June 2009

Musings On Unclaimed Google Maps Listings

I’ve heard my local search colleagues mention a number of times that no one is quite sure what percentage of Google’s local business listings are sitting unclaimed – but everyone seems to agree that the number must be huge.

I know this to be true, because nearly any time I go to pull an example of something from Maps for an article, use Maps to find a local business or entertain myself by reading user reviews, the business listings I see are unclaimed. Case in point: I wrote a short piece for Search Engine Guide today detailing how to claim your Google Maps listing. I needed to get an example to show an unclaimed business listing in my SEG article, and all I had to do was pull a business name out of my hat (in this case, Kmart in San Mateo, CA) and sure enough, the listing was unclaimed.

Doesn’t that say a lot about the problem? I feel as though I’d be making a safe bet randomly picking a business and betting that it wouldn’t be claimed. Perhaps we can start a numbers racket over this in the Local Search community.

More seriously, I wrote my Search Engine Guide article because I keep running into basic questions about the mechanics of claiming one’s listing. Google hasn’t made the importance or practice of this clear enough. How could they improve their ratio of claimed to unclaimed listings? I have one small suggestion.

You know when you get to this part in looking at a business in Maps?

claim listing

What if instead of simply having an ‘edit’ link, the popup clearly stated:

This business listing has not been claimed by the owner. Claim it!

I know if we click edit we get the popup with the, Are you the owner? Claim your business, but we’re already 3 clicks into the process by that point and Google isn’t expressly stating that the listing is unclaimed. I’d like the top level popup to state that the business listing hasn’t been claimed, in clear, strong language. Perhaps even with a link to a Google page explaining why a business owner should claim his listing. This would really improve the usability of the application and might just increase the number of claimed listings in the index.

How do you think Google could improve the ratio of claimed to unclaimed listings? I’d be interested to know if you have any bright ideas.

Answering SCORE Chicago’s 5 Local Questions

I’ve been enjoying speaking with Peg Corwin of SCORE Chicago over the past couple of weeks about all manner of Local matters. Recently, Peg sent me 5 questions about Local Search and published my answers in this mini-interview style article.

I applaud the folks at SCORE for trying to put helpful information into the hands of business owners who definitely need to learn about Local and how it relates to the success of their business ventures. Way to go SCORE!

Google No Longer Accepts Emergency Data Reports

No help from Google

Last year, after having an abysmal experiencing using Google Local during a medical emergency, I received a personal response from Google Maps Guide, Jen Chin, detailing Google’s special provisions for correcting emergency services data.

At that time, going to this page in Google and clicking on the heading I see incorrect business information for emergency services, hospitals or shelters took you to a page built specifically for reporting this type of problem. As Jen Chin explained to me:

Our contact options in the help center allows users to tell us specifically when emergency service, shelter, and other hospital data is incorrect, and we aim to resolve these within 48 hours. While it’s not possible for us to go through every single hospital listing in our index, we do our best to ensure the accuracy of major listings.

It wasn’t a perfect solution, as the scenario depended upon hospitals, shelters, doctors, poison control centers, fire departments, police departments, etc., first realizing that their business data had been co-opted by Google, without their knowledge, then realizing the data was wrong, and then finding that page with the option to contact Google directly to let them know that these emergency services were being misrepresented in Google’s index. That’s a lot of serendipitous steps that needed to occur, but at least there was a provision on Google’s part for this extremely serious situation.

Well, we should have been glad for what we had back then, because we no longer have even this roundabout method of fixing Google’s broken local index of emergency services data. Mike Blumenthal brought my attention to this seemingly small but ostensibly critical change in how Google is now handling their incorrect emergency data.

The I see incorrect business information for emergency services, hospitals or shelters link now takes us to a page containing this statement:

The best way to notify us of incorrect listing information appearing for emergency services, hospitals, or shelters is to first make the change yourself using Community Edits. Changes to these listings won’t appear immediately. We’ll use the feedback provided and, once verified, the changes will go live.

If you’re a member of the organization at the location which currently displays incorrect information, you can also claim the business listing through the Local Business Center. By claiming the listing, you’ll be able to make permanent changes that can’t be modified by others through Community Edits.

I am writing this post in order to update the information the SEOigloo blog is offering, and I’ll be adding an addendum to the post I wrote regarding Jen Chin’s earlier advice, but right now, I want to take a moment to state that I strongly feel that leaving the fate of local emergency service providers up to the imperfect action of community edits is a terrible idea. Sometimes community edits work. Sometimes they don’t. Is that really good enough when we’re dealing with the contact information for an ER, a women’s shelter or the fire department? Mike Blumenthal has pointed out to me that the answer to this question can be found right in Google Maps Help Group:

My phone number is being listed under a Hospitals Listing, and I am receiving phone calls daily from people in need of this particular hospital. I tried editing the unverified listing, calling the hospital, calling google, flagging this as inappropriate but the phone calls and listing will not stop. Any other suggestion on how to remove my number not only for my sake but for the people trying to contact this hospital.

I do not subscribe to Google Maps nor have I added any listings myself.

When I had my own medical emergency last year, all 4 medical providers I had to contact were being misrepresented by Google. I’m not a statistician and I don’t know how to extrapolate what that means in terms of the number of emergency services that are being incorrectly listed nationwide by Google, but I think that numbers are the whole problem here.

Google remains convinced that problems like these can be handled algorithmically, without any type of customer support and I remain convinced that this a totally inappropriate approach to real-life scenarios which involve citizens frantically calling a Poison Control Center because their toddler just ate something toxic. That’s not a numbers game I’m describing. It’s a human emergency based upon real people with desperately important needs. Google’s answer of leaving the fate of citizens up to the indifferent, imperfect nature of community edits is not responsible or right.

I feel like I’ve been pointing a disapproving finger at Google a lot lately. I don’t particularly enjoy doing this, but when a company does something that appears to me to be antithetical to the public good, it deserves public comment.

Why would Google remove this small service that once enabled some direct contact between them and the nation’s emergency workers? Were they being deluged with requests from surgeons and county sheriffs to please stop publishing false contact information for their offices? Is the problem so big that Google decided it was taking too much of their time to respond to, leading them to put all responsibility for their index back on the shoulders of these vital local workers? I can’t imagine a less civic-minded approach to public welfare from a corporation that is making billions of dollars off public information.

If Google is not concerned about the effect their bad data is having on their neighbors, they need to become concerned and your response to this dangerous situation is important.

Should Google allow emergency service providers to contact them directly? You tell me.

The Great Wall Of Google – A Short Essay On Communication

Contact Google Customer Service

Taken from the Google Maps Help Forum:

  • How can I contact Google for support with My Maps?
  • Is there an e-mail or phone number for google help to get this problem resolved?
  • How in the world can one get in touch with google
  • How can I contact google to correct an error with its local business results from a search?
  • I am trying to somehow get in contact with google becasue i messed up on google maps!!!
  • Happened to me too, lost 900 locations nationwide with no word from google as to what has happened, our business is bleeding out right now…
  • How do I contact google support by mail?
  • There has to be some way to contact Google to request that they fix incorrectly merged listings
  • Street vew shows my car number plate, how do I contact google to get it obscured?
  • We need this number off the site, but Google refuses any person contact.
  • Anyone had any luck in getting a contact at Google to actually work with business’s?
  • It seems that no one can solve this problem, and I cannot find any way to contact Google, whether by email, telephone or post.
  • I’ve searched through all the Help information in Google Maps, but can’t find anything. Google doesn’t seem to offer anyway to contact them with a question.
  • Is there anyway to contact Google and get this fixed?
  • Can anyone tell me how to contact Google about their incorrect association between my organization and the hospital…
  • Google keeps reposting a defunct Domino’s Pizza with OUR telephone …by mistake. We have tried everything. Seems like there is no way to contact google over the phone.
  • Just need to know who to contact directly to report the error
  • You cannot contact Google because all you get is oh, I am sorry, we do not offer phone support and then you get hung up on?
  • Please help, who should I contact?
  • Google needs a customer support line!
  • Does anyone have a link or even a telephone number to contact Google directly?
  • Any idea on how to contact Google about this since TeleAtlas has it listed correctly?
  • Can we contact Google for this issue?
  • I need to contact Google about this and so far I’m having a lot of trouble figuring out how to contact Google.
  • I have sent postcards requested calls and there is NOTHING i can do and no one I can contact to get google maps cleaned up
  • Any way to contact Google maps?
  • I can find no support through Google in re to this
  • I need help directly from Google but there is not way to directly contact Customer Service!
  • How can I get in touch with someone to get this straightened out?
  • Is there any way to contact Google by phone?
  • I have tried and tried to contact Google about this but to no avail. Please help me anyone from Google.
  • There really needs to be a method for us to contact Google to resolve these kinds of issues
  • I don’t know how to contact google
  • Considering Google Maps is very important to buiness these days you would expect there to be more support for it.
  • I need to speak to someone at Google
  • Google has no phone support for Maps
  • It’s disgraceful that I can’t contact Google for something which must be a technical error on their behalf.
  • It would be incredibly helpful to be able to talk to someone or at least correspond online with someone
  • Google doesn’t have phone customer service
  • There are no “humans” to speak to in the Google maps
  • WHY THE H**L would I want to sign a contract with an ad company that has NO CUSTOMER SERVICE?
  • I have wasted hours on this and just wanted to be able to email Google for help
  • I am at my wits end and there appears to be no way to speak to anyone at Google.
  • I can’t seem to find a way to speak to anyone at Google about a competitor’s review on my site!
  • You can’t get in touch with them either by phone or e-mail
  • Who do we contact at Google to discuss this issue?
  • You really need to improve you customer service
  • Google really likes to keep their Customer Service phone number on lock
  • If my business’ customer service was anything like Google’s, we’d have been out of business long ago!
  • I feel for you man, Google is one big joke, and from what I’ve been reading online about their “customer service”
  • If anybody finds ANY route to contact somebody at Google to fix this – please post the info – be it phone number, email address or postal address
  • I cannot get in touch with anyone at GOOGLE
  • Worst of all is that there is NO Customer Service!
  • These help forums are Google’s flimsy excuse for customer support
  • We also tried everything to contact Google and inform them of the theft of our original listing
  • And how can i contact Google to remove this URL from a listing?
  • How do I remove, or at least contact google to remove, 2 or 3 listings where people have added themselves using our trademarked name?
  • What should be my next step to contact google and have the offending label removed from the map?
  • It’s imposible to remove my listing and there no phone number or form to contact staff at google maps. I cant even pm some one.
  • Is there any way to contact Google by phone?
  • It would be nice to have some customer support!
  • Your customer service is awful
  • Google needs to either provide a customer service phone number
  • How can I contact google to correct an error with its local business results from a search?
  • How can I contact someone at Google?
  • There is no number to call, there is no email address to use. You just have to live with it…

China started building its Great Wall in the 5th century to keep out its enemies. In the 21st century, the unwelcome party being kept out by the great wall Google has built around their company is you, the local business owner.

Withholding contact information is a mechanism of defense and Google’s strategy effectively protects the company from any type of contact with the teeming hordes of business owners whose data they have co-opted.

Like the small sampling of bewildered, frustrated and angry people, above, I am left wondering why Google builds applications for the use of local business owners – indeed, that end up ruling the lives of local business owners – and then hides from these people. Why build products for the world if you don’t want any involvement with its people? I’ve worked with many local business owners. They’re not all that scary.

Google’s refusal to support their own products and the users who use them is building up a second imposing structure – The Great Wall Of Thwarted Local Business Owners.

If you read even a portion of the above excerpts, you will quickly surmise that all of these people are under the impression that, somewhere, Google must have customer service connected with Maps and the Local Business Center. Somewhere there must be a phone number, an email address, a form to fill out to contact the company that has indexed all local business information, meting out favor and failure to businesses across the nation with an unseen hand.

The business owners who somehow manage to discover the help forum are unified in the belief that Google must or should be accessible. After all, these men and women wouldn’t think of running their own companies without some type of support for the people they depend on for business. But Google does not agree and they continue to defend their company with the wall of silence, the oft-spoken black box, the absence of contact.

How will this tale end? If each unmet plea for contact were equal to a brick, the mounting wall of user discontent is already growing high. New bricks are hitting the mortar every day. While Google maintains its silence.

Bing Local Notes

Tonight, I spent a little time on Microsoft’s new search engine (or as they call it, decision engine), Bing. For the past couple of weeks, industry news has been spangled with discussions about whether Bing has the power to give Google a run for their money and Greg Sterling has even pointed out some compelling reasons why big Google might not mind little Bing having a bit of success. I’ve read a handful of the articles that have been making the rounds, but my own interest is more geared to how Bing is handling local-type queries. Here are a few things I’ve noticed.

- Bing’s 10-Pack is an 8 Pack. I wonder why they chose to show 8 results instead of 10. Maybe just trying to be a little different.

- Bing appears to be following Google’s lead in regards to IP targeting non-geographically-modified searches. In other words, if I do a search for ‘Chinese restaurant’, Bing is showing me local businesses.

- I did a bunch of searches in Bing’s Organic and Maps results and it appears that all Ratings are being pulled from just 3 sources: Judysbook, CitySearch and Yelp. I like the fact that Bing is transparent about that.

- In addition to pulling all of the ratings from those three sources, it appears that Bing is only showing reviews from those sources, too. This makes their review portfolio much less diverse than Google’s, but they are doing something else of interest:

Bing is giving local searchers the option to click on information snippets from further outside sources such as Frommers and Dine.com. That’s an interesting approach.

- Now here’s the part where I’m seeing something pretty nifty and un-Google-like. Look at this review score card with the option to see reviews that pertain to specific qualities of a business, in this case, a hotel:

Mike Blumenthal was recently explaining to me his theories on how the use of adjectives in reviews may affect Location Prominence. Google appears to be taking descriptive words from user reviews and utilizing them to present results for searches that are refined with adjectives (clean hotel, dirty restaurant, helpful therapist, etc.)

Bing is taking a somewhat different, yet reminiscent, approach to anticipating users’ more refined needs by presenting them with scores on the types of data they might want to know (cleanliness, atmosphere, quality of stay, etc.) I like the care for the user’s needs that is apparent in this score card.

- Bing is offering a Report Abuse link with their reviews, but I was not seeing any easy way for a community-type edit as is featured in Google’s wiki-like Maps. I came across a local restaurant with an incorrectly listed business title, but I saw no way to edit it. If I missed it, Bing needs to make it more obvious.

Will Bing Best Google In the Local Game?
I doubt it. Not any time soon. I like much of what I see them doing after my first real sit-down experience using Bing to search for local businesses, but I’ve got the Google habit so deeply ingrained in my blood now, I can’t really picture myself choosing to use Bing over Google for this type of search. I can only come to the conclusion that I’m hypocritical sometimes. I am uncomfortable with Google’s massive power and I strongly believe competition is healthy, but my conscience isn’t urging me to storm out of Google’s domain and give my support elsewhere. Not while Google matters most to my clients. Not while the services offered elsewhere remain equal to or less than.

Has anyone else turned up anything interesting about how Bing is handling Local? I’d like to know what you’ve seen.

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