Google Maps & the Battle Against Spam

Google has said that Maps is no longer vulnerable to spam. Mike Blumenthal disagrees and offers a terrific piece at SEL about the state of Google Maps. He presents a strong critique and admonition to Google to mature quickly and bring more “responsibility” to its leadership role in local.

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He also posts Google’s Carter Maslan’s response.

6 Responses to “Google Maps & the Battle Against Spam”

  1. earlpearl Says:

    Greg:

    Mapspam is an interesting phenomena. If anything it points to the incredibly dramatic effect of getting a high ranking in google maps for businesses.

    Few knowledgeable businesses and sites probably care about direct traffic to google maps. Direct traffic to google maps is still miniscule. Similarly few businesses (map spammers) probably care about specific information within the Local Business records. If they did care they wouldn’t use the spammy theft of unclaimed records to populate their business records with the kinds of reviews they are stealing. But the spammers are incredibly concerned about the appearance of maps for organic searches. These types of searches dominate user efforts.

    Visibility within Maps is free to the business. In a way its like CraigsList–Free visibility. Its an amazing web phenomena.

    It is incredibly powerful. One only need review the history of comments, complaints, frustration, not to mention the occaisional entries from hospitals and other emergency institutions wherein misinformation has created problems that deal with serious societal issues within google groups for businesses. The power, anger, frustration of various comments is astounding.

    The problems and issues are focused on Google, not the other search engines. That in itself speaks to the market control that Google maintains. Certainly the Local/Maps versions of other search engines have a myriad of errors. Regardless, they don’t see the user traffic that Google has….and the impact of their errors is not as severe.

    The current status of free access of business information into Google Maps has created a unique legal situation. Its visibility rivals or surpasses that of other advertising media. Yet it doesn’t have direct relationships with the businesses and institutions that show up in its various versions of maps; authoritative one map/3 pack/ or 10 pack. In that there is no direct relationship it has allowed Google to skirt responsbility for the impact that Maps has.

    Despite this free access….visibility within Maps is critical….and high ranking even more critical as we continuously see via the comments within google groups.

    Either google needs to treat the issues in a more serious manner or legal institutions need to step in to protect against vast amounts of misinformation. This misinformation gets delivered to the public at an ever increasing level, either through inherant problems in the algo and data acquisition within Google Maps or via increasing levels of spamming Maps via ingenious businesses/webmasters.

    At a very first step Google should at least turn Google Groups into a more formal customer service entity. At least in this way, those that contact Google will be relieved of the frustration of never receiving a response.

    I would add one caveat….and only Google knows the answer to this. I suspect that at one level the appearance of Spam enables Google engineers to attack weaknesses within its algos. If this is the case, then there needs to be some finite time period during which spam becomes visible, it gets reported…..and Google has time to correct the problem.

    As a business operator I think the Market domination by Google Maps is a very serious commercial issue. It needs to be escalated into the public arena.

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    You’re articulating the concept of “Google as public utility.”

  3. earlpearl Says:

    Oh man….a short terse response to a long commentary…:D

    Not necessarily. Google doesn’t need to have a maps. It could eliminate it. Alternatively it could charge for access to maps. Then it would be an alternative paid media for business exposure. At the least it shouldn’t leave so many businesses haning without responses to their queries.

    Currently a faulty LBC and one subject to manipulation creates a commercial environment with dramatic winners and losers. Google determines the winners. In many cases it does so by either inattention and/or ignoring the pleas and questions of businesses. In other cases it enables winners by creating visibility subject to outrageous manipulation of its algo’s.

    hmmm….it might need oversight at that. hmmm….looks like a utiltity, smells like a utitility…..hmmm…you may have something, Greg. 😉

  4. Greg Sterling Says:

    Sorry Dave. I’m usually out of time. The thing is . . . Google is now dangerously close to regulation because it has been so successful. There’s something strange about punishing companies for success (as opposed to active manipulation of markets).

    But you’re right about the impact and creating winners and losers. It’s a practical and philosophical problem.

  5. earlpearl Says:

    In one sense penalizing a company for success does seem strange and inappropriate. On the other hand, when the activities of the company begin to resemble the actions of a monopoly, and in doing so harm the public then its a different matter. Of course it then becomes a helluva big expensive court battle. Oh well…the lawyers need the work. 😉

    The natural algo’s from the SE’s create “winners and losers”. That is okay. The expansive availability of information on local business providers/services/ and public services such as health care facilities and local governments generated through maps is terrific.

    Where it gets twisted is the combination of Maps spamming….and the inattention to the volume of complaints, requests, etc. that go unanswered.

    I tried helping one business that suffered through a small, but consistent problem with an aspect of Maps that consistently presented misinformation for a period of about 9 months. At the beginning of the 9 month period there was a comment from a google employee about getting back to the business and helping them. It never happened. Google ultimately corrected the problem on a universal scale. It seemed to occur around the time that some of us identified the algo issue and were making it public in the SEO world. The business never received a direct follow up. It really seemed as if the flaw only got fixed after the commentary got louder and more revealing.

    On a more recent issue a small business owner was struggling with several aspects of Maps. One issue was uploading coupons. I suggested a fix that was discovered by a google groups commentator probably over a year ago. The “fix” is totally counterintuitive. Who would know how to apply this unless one had been scouring the Maps Help group for over a year.

    Mike Blumenthal follows the travails of business operators far more closely than I or possibly anyone else outside of Google. Certainly more than anyone else who is publishing in this area. He sees the volume of complaints quite dramatically. Certainly he has no idea about the overall level of satisfaction as measured against the volume of complaints, requests for assistance, etc. But the volume of requests for help and the volume of commentary pointing to problems that tend to go unanswered is quite high. Its frustrating to observe.

    Recently Google has increased employee interaction with the volume of complaints and problems. That is a good sign. I’m with Mike, though, with regard to wanting them to significantly continue to upgrade their responsiveness.

    If not….they will continue to operate in a way that creates “inappropriate winners and losers” subject to spam that doesn’t get fixed or requests for help that go unanswered.

  6. Ben Says:

    And here is a tutorial for Google Maps made in paper 🙂
    Pretty sure you’ll like it.

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