Google Maps was the focus of one of the opening sessions of SMX West. In addition to speakers like David Mihm and Steve Espinosa, Google’s Jennifer Chin was on the panel — you may know her better as “Maps Guide Jen” in the Google Maps Help Forum.
As you’d expect, the Google Maps hijacking topic came up — this is where spammers and other crooks take over unclaimed business listings and use them for personal benefit. Jen told the audience that recent moves to prevent hijacking are working. From my notes, here’s a paraphrased version of her comments:
“We’re confident that hijacking is rare now, and we’ve put in a lot of checks to prevent it. Some cases that look like a hijacking really aren’t.”
I can’t confirm or refute that, but I certainly hope it’s the case. Google continues to insist (against all measures of logic) that it’s a Good Idea to let anyone edit business listings, and if that approach isn’t going to change, then these “checks” are the bare minimum Google needs to be doing to minimize the impact on small/local business owners. Spam in Google.com just means that a business doesn’t rank for a certain keyword; spam in Google Maps can put a small business out of business — the phone stops ringing, the emails stop arriving, and customers stop visiting when a business listing is hijacked.
Service Providers in Multiple Areas
The ongoing challenge of marketing a service-based business in Google Maps came up during the Q&A. This is a challenge I’m plenty familiar with — my wife is a Richland-based real estate agent, but she covers an area that also includes the cities of Kennewick, Pasco, West Richland, Benton City, Finley, Burbank, and others. Lawyers, doctors, plumbers, carpet cleaners, and many more business types have this same challenge, and Jen admitted Google still hasn’t come up with an effective way for these kinds of businesses to use Google Maps outside their city of origin.
“We know service areas are a problem. Right now, there are no good solutions to handling a business with multiple service areas. We are working on this. You can put your service areas in your local business listing as a ‘custom attribute.'”
The custom attribute field hasn’t helped my wife at all. Many months ago, I added the names of 8-10 other cities to her local business listing — including one city where there are no real estate agents doing business. Her listing doesn’t show up for searches on that city where there’s no competition, which leads me to think the custom attributes field is useless for targeting other cities.
Those are the main things that stood out for me from the “Up Close With Google Maps” session. The whole session was good and hopefully there’ll be a similar session like this at SMX East in October.
UPDATE: As I go through my post-conference pile of email, I came upon a note from Mike Blumenthal about a highly-related post he wrote today, in which Google says claimed business records can’t be hijacked anymore. Now if only that whole “Community Edit” garbage would go away, we’d all be good.