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Now to add insult to injury, Google have slapped a huge map image at the top of the page, thus pushing the natural results off of the page.
I feel that this is one step too far.
They aren't using pure city-center proximity, though -- the algorithm is also using keyword relevancy and which of their business listings have the most favorable user reviews. So, getting good user ratings on various sites can help propel one into the top local listings, I'd guess. I mentioned that in my blog as well.
I can see that for hotels they are pulling in reviews from trip advisor but see no evidence of anything being pulled in for any other business type. For example if I search for pizza in my city all I see is 3 central results. The chap just up the road from me that sells the best pizza in the county does not get a look in here under city name even though he has over 50 excellent reviews in a local directory.
I know the web has never been particulary fair to everyone - but this is postcode prejudice/favortism in most industries. Unless anyone else is seeing this in a different light to me?
You are right though Silvery I scrolled right on past those irrelavant local searches when I was looking for someone to repair my fences earlier. In fact looking back at it now, the local listing was a few cowboys who run nothing more than a few spammy directories.
One other observation I made, if the user is clever enough to use a postcode (maybe Google can teach the public this skill as most people will not do this automatically) instead of the city name to filter results down further, what qualifies a business to be in the top 3 if it is a competitve industry? Are you saying that keywords in my business name will help here?
[edited by: tedster at 5:37 pm (utc) on Feb. 1, 2007]
Sure, the businesses nearest the city centroid (if you search by "keyword + cityname") or nearest the ZIP code centroid (if you search by "keyword + zip") get preferential treatment in the new paradigm. But, in old printed alphabetical directories, businesses with names with first letters earlier in the alphabet enjoyed preferential treatment based on that.
Different users want businesses sorted on different criteria, so I see more sorting options are likely to be the wave of the future. Users may want businesses sorted by alpha, by top reviews, by price of service, by proximity, etc.
In the meantime, those with good ratings closest to city centroids likely have the most advantage in the Local Search space.
In my article, I proposed that businesses might want to engineer their names to include keywords and to enable them to appear sooner in alphabetical listings. Those tactics would help in local search, regular web search, and in online directories. The cumulative effect can build up.
Note - the old PageRank score can likely help in ranking in the OneBox results and local search results, too. Local businesses should have their name, address, and phone number appear in the html text on the front page of their site, and under the "contact us" and "location" or "directions" pages as well. If/when Google associates the business's website URL with the directory listing, I'd bet PageRank of that site would also start figuring into the relevancy rankings.
[edited by: tedster at 7:47 am (utc) on Feb. 2, 2007]
Its different this week than a week ago. This G maps algo seems to be a moving target.
earlpearl - I've noticed results jumping around since these went up in several ways. Re whether maps were returned, I've noticed a change over time. Two weeks or so ago...
Also, I notice in several test searches that [cityname widgets] will produce the map, whereas [widgets cityname] won't.
That changed soon after to where query order didn't matter, and now appears to have changed back to where query order is a factor.
When maps are returned... rather than a pure centroid aspect, I'm seeing results based on what appears to be a mashup of web rankings, location, and a measure of reputation or reviews on the web. They appear to be returning citations on topical sites instead of backlinks.
The "algo" seems to be different for different searches, but I haven't by any means looked at this in depth.
I've noticed changes in rankings for G maps for a little while now.
I believe in Nov or Dec '06 Bill Slawski wrote about a G patent for G maps, identifying, amongst other things, that number of "references" might be applied to ranking in G maps.
Immediately, thereafter I checked my business for several locations including one with a starting point which had a competitor between my business and the starting point.
My biz, with dramatically more "references" was ranked first in G maps. Later in the week the rankings were reversed.
I think G maps rankings have been in a constant state of flux since at least that time period, and possibly before then.
Its simply far more visable now as G has inserted maps into serps and expanded the map with up to 3 businesses.
Last night G created a way for business owners to make adjustments to their own businesses.
I'm still seeing a large inclusion of businesses into G maps (and now G search via the maps) for businesses that no longer exist.
This is via their inclusion of businesses through a great many directories that have not been checked for accuracy.
Without a method for removing old or wrong listings for G maps the system is prone to showing dramatically bad information.
In February 2005 G made a dramatic change that enabled local websites with even minimal optimization to be shown for logical queries for local business services.
It was a terrific logical move that enhanced G search for local businesses.
By now including lots of inaccurate information G is going backwards.
They need to institute a method for cleaning the data on a broad basis.
Once they do that, maybe then they will settle on some kind of logical listing of businesses for G maps.
This appears most often if a particular service/product isn't found in the city/town for the particular search.
So how do I at least get myself in the first three local results shown?
[edited by: DXL at 9:40 pm (utc) on Feb. 15, 2007]
While Google has established a opportunity for site owners to comment, get help and correct listings the responsiveness is slow. The help area is located in Google groups for maps for business owners;
Here is the most egregious example of a problem I've seen from the google maps inserts: It is a dramatic problem:
I work at Duke Health in Durham, NC. This organization includes many
hospitals, clinics, and other entities.
In Google maps, a search for "Duke Medical Center" returns two
different entries in the top 10 results, neither of which is correct.
They both have the wrong phone numbers. These numbers lead to
particular doctor's offices, and they are being swamped with calls
from people trying to reach the main medical center.
I cannot stress how unacceptable this situation is. I've contacted
support at Google (that contact form has since been removed), and was
advised to use the "Google Local Business Center" to manage
locations. So I managed to correct a particular entry for Duke
Medical Center, but other wrong ones still remain.
You can't possibly expect us to track down all of these invalid
locations, and try to obtain the mailed postcards to get them removed
or corrected. Some of the addresses are wrong and we wouldn't even
get the cards!
And why do some locations show a listing of multiple phone numbers?
See this search result to see an item that returns no less than FIVE
phone numbers at once, all of which are wrong.
Right now, the only solution I see is to block Google crawlers from
indexing any sites, as it currently seems that any phone number found
on any site may show up for any random result in Google maps.
There were multiple listings and one of the numbers was answered by a floor nurse. The last thing she or any of her co-workers need to be doing is playing operator when they should be dealing with patients.
On the commercial side, I'm also seeing multiple listings for the same business operating under different domain names using different phone numbers. The addresses match but there's no way to tell G that they're featuring the same company in two of the three top spots.
Not sure how or if ever they'll solve that one. Some businesses, like real estate agents, would and should have mutliple listings for one address while others will just be companies good at gaming the system.