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How Business Listings Are Made – Whiteboard Friday

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Posted by David Mihm

As a local business owner, it’s important for your business to be listed in Google’s search results. But how do you fix your business listing if the information is incorrect? 

In this week’s edition of Local Whiteboard Friday, David Mihm sheds some light on the complicated process that Google uses to create its business listings.

For reference, here’s a still of David’s whiteboard diagram.



Video Transcription

“Hey everybody. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday and in particular a local edition of Whiteboard Friday. I’m David Mihm, the Director of Local Search Strategy for SEOMoz, and I’m here to answer one of the most common questions that we get asked which is:  “Hey, how come my business information is showing up incorrectly at Google?”

So they type in the name of their business, and there’s either a phone number wrong or their address is wrong or sometimes the marker for where their business is, is in the wrong place. So I want to try to answer how Google generates its business listings.

So the first step that a lot of business owners take, which is a great step to take, is they go directly to Google. Google offers a dashboard for businesses that Google Places as well as Google+, there are kind of two ways into it right now. A business owner goes and he enters his business name, his address, his phone number, some categories, maybe the hours that he operates his business, and he tells that directly to Google. Of course the expectation is, “Oh well, I’m the business owner. I’m telling Google this information. That’s how it should show up when Google spits out a search result.” But in reality that’s not actually how Google assembles a business listing. So I’m going to erase these lines, and I’ll try to walk you guys through how this process actually happens.

So for many of you, if you’re business owners, you go to one of these places, the Google Places dashboard or the Google+ local dashboard, and you tell Google about your business and you find before you even get there Google knows about your business. It can guess at what your address and phone number are for example.

So you might wonder where Google is finding that information. Actually in the United States there are three companies that aggregate business data for United States businesses. Again, this is the United States only, but in this country those guys are Infogroup, Neustar and Axiom. So Google buys or leases information from at least one of these companies and pulls it into its index. But it doesn’t go right into Google’s index. It actually goes into a massive server cluster that takes it into consideration as one data source.

So not only is the business owner one of these data sources, but you would have one data provider, maybe Infogroup is another data source. Neustar might be another data source and so and so forth. So imagine this graphic going quite far to the right, even off of the whiteboard just with some of these data aggregation services.

That all gets assembled at a server cluster, somewhere in Mountain View let’s just say, that compiles kind of all of this information. These however, aren’t even the only places that Google gets data. These guys, these data sources actually also, in addition to sending information to Google, they send data out to a whole bunch of other sites across the web. So Yelp, for example, gets information from one of these sources. Yellowpages.com gets information from one of these sources. Many of you guys have seen my local search ecosystem infographic that kind of details a little bit more about how this process works.

Then Google goes out, and it crawls these sites across the web and again throws that information into this server cluster. So again, imagine this table here going off basically to infinity, kind of off this page.

Additionally, in addition to these data aggregators, in addition to websites, Google looks at government information. So if you’re regional, like your county has a place of businesses that are registered in a particular county or maybe your secretary of state, Google is either probably going to crawl that information. In some cases the government publishes this in PDF format or something like that, and that gets pulled into this cluster again as one of these data points in this huge spreadsheet.

Another place that Google might get information believe it or not is Google Street View. Bill Slawski of SEO by the Sea recently gave a keynote at Local University in Baltimore, and there’s information in Google’s patents that suggest that street view cameras from these cars that they go out and they drive around trying to find driving directions are taking photos of storefronts with business name signage, with the address numbers right there on the storefront, and that information gets pulled into this, what we call the cluster of information.

So there are all these different sources pulling in, and you as the business owner, you are only one of these data sources. So even though you tell Google, “Hey, yes this is my address, this is my phone number, this is where I’m located,” if Google is seeing bad information, at any of these other places from these data aggregators, from websites, from government entities, Google pulls data in from everywhere. So if every other source out, there or a lot of other sources out there that Google trusts, especially major data aggregators or government entities, if they have your information wrong, that could lead to misinformation in the search results.

But there’s one final step actually before Google will publish the information, the authoritative information from this cluster. Google actually has human reviewers that are looking at this information. They are calling businesses to verify things like categories, the buildings that certain businesses are located in, and these reviewers will again call a real business offline. So if you get a call and it says, “Hey, Mountain View is calling you, it might actually be Google.” So pay special attention if your business receives those kind of calls. They might be trying to validate information that they’re finding from across the web.

The other thing to keep in mind is that Google accepts data from other reviewers, from other human reviewers via a website that it operates called Google Map Maker. So if you’re having trouble with your information from one of these sources, you might check Google.com/mapmaker. It’s like a Wikipedia for locations. Anybody in the world can go in there and update data. So it’s really, really important if you’re a business owner and you’re having trouble with Google publishing bad information about your business, you can’t just go into the Google Places dashboard or the Google+ dashboard and fix this information. You really need to go to all of these different sources. So these major data aggregators, they’re different in every country. So if you’re from somewhere else in the world besides the United States, you need to do some research on who these guys are. You need to update your information at Internet yellow pages sites. You definitely need to update your information with government authorities, and you probably want to check your information at least on this Google Map Maker site, because all of these feed into this central data cluster that then feeds into a Google search result for your business.

So I hope that explains a little bit about this very complicated process that Google has to assemble business listings. If you want more information in the text part of the page on which this Whiteboard is published, I’ll reference one of my colleagues at Local University, Mike Blumenthal. Mike has a great sort of text based layout of what I just explained visually, and Mike is actually the inspiration for this idea of the data cluster at Google Local.

So hope you enjoyed that Whiteboard Friday, and again for more information I’ll link to Mike Blumenthal’s blog down near the comments.

Thanks guys.”

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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How Rich Will Listings Get?

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As Google has went from ad platform for illicit content (both ways) to host of illicit content & reseller of legit content, they have cracked down on competitors & are now trying to police the ability of other sites to accept payment:

The web search giant, which is embroiled in a long-running row over the way it deals with pirated material, is considering the radical measure so that it can get rid of the root cause instead of having to change its own search results.

Executives want to stop websites more or less dedicated to offering links to pirated films, music and books from making money out of the illegal material. The plans, still in discussion, would also block funding to websites that do not respond to legal challenges, for example because they are offshore.

While Google is partnering with big media (that has long had a multi-polar approach to copyright) Google continues to gain in a game of inches.

Last month Google announced a new format for their image search results, where they pull the image inline without sending the visitor onto the publisher website. At the same time they referenced some “phantom visitor” complaint from publishers to justify keeping the visitor on Google & highlighted how there were now more links to the image source. If publishers were concerned about the “phantom visitor problem” we wouldn’t see so many crappy slideshow pageviews.

Google’s leaked remote rater guidelines do mention something about rating an image lower under certain situations like where the author might want attributed for their work that they are routinely disintermediated from.

On Twitter a former Google named Miguel Silvar wrote: “If you do SEO and decide to block Image Search just because it’s bringing less traffic, you can stop calling yourself an SEO expert.”

Many “experts” would claim that any exposure is good, even if you don’t get credit for it. Many clients of said “experts” will end up bankrupt! Experts who suggest it is reasonable for content creators to be stripped of payment, traffic & attribution are at best conflicted.

One of the fears of microformats was that as you add incremental cost to structure your data, the search engines may leverage your extra effort to further displace you. That fear turned out to be valid, as in the background Google was offering vertical review sites the “let us scrape you, or block Googlebot” ultimatum.

Google Shopping has shifted to paid inclusion & Google has made further acquisitions in the space, yet people still recommend that ecommerce sites get ahead by marking up their pages with microformats.

As Google continues to win the game of inches of displacing the original sources, they don’t even need you to mark up your content for them to extract their knowledge graph. Bill Slawski shared a video of Google’s Andrew Hogue describing their mass data extraction effort: “It’s never going to be 100% accurate. We’re not even going to claim that it is 100% accurate. We are going to be lucky if we get 70% accuracy … we are going to provide users with tools to correct the data.”

If you as a publisher chose to auto-generate content at a 70% accuracy, pumped it up to first page rankings & then said “if people care they will fix it” Google would rightfully call you a spammer. If they do the same, it is knowledge baby.

Eric Schmidt recently indicated that Google was willing to sacrifice relevancy to collect identity information. Their over-promotion of Google+ has become more refined over time, but it hasn’t went way.

Google pays for default placement in Safari & Firefox. Former Google executives head AOL & Yahoo!. Google can thus push for new cultural norms that make Microsoft look like an oddball or outsider if they don’t play the same game.

Google isn’t the only company playing the scrape-n-displace game.

“The innovation in search is really going to be on the user interface level” – Marissa Mayer



It’s worth keeping an eye on Yahoo! (the above types of scraped rich listings, lead generation forms in the organic search results, contextual ad partnership with Google) to see where Google will head next.

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