Google Local Maps Is Not Yellow Pages

When Mike Blumenthal posted about a Google Maps for Business Owners Group rep appearing to upsell Adwords to a local business owner seeking better Maps rankings, it put me in mind of one of 2007′s most dramatic happenings – the Denver Florist episode.

To recap: the Denver florist reported that his business had collapsed because a competitor had been given one-box placement above his own, once-successful organic ranking, stealing major business away. The most curious element about this whole agonizing situation was that the angry Denver florist made a big point of mentioning that he was spending thousands of dollars in Google Adwords, and because of this, he seemed to feel he was entitled to more favorable treatment.

I was left wondering why he thought his Adwords spend had anything to do with his un-paid rankings.

Had someone told him this, or was this simply a proof of the illusion that Google Maps works like Yellow Pages in a you-get-what-you-pay-for manner?

Then Mike posted his Adwords Upsell post, which I read carefully. The rep is NOT saying, “if you sign up for Adwords, you’ll get a better organic or Maps ranking.” However, I can imagine that a harried local business owner could read their advice that way.

Today, I came across an all-too-familiar post in the Google Maps for Business Owners’ Group:

Last week we had over thirty reviews of our shop Canoesport in
Houston, Texas.

The reviews are now gone! Please put them back.

I am an adwords subscriber and have paid Google thousands of dollars
for your services.

Please contact me at xxx-xxx-xxxx
Thanks,
Charles

Here we have yet another business owner believing that their Adwords spend is related to their standing in Google Maps. I think one can read this in one of 2 ways:

1) Someone told the Canoe Guy that spending money in Adwords = preferential treatment.

2) The statement about the Canoe Guy’s involvement in Adwords is meant as a sort of, “do you know who I am?” kind of remark. In other words, “I’m an important customer who gives you lots of money – treat me like I’m valuable to you.”

I’m not able to determine the true intention behind these Adwords spend statements, but I find them very disturbing because they represent a serious disconnect between Google and local business owners.

Google Maps is Not YP
Any local business more than a couple of years old is likely to be coming to Google’s local listings from a traditional Yellow Pages mindset. As I recently documented, a business owner in San Francisco, CA can hand their YP rep a check for $90,000.00 and be certain that they will receive a full page color ad in the phone book for this investment.

There is no amount of money any business owner can give to Google to get a guaranteed ranking in Maps. As the Canoe guy’s plea for respectful service indicates, small business owners are failing to understand this important fact.

And this is why Maps is coming across as unstable to us and our colleagues in Local Search. It’s small wonder to me that the Local specialists we’ve been interviewing over the past 2 weeks are describing local search as frustrating and half-baked. SEOs are used to a no-guarantees world. Small Business Owners are not.

If Google intends to keep Maps algo-based instead of payment-based (and I’m sure they do), I urge them to adopt a more transparent and educational rapport with SMBs. I feel very sorry reading the bewilderment of the local business owners who are finding themselves swimming against the tide in a help group, praying for answers, rather than dialing up an assigned rep as they would with YP.

It’s only making matters worse if Maps reps are upselling Adwords in the midst of this, furthering the money = preferential treatment delusion.

A Good Neighbor Policy
I was recently talking to Mike about Google’s seeming inability to ‘get’ local business owners. Mike felt that Yahoo! was making a better effort to create a friendlier atmosphere for them, right down to the language in the business registration process.

Succeeding locally involves becoming a stable part of a community – becoming a good neighbor.

I would like to see Google adopt a Good Neighbor Policy if they want to honor the mentality of local business owners. To me, this means being open and above-board regarding the rules, functions and benefits of Maps. It feels precarious to me that so many SMBs are suddenly discovering that their business information has been sucked into Maps without their knowledge and that finding out how to take control of one’s listing and correcting the numerous errors one may encounter has been made about as transparent as mud for these important folks. Google Maps has got a communications problem.

I want to see Maps succeed. I love Maps. I use it repeatedly just about every day. But what will happen to the Google brand if the Canoe Guy gets no real answer as to why his reviews have disappeared? What if all the canoe guys, and florists, and bakers and dentists, and roofing crews and catering companies have a vague, unsatisfactory experience with Maps that ends up harming their bottom line? They certainly aren’t going to become the evangelists Google needs for this growing enterprise.

Google’s local business owners are also Google Maps users.

Worth thinking about…

12 Responses to “Google Local Maps Is Not Yellow Pages”

  1. on 23 Feb 2008 at 8:30 pm Local Hound

    Interesting post Miriam… The business owners are asking their yellow page reps “how they get top ranking on G maps?” with same almost the same mentality. “I pay you a lot of money, why can’t you help me?.”

    It’s ultimately the fragmentation of local that has happened in such a short time that is the cause of the frustration. And the different approaches one must take for placement in Adwords and Google Maps is just another example.

    They just want a turn-key package that they can pay for and get it all. That’s where the local seo comes in. That’s why I think local search has moved from being a product to being a service.

    hmmmm… there maybe a bright side to all of this, Miriam.

  2. on 23 Feb 2008 at 8:58 pm admin

    I can see that silver lining, too, Tim :)

    At the same time, I’d have no idea what to tell the Canoe Guy about why his 30 reviews have just disappeared from Maps. So, that’s a bit scary. I think Mike is looking into it.

    Did you see, by the way, Mike’s post on the Craigslist ad for a Local Search Expert? In the words of that classic Motown tune, “Get ready, get ready.”

    Thank you for stopping by, Tim!
    Miriam

  3. on 23 Feb 2008 at 9:05 pm Will Scott

    Great post Miriam! You are writing such great stuff lately.

    I agree with Tim totally, both in the view of SMBs and the opportunity for us all.

    As much as we are accustomed to a “no guarantees” world, we at least have a clear concept of the rules. We have the webmaster guidelines which in essence say “create good content, get quality links, don’t be shady, win”.

    It’s the same thing I tell our clients. Content, links, lather, rinse, repeat.

    How hard is that? Can you guarantee #1 for flowers? No. Can you be assured better ranking and more business? Yes.

    Maps ain’t like that. Yet they have SO much prominence and eye tracking studies show they radically change user behavior.

    And our Denver flowers example is a great one. Google is SO powerful. There is no better advertising medium for local service businesses. They change the variables in their experiment a little bit and move an earnest business from profit to loss.

    My opinion is that a good neighbor would get it right or shut it down.

    Again, great work Miriam! Thank you.

  4. on 23 Feb 2008 at 9:17 pm Local Hound

    Hey Will, how about a post on those eye tracking studies? I would love to have a look at those.

  5. on 23 Feb 2008 at 9:35 pm Will Scott

    Tim: I’ll do some digging, but the statement is based on a presentation from August SES by Gord Hotchkiss of Enquiro which suggested that the heat map shifts on the presence of media in the SERPs.

    I have 2 competing posts in my head. One is inspired by you focusing on tracking offline conversion and ROI. The other is about an experiment in centroid spamming.

    Miriam: I read Mike’s post, replied to the CraigsList advertiser referencing your post and then read your comment. GMTA

  6. on 24 Feb 2008 at 1:04 am admin

    Will -
    That’s so funny. Somewhere, right now, in Houston, Texas, there is a man saying, “Who ARE these people?”

    I remember the eyetracking study. I tried to find a recap of it from SES, but was getting weird, fragmented results. You can, however, download a free white paper on the subject of Universal search and eye tracking from enquiro, here, Tim:
    http://enquiroresearch.com/personalization/

    One of the things I remember seeing about the eyetracking studies that was really interesting is that when video appeared in the SERPs, this pulled the eye down to its location in the middle of the page. Once the user was done noticing that, he was looking at the results BELOW the video, not above it. No doubt, a source of concern for the top PPC and organic results. Suddenly, being #1 didn’t look as cool.

    I’d really like to read both of your potential posts, Will. It’s such a pleasure having you stop by.

    Miriam


  7. [...] Google Local Maps Is Not Yellow Pages – Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo [...]

  8. on 24 Feb 2008 at 3:22 pm Will Scott

    Miriam, it’s shameful I only just stop by rather than hanging out as I should :)

    There’s a post on just this subject on SEL: http://searchengineland.com/070921-070852.php This post basically mirrors what I recall from Gord’s presentation.

    Taken together, Gord’s assertion that:

    In the pre-blended world (heat map upper right), there was very common tendency to orient in the upper left corner

    Along with the anecdotal reports of our Denver florist in which she reports implementation of the onebox over her #1 organic ranking so greatly disrupting sales we can see that the authoritative onebox can be even more disruptive than Gord’s shift theory.

    As I understand it, the eye goes down for blended (graphical) results and then comes back weakening the top left bias of most heatmaps. But it does come back.

    The challenge for us is when one box spammers can own the top left everybody else is hosed until the local algorithm matures.

    /* I just cut the last 2 paragraphs as they were instructions for spam domination */

    Will

  9. on 24 Feb 2008 at 10:19 pm admin

    Now you are hanging out, Will! And, I really thank you for coming back here with that link. That’s what I was thinking of!

    I think this part of Gord’s article is especially interesting:

    “In a search results page, if there are enough listings above the fence (given that we like to have at least a few options to consider), it’s natural to assume that we’ll find greater relevance above than below.”

    I think that’s fascinating that people have been trained to look up after looking at the photo rather than down the SERPs.

    It also seems to make a big difference where the image appears. In his first example it looked like an image was appearing around the #2 spot, but a latter example showed it further down. In all cases, the eye did seem to get pulled down, but then went up for a bit, and then down again. Wonky!

    These eye studies are just amazing to me. And, in addition to helping one understand how people look at SERPs, they are good for thinking about how users view web pages, depending upon where major graphic elements are being placed on-page.

    Thanks again for the link. That was well worth re-reading.
    Miriam

  10. on 25 Feb 2008 at 12:29 pm earlpearl

    Nice set of comments.

    Geez, I’m busy w/ a new business. All these comments are so good. The commentators are very astute.

    now I’ve got all your sites bookmarked to stay abreast of your latest findings. Geesh.
    ;)
    Nice comments, guyz.

  11. on 25 Feb 2008 at 2:10 pm admin

    Aren’t these guys great, Dave? I feel so lucky to have them here…and that includes you, too!
    Miriam

  12. on 26 Feb 2008 at 11:26 am David Mihm

    Wow, this is the last time I ever go to a search conference. You miss SO much by not being able to stay on top of the blogosphere for a day or two!

    Great post, Miriam, I’m sure you know I think you’ve hit the nail on the head based on some of my comments last week. Google really runs a huge risk of alienating SMB’s AND users by not pouring more resources into their Maps/Local algo immediately.

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