much I appreciated your excellent, clear presentation of this subject but I couldn’t find a way to drop you an email via your blog and I also couldn’t seem to find a way to leave a comment on your post. I wanted to tell you that I hope you’ll consider blogging more often, because I really like your style.

If you’d ever like to chat about the work you do with local businesses, I’d really enjoy it!

Miriam Ellis

Just Writing Away…

Every week, I have to divide my time between the various places I write. The truth is, I have no schedule for this. Different ideas occur to me and I determine which venue will be the most appropriate for them. It’s pretty lovely to have a choice.

Over the past week or so, I’ve written 2 articles over at Search Engine Guide, and in case you missed them, here they are:

When This Industry Is One Of The Helping Professions.

The article focuses on the responsibility and honor of providing web design, copywriting, SEM, etc. for businesses which offer really helping services. If you like the article, maybe you’d consider sphinning it (you’ll find a link to do so at Search Engine Guide).

Google, Germany Gore and an Assault On Reason

This is my review of Nobel Peace Prize Recipient Al Gore’s thought-provoking book The Assault On Reason. The article elicited a response from Father of the Internet Vint Cerf. Will it win a read from you? I hope so.

The truth is, my friends, I am in my most Zen state when my fingers are on the keyboard, thoughts warming up and spilling over with great joy in the written word. I hope you will find the above offerings to be worthy of your time.

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