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MIHMORANDUM
No. 336
June 1st, 2009


Check Out My New Company
You Know You Want To


 

Requests for New & Improved Google Maps Features

John Biundo of Stone Temple Consulting highlighted some neat new features of the Local Business Center earlier today, and although I’m not seeing them in my own account yet, I’m sure they’ll spread gradually much as the recent Easy Stars and instant updates have recently.  Mike Blumenthal also has a very full screenshot here.

The analytics of the Rich Dashboard are certainly nice, and I’m happy to see Google continue to pour resources into the Maps and Local Business Center teams.  

But I’m not sure Google’s priorities are in order when it comes to where small businesses (and really, businesses of all sizes) are really feeling LBC pain.  Danny Sullivan poked fun at Google Maps last week at the O’Reilly Where conference.  Even today, Tom Critchlow pointed out a number of Google Maps’ weaknesses on the well-read SEOmoz blog.  Google’s embarrassment over incorrect contact information, the claiming process, locksmith spam and merged listings is only going to get more public.  

So the actual algorithm is where I’d focus most of my resources, if I were in charge.  But since that doesn’t seem to be happening, here are seven pleas for LBC-related features I’d like to see get special attention urgently in the coming weeks.

1. Improve the phone verification process.  

As if the verification process weren’t cumbersome enough, the exact “flow” of Google’s automated phone message leaves many business owners thinking “What do I do next?”  I haven’t helped a client claim a listing since Google changed PIN entry from touchtone to web last week, but prior to that shift, it was a very poorly constructed message which ended without any confirmation that it had actually worked.  

Another issue–what about phone numbers that ring to an automated central answering center, as in “Thank you for calling Joe’s Plumbing.  Press 1 for Joe, 2 for Sally, 3 for Irene,” etc.?   There’s no reason for that business to have to fight through the postcard verification process.

Solution: This will never happen, because Google is so focused on algorithmic solutions for everything, but why not incorporate some sort of human verification process the way that infoUSA does?  Even a spot check of selected businesses in problem verticals might do wonders in the fight against listing hijacks.  

And while you’re at it, please spend some money on a larger, high-gloss, brightly colored mailer that says URGENT: VERIFY YOUR BUSINESS WITH GOOGLE instead of that flimsy 4×6 black-and-white thing you’ve been sending around.

And get it sent out quicker.  If my Netflix DVD’s can arrive within 24 hours of ordering, there’s no reason that my LBC confirmation should take 7-10 days.


2. Devise a Better Plan for Dealing with Service Areas.

Let’s say I’m an environmental consultant who lives in the Portland suburbs.  Or heck, a web designer who lives in Portland proper.  It seems to me that Google is asking for category information already, so it should have a pretty good idea of how critical actual location is for particular categories.   My golfing buddy Brent, the environmental consultant, does 100% of his work in the field, taking samples, managing cleanup processes, etc., at his clients’ locations.  I’m not even sure he’s ever had a single meeting at his business address.

This goes even beyond service-based businesses.  Google should know, for instance, that most golfers are willing to drive half an hour to 45 minutes to play golf.  It shouldn’t return miniature golf courses in a list of “Portland golf courses” just because they’re the last ones remaining in Portland city limits.

Solution: Rather than implicitly incentivizing service businesses to register PO Boxes in subsidiary towns, let them choose their own service radius away from their main listing.  Make it an algorithmic choice with some sort of inverse relationship between the size of your business’s chosen radius and the strength of your listing.  

(I.e. if you set your radius to only the downtown area, you’ll be very potent for downtown searches but not much else.  If you set your radius to an entire metro area, you’ll need to have an awfully strong profile, tons of citations, reviews, and the rest, to overcome such a dispersed geographic choice.)

I’m still not sure how this helps combat the “Locksmiths on every corner” problem, but that shouldn’t be happening anyway!


3. Provide a Better Multi-Language Experience for International Searches

The aforementioned Tom Critchlow recently brought this excellent question to me.  What is a hotel in Munich supposed to do?  It’s quite obviously a German hotel, but a significant percentage of its customers aren’t even going to speak German, and are going to be searching from places like London, Paris, Stockholm, or Madrid when they’re looking for “hotels in Munich”.

That hotel should obviously NOT submit multiple listings in multiple languages.

Solution: Let business owners (at least in Europe, where this is clearly a problem) select the URL of the site based on the referring search engine (i.e. Google.de, Google.fr, Google.co.uk etc.).  Allowing verified business owners to select a different search engine for each language would dramatically improve the search experience for international Google users.


4. Let Verified Owners Know When Someone Reviews Their Business.

Solution: Create an RSS feed, as well as an email option, for business owners to notify them when someone has left a review for them at Google Maps.  Yahoo already does it.  Heck, at the very least it would be an easy way to increase your Google Reader userbase.


5. Make It Easier for Business Owners to Send Around a Link to Their Listing

How come whenever I send a link to a business listing in an email, it ends up being three lines long?  This is a surprisingly major problem for clients (and customers) who don’t understand how to copy-and-paste the full URL together in an address bar.  They just think it’s broken.

Solution: How hard would it be for Google engineers to create a URL shortening service (http://maps.gl/business_name) to allow business owners to create their own branded url they could copy and paste into email campaigns to leave reviews?  Martin Bowling built one in a couple days!  Multiple branded URLs could even be used to track specific marketing campaigns, like Bit.ly


6. Create a “Trusted Maps Representative” Program

National and International businesses are having a tough time putting together any kind of manual verification processes within their organizations.  And the current bulk upload feature doesn’t seem to be worth much, since so many listings get overwritten with incorrect data from other sources.

Solution: Give out a limited number of accounts that are trusted uploads, similar to the Adwords Authorized Resellers program.  Given the value associated with claiming one’s listing, it seems unwieldy to ask an enterprise company to claim each individually.  This wouldn’t even need to be as powerful as a manual claim, but an intermediate level of trust between the current bulk upload manual claim.  And give one of these accounts to Danny Sullivan so he can help that poor receptionist at the Newport Beach Jail reduce the number of calls he answers that were intended for the main switchboard.


7. Make It Easier for Local SEO’s to Manage Client Accounts, but Still Give Clients Autonomy

You’ve been vocal, with good reason, about the danger of letting someone else claim a listing on behalf of a client.  Not every provider is as upstanding as folks like Miriam, Andrew, or myself.   But there are also plenty of clients who don’t know about, and don’t want to deal with, the LBC.  The more we can help those folks help themselves, the better for us AND for Google.

Solution: Create an Adwords-like “My Client Center” interface for Local.  Let the client choose whether or not to give us access to their listings, and make all changes for the listings associated  made by a Local SEO pass through to those individual client accounts.  Might be a nice tie-in with my “Trusted Maps Representative” program, no?

 

OK, I know, it’s doubtful that we’ll see any of these suggestions happen, but they’ve been bouncing around in my head for several months & I finally felt compelled enough to get them down into pixels with the impending LBC Dashboard roll-out.  

What about you, readers–what would YOU like to see in terms of new features and improvements for Google Maps?

N.B. to Google Maps Team — As you probably know, I don’t want to sound ungrateful.  I truly do appreciate the platform you’ve given SMB’s to compete with larger, web-savvier companies.   But in Maps as in golf, there’s always room for improvement!