No. 475
August 13th, 2009

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.