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No. 475
August 13th, 2009

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Google Details LBC “Whitelist” Bulk Upload at LSS Q&A Session

We’re going to go through the AMAZING day at Local Search Summit in reverse order; posts on other sessions will be forthcoming.  For those of you not in attendance, Steve Espinosa (moderating the session) just made fun of me for not liveblogging the session so here I am complying.  Because obviously fellow attendees haven’t made enough fun of me already today 🙂

The Announcement

Now onto the good stuff.  Ari Bezman, the product manager for the Local Business Center just confirmed that the Whitelist functionality that Carter Maslan announced via Mike Blumenthal last week should now be live in the Local Business Center.  It involves a contact form directly off of the current bulk upload area of the LBC.

Google will manually review these contact submissions (it sounds like especially for really large uploads–1000+?) and decide whether to reject or accept the upload as a whitelist.

Franchise owners and corporate marketing departments will need to work out beforehand who is going to be responsible for submitting that particular location, because Google only wants to see a whitelisted location from one feed.

Chris Travers of UniversalBusinessListing asked a very important follow-up: how will Google treat whitelist requests from agencies?  To his credit, Ari responded with a very straightforward answer: agency whitelist requests will be strongly considered but must first be “approved” by a representative of the company itself.

Uploads via this new feature will be considered “almost as trusted” as if a location/business owner verifies by PIN.

Important update from Ari: here is a direct link for the Whitelist Contact form in the Maps Help forums.

New Subject: The Future of Local Search

Andrew Shotland feels that Local Search consumption is going to get even MORE fragmented — going to happen in nontraditional places like niche IYPs or even Flickr.  More data, more sources of information…Ari thinks that displaying and filtering this information will be an increasingly hard problem to solve.  This may potentially involve showing results differently depending on the search category.

Atif Rafiq mentioned in Yahoo’s case this could involve some amalgamation of Flickr, Upcoming, Zvents, Local, etc.  We’re probably headed more towards Local destination sites. My impression was that much of the audience seemed to think that Facebook may be the closest to Local’s future with its integration of business (fan) pages, events, and a strong social component, but Sarah Smith was quick to say that is darn near impossible to predict five years in advance (which is what the question was).

Facebook obviously feels that friends’ reviews and comments hold a great deal of weight in making Local business decisions.  In response to a question posed by Gib Olander about real-time conversations and their possible effect on Local Search, Sarah encouraged the audience to check out the new Facebook Search, which incorporates some of these conversations.

Andrew agreed with the implication of Gib’s question; namely that if Twitter were to launch a Local portal, it would present serious problems for Yelp.

The Service Area Problem

Ari and Google are aware of the problem.  “Their location doesn’t matter. They come to you.”  Alternatively, “What if your business is a home-based business & you’re not comfortable putting it on the internet?”

Google does not have a great answer for these problems right now. There’s definitely a concern that a spammer would verify a number of addresses that they control (such as home, friends, or relatives) and then choose to hide them once they’ve verified. The LBC is ONLY supposed to be used for physical locations.

Atif asserted that Yahoo tweaks algorithms by category; different factors like proximity matter more for different categories.  Yahoo also allows businesses to hide their address once they’ve verified, which helps with the home business problem.

Kevin Hagwell of Bing there is no elegant solution right now–possibly checking off by neighborhood within the claiming process.  Perhaps it involves expanding the users’ results optionally if they tell the search engine that they’re looking for better  results in a broader radius.

Other Thoughts from the Panel

Kevin Hagwell / Ari Bezman: Geotargeting for rural areas is a big problem (Montana or even Southern California) where ISP IP blocks aren’t dense enough for IP targeting.  Location extraction is a very tough problem to solve.  It’s obviously much easier when they’ve provided data to the search engine via a profile or something similar.

Kevin Hagwell: Deep product data on Local listings would be incredibly helpful for long-tail Local Search traffic.

Andrew’s clients are trying to get away from the generic directory model and into one of rich verticalization, involving vertical-specific content and applications.  “Directory experiences blow.”  Atif made a great point about a successful monetization and business development mindset…Local is a horizontal, not a vertical.

Cool Local apps/startups: EveryState (Atif), Foursquare (Sarah), alternate reality apps (Ari), MetaCarta and IFeelNYC (Kevin), GeoDelic (Andrew) and [gasp!] MerchantCircle.  He thinks MC is doing a good job of interfacing with business owners–potentially headed towards a Facebook platform for businesses.  They could become sort of a one-stop shop for all things online for a Local business.

Sarah mentioned (prompted by Andrew) that there are more and more tools for businesses on Facebook (Wildfire was one mentioned).

Selling Local to small business owners: more and more people are interested in self-serve, but predominantly, Andrew thinks businesses will continue to need their hand held.  Kevin feels that as things move further and further digitally, the sophistication of the tools will require sales reps to assist SMB’s.

Overall, this was the best panel of the conference.  Thanks to all the panelists for their thoughts and candor.

  • Thanks for the summary. This session actually made attending a slow SES worth it. Looking forward to the next Local Search Summit.

  • David,

    I have been looking forward to hearing all day about what went down, and this post did not disappoint! I will be going over this one more than once. I was really hoping that google would have a bit more information for area services though. That has been a pretty big issue with a few of my clients. I think yahoo’s approach is the best for the short term but could see that system having loop holes the longer it is in place.

  • Super summing up, David. Thank you so much for writing this. I’m really glad someone brought up the very real problem of both home-based and go-to-client businesses. I hadn’t read that before about Yahoo allowing the owner to hide their address. It would be very cool if Google could implement something like that. So many of our clients have been work-at-home parents and they do not want their address made public like that.

    It sounds like you had a very swift time at SES. Well done!

  • Dave, Thanks for the recap. Was at ASE couldn’t make it out that way. I have to agree with the home based business issue. It will be interesting to see how that is handled.

  • Great writeup David. And great meeting finally. You obviously had more engergy for blogging at that point than I did. Nice work.

    Atif’s “favorite new startup” is Everyscape – cool company. Here’s more on the company (admittedly self serving…my previous writeup):

    Here’s also a bit about geodelic – Shotland’s pic:

  • Great recap. I definitely agree with the last comment of the article on local business search, namely that the more options and advances made, the more assistance will be required for SMB’s to optimize via sales reps. Thanks again for the article!

  • David,

    it was a pleasure to have met you. I am also blogging about about the Local Search Summit, including our opinions on your presentation!

    As always, I have good things to say about your content. The only problem is you didn’t have enough time.

    I’m curious to hear your opinions on Google TV ads as a means of advertising local businesses, while intriguing I see some challenges, however none of which couldn’t be overcome.

  • Joe Balzarini

    Excellent summary David. Even after being there at the summit, your notes serve as a great outline of the discussion and provide some helpful links and supporting documentation. (minus the link for “fun of me”) It was a pleasure sitting in on a few of your sessions and
    I’m looking forward to following MIHMORANDUM in the future.

  • Thanks for a great summarization of what was presented in your own style and manner which people enjoy. The whitelist request being personally reviewed is a good step though for larger entities they’ll have to streamline it to assure smooth submissions. The home business part of it was surprising, but yet with the market share of home businesses it’s not altogether surprising that they’d want the online presence.

  • “agency whitelist requests will be strongly considered but must first be “approved” by a representative of the company itself.”

    If you are an agency submitting these local listings, how do you go about getting the approval from a company representative?

    Would you recommend creating a separate account under the name of one of the employees of the company?

  • We’ve been trying with the whitelisting for awhile now. We had one upload rejected because the store name wasn’t the same; it was a fair rejection, we were trying to get the city names into the title (i.e. “Akbar & Jeff’s Tofu Hut Minneapolis” when the name is “Akbar & Jeff’s Tofu Hut.” But the biggest issue is timing. There are very few resources there to do it, and we’ve been waiting since July on some. We haven’t had one go through the queue yet and we have a stack of clients wanting to try it if it works out. There is a lot of revenue potential for Google because they’ll all start doing some of the other map betas offered, and in general adding more Adwords integration. It’s been very frustrating for us.

  • I have an update on this. Our pilot whitelisting went through. And it definately worked, I’m seeing a big difference on map results for the locations in question. Two things though: the dashboard reports function doesn’t work, and the coupons feature doesn’t work. Generally these only work when you have hand-verified listings. So the pros of this clearly outweigh some cons, but there are still cons. Especially the coupon feature, which is one of the ways we were going to measure success of the projects, especially since there is no “group” report.