Jul 192012
 

The question of the differences between Google+ Local and Google Map Maker, and the potential difficulties they cause for the local businesses, has been opened recently by Mike Blumenthal. He focused on categories, but I believe a more major problem might be hidden even lower at the ladder – the listing creation itself.

1. Escort agencies.

There have been many discussions in the past few months related to the eligibility of escort service businesses on Google Maps. Here is what Google+ Local Quality Guidelines says: “Fraudulent or illegal activities aren’t tolerated on Google and may result in account suspension and removal of listing information from search results.” The legal status of escort agencies in many countries is not clear, but as long as sexual services are not included, they would normally be considered confining with the law. However, according to Map Maker’s guide to “Permitted Businesses and Points of Interest” escort services are considered “non-fixed location” businesses and therefore are prohibited from being listed on Google Maps. Theoretically, this inconsistency in the guidelines means that an owner of an escort agency could list the agency via Google+ Local, but it is very possible that it would later be removed by a Google moderator or by a spam fighter via Map Maker. Additionally, the rules might be interpreted in another way – an escort agency might be eligible for a listing as long as it does not advertise itself as offering escort services (note that Map Maker prohibits the service, not the agency).

2. Vacation rentals.

The eligibility of vacation homes is another problem which has never been given a clear answer (that I know of) by any Google representative. According to the Google+ Local Quality Guidelines:

Rental or for-sale properties, such as vacation homes or vacant apartments, are not eligible to be listed on Google Maps and should not be verified. Instead, verify the listing for your sales or leasing office or offices. If you have a property with an on-site office, you may verify that office location.

At the same time the Map Maker “Permitted Businesses and Points of Interest” says that as long as the vacation homes have “permanent on-site management” they are eligible for a listing on Google Maps. If we decide to trust both sources (although at first they seem contradicting), we could conclude that while a business owner cannot list their vacation home(s) via Google+ Local, and cannot claim an already existing listing, such a listing could exist on Google Maps, as long as all-year on-site management is present. A way to add such a listing would be directly via Map Maker or via a trusted data provider (Localeze, for instance).

3. Non-permanent location businesses.

If you thought the above two issues are complicated, wait until you read the rules related to non-permanent location businesses. Back in October 2011, Google introduced the following guideline:

“You also can’t create a Places listing for an ongoing service, class, or meeting at a location that you don’t own or have the authority to represent. Please coordinate with your host to have your information displayed on their Place Page within their Description field.”

There is no further information or clarification on what is considered as a legitimate “authority to represent” status. However, this rule seems to mostly cater to businesses that have irregular or rather rare events happening at particular location(s), such as the ones mentioned in the guideline itself – classes, meetings. As you can see, though, there is no explanation on how often/rarely these classes/meetings should happen in order to be ineligible for an individual listing. According to the Map Maker guide “seasonal businesses without a permanent, recurring location”, “temporary, one-time events”, “meeting places” are prohibited from being listed on Google Maps. However, the following types of businesses are permitted: “farmer’s markets”, “recurring performances”.

If we again trust both sources, it turns out that any type of businesses/organization organizing meetings are ineligible for listings on Google Maps. Additionally, any type of businesses that have their events/classes organized at one particular location would also be ineligible. The same goes for the ones that organize seasonal, temporary, or one-time events. Thus, if your business is, for example, yoga class that is being held twice per week at two (or more) different locations, you might not be allowed to have a listing on Google Maps. If your classes are conducted only at one specific location, you would be eligible, though. It also seems that even if you do not have the “authority to represent” a location (whatever this means), you might still have your listing as long as you are classified as “recurring performance” (Google gives Penn & Teller at the Rio as an example).

Conclusion

Everything related to Google’s local listings is completely messed up. Starting with the determination of if a business could even be listed, going through the process of creating and maintaining a listing, and finishing with the process of representing a listing publicly. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again – if Google doesn’t get the basics right, they can never expect to have the best product.

  10 Responses to “Google+ Local vs. Map Maker. Is Your Business Eligible?”

Comments (10)
  1. Here. Here. I agree 100% with your conclusion. Google’s local listing system is a complete joke. I’ve said it a million times. In the end, a Google+ Local listing is just that – a one page listing of your business. How can something so simple be so complex? Google needs to take a page from Bing. Working with Bing Local listings is such a breeze and when you need support, their response is amazing.

    Travis Van Slooten

    • Yep, Bing are doing great job both on the support side, and on the information side. Maybe they are not as good as Google in reviews, display, etc. as Google is, but with all the problems Google is causing, these really don’t seem that important. Google can learn a lot by Bing in local search. It is sad Bing’s deal of search in local is much smaller than the 30+% they have in general search.

  2. Hey Nyagoslav,

    Great post, as always! I’ve always thought that the original intended use of MapMaker is great: for people to make and share personal maps. But its role in local search sickens me. Maybe that’s a tirade for another day…

    Just to pile onto the many inconsistencies / serious problems you’ve pointed out, I’d like to point out that MapMaker actually *has* a category for “Escort Service.” Yes, in some countries it’s legal, but it’s simply misleading to have it as a category in countries where “escorting” isn’t legal (especially without so much as a side-note to that effect). Google simply shouldn’t offer categories for businesses that are likely to get pulled.

    I agree that “if Google doesn’t get the basics right, they can never expect to have the best product,” but I’d even take it a step further and say that if they can’t start getting the basics right *soon*, they’ll set themselves up for an eventual spanking at the hands of Apple Maps.

    • Phil, I was thinking of writing about the difference in laws and how they relate to escort services, but in the end I gave up, because it is way too complicated, especially in the common-law-like system in the US, and in the pure common law system of the UK. I am not even sure a lawyer would be able to write such an article :) Anyhow, everything seems to boil down to “are sexual services included in the package or not”.

      And I agree with you, I hope Apple Maps would be a decent enough competitor in the field, because although they have many (almost) religious-like followers, if the product is bad, they’d simply keep using Google’s service.

  3. Nyagoslav:

    Pointing out the inconsistencies between google+local and mapmaker is indeed a great issue and thank you for articulating the issues. Its a topic worth pursuing.

    Great job.

    Dave

  4. Hi Nyagoslav,

    This is one of those issues that’s been of particular interest to me. It’s only recently that the issue of escort services came to a head, and although there’s been no active effort on Google’s part to remove spam, there’s long been an informal policy of removing escort service POIs from GMM, regardless of their legal status, predating my time on MM (Google MM removers in India love to remove Escort Service spam). Yes, Google does have an Escort Service category, but the category itself is a catch-all for multiple types of businesses, many of which were ‘pushed’ down in SERP by more SEO-savvy escort services of the legally questionable kind. I think part of the problem is the conflict between Google+Local’s and MM’s differing interpretation of their own guidelines. Although Jade seemingly endorsed escort service POIs in her post, she really left it open to interpretation because now fixed-escort service POIs can be removed from Google+Local because they aren’t hiding their address! This could be a problem in jurisdictions that allow escort services (the Netherlands comes to mind) that have houses of prostitution. Where does this fit? On the other, MM’s own guidelines seemingly prohibit any kind of escort service, but that leaves businesses like Funeral Escort Service POIs out in the cold. Google definitely needs to diversity the Escort Service category, with categories like:

    Pilot Car Escort
    Funeral Escort
    Motorcycle Escort
    Personal Protection Escort
    Travel Escort
    Drug Rehabilitation Escort
    Home Health Escort
    Elderly Escort

    Then appropriately themed categories can be assigned to their respective businesses. There’s also a lot of ambiguity regarding Adult Entertainment in general, with Google Reviewers reluctant to approve content that is deemed legally admissible and that isn’t really categorized either (like Swinger Clubs, Dominatrixes, Stripper Service, etc.). I think part of the problem can be assigned to Google’s discomfort with openly advertising sexual services in their products (their self-censoring of terms like nudity on search is one example of their prudishness). In general, I support the inclusion of escort service POIs in the search results provided they’re legal. Although escort services in the US have taken the tact that ‘How do you know that they’re offering sexual services?’, given the obvious nature of their listings, you would have to be blind, deaf, and retarded not to be able to understand what, exactly, it is they’re offering (otherwise they would be wise to choose a different category), and Google, ultimately, is not really in a position to defend itself from aggressive state attorney generals looking to burnish their political credentials in advance of their run for the governorship. If there’s any question, then Google can look at each listing on a case-by-case basis. However, in general, given the mobile nature of escort service POIs, many of them can’t even be properly construed as ‘local’ because they’re constantly moving from one city to the next (some seem to follow a migratory route), and some cover large swaths of the country, which means they’ll have multiple listings. I suppose if they want to go to the trouble of creating those listings and define a service area, more power to them, but even then, it’s hard to figure out, in some cases, what is and isn’t legal even where it is supposedly somewhat legal because they’re avoiding all references to escort services and/or prostitution. Massage Parlors in the US, by way of example, don’t advertise as an Escort Service, but they do have a storefront and provide rub and tug (or as it’s colloquially known, ‘A happy ending’). Should those be allowed, or not? Some people will go in for a real (non-sexual) massage, but most others will get a massage plus sexual service. You can ‘find’ them–they have a storefront, business license, etc., but finding out what they do requires some research into the seedier aspects of the internet, as it’s not something they necessarily openly advertise from street view, their website, or their listing. Making them disappear from Google Local won’t make them ‘go away’ just like removing escort service POIs won’t make prostitution disappear. Nonetheless, it’s something that should be thought about.

    Regardless, the point I’m ultimately trying to make is that Google should support escort services where it’s legal, and prohibit it where it’s not, and they need to spell that out in the help documentation, quality guidelines, and categories so there can be no misinterpretation. In the US, it’s pretty simple, with the exception of a few counties, prostitution is illegal, and since it’s illegal, why list it at all? There are multiple websites that better cater to escort services, and given the spammy nature of illegal business services (like locksmiths), the tendency of this kind of business is to misrepresent (or to put it more plainly, lie) about what kind of services they’re offering (photos are usually fake, etc.) in order to avoid legal entanglements, and neither the client nor the escort can avail themselves of the civil courts to resolve contractual disputes. In the end, it’s buyer beware, and is this really where Google wants to take its local listings? That the buyer doesn’t even have a modicum of trust that the business is what it says it is? That Google has no responsibility to either the consumer or business, and that anyone can say anything on their local search results?

    Thanks,

    Dan

  5. I also wanted to point out Google should seriously consider working on Google Events to cover classes, fairs, etc. that have a temporary presence to make them easier to find on Google Maps and general search.

    Here’s the text from the issue (http://code.google.com/p/google-mapmaker/issues/detail?id=2445) I submitted:

    POIs that are temporary and/or don’t fit into the Maps scheme (mobile businesses or businesses with a physical address) could be integrated into an Events overlay for Google Maps. Specifically, any kind of event (which would be a separate search type on Google general search), which is time- and location-limited (like county fairs, club events, shows, plays, etc.) could be added to Google Maps or Map Maker in a similar fashion to other POIs. Initially, the events could be limited to events feeds from Google Place pages, but eventually, any organization could add their events (subject to the same restrictions that Google Maps employs to reduce spam, such as no private POIs) to the events layer. Businesses could employ an events page with photos and text similar to Place pages, and could use targeted advertising on Google Maps.

    It would help mobile businesses that move around a lot (like taco trucks), shows of all kinds (Maps would serve as the defacto telephone post), classes, etc. and could really enhance Google+Local because if you wanted to find something to do, you could look at the Google+Local Event pages to find out what is going on, and the layer could be turned on/off. Many businesses that don’t fit into the Places model could have a presence, and Google could essentially set it up as as both a free and paid service, with enhanced levels of presence, advertising, and support. The possibilities are endless. There are issues with spam (no one wants to see ‘Bud’s party’ in the Events layer), so some curation is necessary, but there are a lot of product tie-ups that could occur, like My Maps, Google Calendar, etc.

  6. Hope about an Events layer to address the problem of temporary, local events that don’t fit into the Place scheme?

    POIs that are temporary and/or don’t fit into the Maps scheme (mobile businesses or businesses with a physical address) could be integrated into an Events overlay for Google Maps. Specifically, any kind of event (which would be a separate search type on Google general search), which is time- and location-limited (like county fairs, club events, shows, plays, etc.) could be added to Google Maps or Map Maker in a similar fashion to other POIs. Initially, the events could be limited to events feeds from Google Place pages, but eventually, any organization could add their events (subject to the same restrictions that Google Maps employs to reduce spam, such as no private POIs) to the events layer. Businesses could employ an events page with photos and text similar to Place pages, and could use targeted advertising on Google Maps.

    Mobile businesses like taco trucks, bands, yoga classes, community meetings, etc. could have their own events Place page. The product tie-ups would be kind of neat, like with Google My Places and Google Calendar. The Events layer could be toggled on/off like Photos, Terrain, etc. but you could also see it in the search sidebar. Google Maps would then serve as a kind of local kiosk or telephone pole for events in your neighborhood.

    (Sorry if this is a double post.)

  7. Dan may have just posted the most epic comment trilogy I’ve seen. (Thanks, Dan!)

    I second the motion that an “Events” layer would be cool. It would also be more Google Plus –friendly than any other aspect of local search I can think of. Of course, I really hope Google doesn’t go add something like that BEFORE getting a handle on the fundamentals.

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