October 2008

Conversation with a friendly lady at MapQuest

In my continuing documentation of our efforts to get a client’s incorrect maps/business data corrected, I’d like to document here my phone conversation with Sandy, a very helpful MapQuest employee.

For all of you groaning over the anonymity of Google Maps, even when the businesses in their index are being robbed blinder than bats by LBC hijackers, you will be pleasantly surprised to know that things are done differently at MapQuest. Not only did I have the pleasure of speaking to an employee who understood exactly what my client’s concerns are, but I was told the following information that will come as a beauteous example of taking care of business to everyone evincing signs of Google bruises:

1) Mapquest updates their business listing data on a weekly basis. Yes – weekly.
If you discover a problem with your business listing, just follow the help link at the bottom of their page and select the contact us link. This will give you a form to fill out to report an error and the form will be delivered to their troubleshooting department.

According to Sandy, they can then investigate this email, with the intention of correcting such errors like wrong phone numbers or addresses in about 1 week’s time.

We are expecting to see the Business Name search for our client, Quast Automotive, bringing up a correct map on MapQuest by the end of next week. What do you think of that?!

2) Address Listings take a little longer.
From what I understood, the business listing index is separate from MapQuest’s index called the Critical Address File. It takes a bit longer to get changes implemented in this database, but I was told we can hope to see a corrected address search for my client’s business by the end of November. How about that!

3) Navteq makes changes on a quarterly basis
In the case of my client, it isn’t just his business address that is being displayed incorrectly on the map – it is his whole corner of Hayward, Wisconsin. Missing streets, incorrect names on streets and a major street being displayed as a long-defunct railroad are some of the problems being displayed by all Navteq and TeleAtlas clients. In a case like this, with multiple errors, the whole problem cannot be handled by MapQuest. They have to alert Navteq (I have done this and Sandy is going to follow up on the report I sent to Navteq, as well). On a quarterly basis, Navteq sends out drivers (yes, actual drivers in cars) to problem areas that have been reported and they can then update their data with the correct information the drivers collect.

The not-so-great news is that this a long queue process and by the time the data gets corrected by NavTeq (for our client’s town this will be in Navteq’s Jan-March 1st quarter of the year, based upon the time we reported the error), and the corrected data gets sent out to entities like MapQuest, MSN or Yahoo! who are using Navteq data, we would be looking at resolution coming no earlier than May-June of 2009. That’s a long time to wait, but at least we’ve been given a goal to look forward to. I can’t overstate the value of that.

4) Verification matters to MapQuest
While speaking to Sandy, I took the opportunity to ask her how MapQuest handles verification of changes being made to business data. As Mike Blumenthal has repeatedly reported now, a flawed community edit process is what is leading to an untold number of dollars being lost by companies whose Google LBC listings have been hijacked by spammers and criminals. Sandy explained that when a request is made for business data to be changed in MapQuest, this generally leads to a phone call for the purpose of clarity and verification. The bottom line: MapQuest is employing people to help ensure that data is accurate by being in direct contact with business owners who request changes and Google isn’t.

I will conclude by saying that I have yet to hear from Google, MSN or TeleAtlas regarding my reports and that MapQuest continues to come out way ahead of the crowd for the job they are doing in ensuring accurate data. I’m really happy to think that we’ll have made some progress for this client by the end of next week with MapQuest.

I’ll keep reporting on my experience with this.

Trying to get neighborly with MapQuest, Google Maps and Yahoo Local

This is the first of a series of short posts I intend to write in order to document my progress with getting a serious error rectified across the 3 major mapping entities: MapQuest, Google Maps and Yahoo Local.

As you may recall, some weeks ago, I was contacted by a small business owner who showed me not only the incorrect placement of his business in the 3 maps but also the proliferation of incorrect data being shown for his region of Hayward, WI.

The gentleman has now become our client and we are building a website for him. It’s looking pretty awesome, if I do say so myself, but the time has now come to begin addressing the fact that any customer trying to find Quast Automotive is being sent astray by Google, Yahoo and Mapquest. Not a good situation!

Here is what I’ve done today as my first efforts to begin alerting the mapping entities to the problem.

MapQuest
When I posted my initial article about this problem, Mark Law of MapQuest was kind enough to stop by the blog and leave an email address for me to contact. So today:

- I sent an email to Mark Law and to MapQuest’s customer support address at info@mapquest.com

Google

- I have created a MyMaps in Google for Auto Repair, Hayward, WI. The MyMaps I’ve created shows the correct location of the client’s business as well as corrections to the missing roads that lead to Quast Automotive.

- I have attempted to get in touch with TeleAtlas by filling out their Maps Insight form. I was not very satisfied with this form. It did not appear to facilitate the reporting of multiple errors. Rather, it funneled me through a series of choices. This would have been okay if I could then have explained the situation to TeleAtlas but they provided only 300 characters for this explanation. So, I was only able to provide a few rough words and a link to the MyMaps map to show them the problem.

- I have posted a thread in the Google Maps Help Group, detailing the situation and linking to the incorrect maps as well as a corrected MyMaps map that the client made of his whole part of town which is rife with errors.

Yahoo!
I’ve given up on this for today. When I first searched for the client’s address a couple of weeks ago, Yahoo Local was returning me a map, albeit an incorrect one. Now, I am receiving a message that no such address exists. I also cannot find the business by name. I fiddled with this for 10 minutes before throwing up my hands. I’ll check back in a day or so to see if Yahoo has found the address again. Maybe it’s just a temporary bug.

My Thoughts On This Process So Far
Our friend and respected Local Search colleague, Mike Blumenthal has cautioned us that we need to expect a long wait before we see a resolution to our concerns, and I’m sure he’s right. We intend to knock lots of wood, cross lots of fingers and practice the virtue of patience to the best of our ability while we wait. Working with search engines, we’re used to this kind of lag time, but I can’t help thinking of the dilemma that faces any unaided small business owner who only knows that customers are being sent away from his door but who has no idea how to begin fixing this.

It’s good for me to walk in that small business owner’s shoes. It’s challenging. All 3 mapping entities have set themselves up in the position of a local neighbor from whom you ask directions when you need to get somewhere in town. My hope is to receive a neighborly response to my client’s concerns. Check back for updates on this subject as I chronicle my successes in this effort.

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Update

Did 2 more things today. I know, I know – it’s the weekend. I’ll get some sunshine later this afternoon.

- I submitted an error report to Googe Maps Error Reporting Page. It was easy enough to do.

- I then submitted a similar report to Navteq. It was interesting to compare TeleAtlas’ and Navteq’s error reporting forms. Navteq’s form was more thorough, in my opinion and did not stint on room for my comments, unlike TeleAtlas’ form. However, Navteq’s map within the form really fell short of what I think of as intuitive. Unlike their slick applications for MSN, Yahoo, etc. the map struck me as slow loading, very clunky to use and the directions for marking my location were very unclear. I spent at least 20 minutes trying to get the map to hone in on my location. Not a user-friendly experience.

Finally, I heard from the extremely awesome Mark Law of MapQuest today. Needless to say, I am overwhelmingly more impressed with MapQuest at the moment than any of the other mapping entities. Mark is putting my case into the hands of a colleague and I am extremely grateful for this personal concern being shown for my client’s situation. Way to go MapQuest.

It’s an interesting situation…we have 4 main competitors in the local mapping industry: Mapquest, Google, Yahoo and MSN. The drive to distinguish one’s application from one’s competitors’ has to be important to these companies. So far, MapQuest is really standing out as the most neighborly entity to me. Let’s see what the other 3 can do.

How To Use User Reviews To Let Out The Activist In You

Local Activist

So, maybe you’re not ready to tear up your lawn to grow your own food, ditch your car for a bicycle or pick up your sign and start marching, but I bet you care strongly about your town and the quality of life it offers to you and your family.

My latest Search Engine Guide article, User Reviews As Local Activism will teach you how to write reviews that have the power to change your local economic landscape for the better.

Learn how you can best support the local businesses you value most and thumb your nose at the big box stores that have done so little to match your community’s buying power with quality shopping choices. That little application, the user review, has more potential for powerful outcomes than you ever may have thought of.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading this post and I’d value your feedback on it. I believe that there’s an activist in all of us, just waiting for an issue that’s important enough to stand up for. Perhaps best of all, you can stand up on this issue while still sitting down, in the comfort of your home, fingers tapping merrily away across the keyboard.

The Wasted Space On My Printer Paper – When Copy Needs Help

When you work on computers all day, your eyes are in danger of suffering strain. It’s important to close your eyes from time to time and especially to move your gaze around the room every few minutes. I try to be vigilant about doing this, and for the past few month, my resting eyes have repeatedly landed on an object in my office that causes me distress. That object is the open package of printer paper beneath my husband’s desk. I have now read the message on the back of it many hundreds of times, and it doesn’t get any better with familiarity.

Here’s a situation that truly calls for a copywriter to the rescue, and when I share the package copy with you, I think you’ll see why:

4 Really Good Reasons To Use Printworks Papers

1) Paper is our passion and we want to make it yours too

2) You can pay more but you don’t have to

3) We do more than anyone else to help you print like a pro

Really good reason number 4 is missing, because that’s where we opened the paper package, but I’ll come back to this later. First, let’s take a look at why this copy is lacking a clear or useful message for the purchaser.

The bolded headline sets you up expect 4 really good reasons for buying this company’s printer paper. The ‘you’ is implied here, of course, but we can reasonably assume that you are the target of the message. I’m afraid the printer paper people then totally lose their focus. Having addressed you, they immediately begin to talk about themselves.

1) Paper is our passion and we want to make it yours too
Suddenly, it’s all about them. Why should you care that paper is their passion? Maybe you should care if paper is your passion, but are you really moved by the idea of a bunch of guys passionately creating white printer paper? Is it a message you can believe in? I’d say, no. I’m also a little dubious about the idea that the printer paper guys want to make paper my passion. How do they intend to do this? Will they invite me to their plant? Give me shares? Hold a party in my honor with a paper theme?

Really good reason number one simply ends up ringing false. I’m not convinced by the image of passion + paper manufacture, and I don’t really want to become passionate about printer paper. I just need to print some stuff. That’s all.

We need to ditch the inappropriate use of the word ‘passion’ here. If this was a piece of handcrafted, illuminated vellum dug out of a Viking ship, okay, there might be something to get overly excited about. But going for needlessly inflated terms always winds up looking strained. Why not use the 1/2 inch of wasted space to make a real point about the paper that will have meaning to the purchaser?

Suggestion:
Your print materials will be professional when you use Printworks’ crisp, flawless paper

2) You can pay more but you don’t have to

This is such an ambiguous statement. I think the copywriter was unduly pressured to cut their words short. The above message doesn’t mention anything about paper. It’s a blanket pronouncement you’d expect to pull out of a fortune cookie. A rolling stone gathers no moss. A stitch in time saves nine. You can pay more but you don’t have to. It’s such a limp thing to read. It makes me see someone shrugging, not caring whether I pay more or not. This ho-hum snippet needs to be replaced by a specific selling proposition.

Suggestion:
You’ll pay 30% less for our paper than for our competitors’. Keep the change and put gas in your tank with it.


3) We do more than anyone else to help you print like a pro

This line reminds me of the copy I encounter on websites run by businesses declaring themselves to be ‘the best’ while lacking any facts to back up such a bold claim. Does Printworks really do more to help you print like a pro? More than some other printer paper company? How? Without an explanation of their superior efforts, the statement is hollow. It’s have-a-nice-day. It doesn’t mean anything.

Suggestion:
Use the enclosed tutorial to learn how to keep your printer clean and functioning at a professional level so that all your Printworks projects are perfect ones.

The Missing #4
I’ve offered some suggestions, above, for talking directly to you, the purchaser, and for making points that might actually be of interest to you rather than making unsupported claims to greatness for the company. Since Really Good Reason #4 was unceremoniously torn from the package, I’d like to give some further suggestions for what might appear on this line of the list that would have real meaning to me as a consumer.

No old-growth forests were used in the making of the paper you’re holding in your hands.

Choose PrintWorks because it contains 50% recycled fibers.

Your PrintWorks paper is bleach-free, keeping your planet greener.

PrintWorks paper is made in the USA, supporting your domestic economy.

10% of your PrintWorks purchase goes to the Canadian Forest Protection Fund.

I don’t know if this company can actually lay claim to any of the above declarations, but if they could, I would be sincerely impressed and even inclined to remove my ban on the word passion in relationship to printer paper manufacture. Companies going the extra mile for the planet have something really significant to brag about and they create brand evangelists amongst the most caring sector of the public.

1/4 of the back of the PrintWorks package has been devoted to listing what ought to be their USP. All that space, currently going to waste. Copywriters and Social Media Marketers often bemoan the task of promoting ‘boring’ companies and products. While printer paper may not be a subject that sets the house on fire, by making a real effort to discern the true benefits that are in it for you, the purchaser, this sizable area of the package could be doing a lot more to convey relevant and appealing data. If a company literally cannot find anything compelling to tell people about their business, maybe it’s time to start doing something extraordinary that no competitor has thought of!

This advice is directly applicable to website design. How many websites are wasting prime space in their homepage layout with a generic ‘Welcome To Our Website’ message? Google says 34 million and those are just instances of indexed text…not all the welcome messages offered in big, space-wasting graphics.

And, that, in my opinion, is why copywriting and business models go hand in hand. If no effort is being made to identify what is really important to the purchaser, how well is the business facilitated to meet consumer needs? If I were working for PrintWorks, I’d be asking what they are doing for people, for the planet, for commerce, that deserves the service of words. Such a conversation might even lead to interesting and exciting changes in how the company does business, if winning the customer is the #1 goal in a competitive world.