Archive for the ‘Search Engines’ Category

Google Maps: New Changes, New Errors

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Matt McGee’s news piece on SEL caught my eye this morning, reporting that Google Maps now sports a new look and feel. The change was apparently announced late yesterday on the Google LatLong blog (I have to agree with Matt’s aside, their blog redesign is not an improvement).

The change comes after a few weeks of observed changes to Google Place Search and rumors and speculation about “big changes coming to Google Maps” followed by increasing buzz around place editing bugs and map interface errors.

Could this be what all the hubbub was about?!? At first glance, most of the changes seem relatively superficial.

This likely does explain some of the errors I encountered yesterday when attempting to do some searches and driving directions requests – that was likely during their code propagation. However, it still seems to me that there could be other changes on the horizon for when Google Plus for businesses rolls out.

Unfortunately, I can immediately see errors in the code that was just rolled out. For instance, the tooltips which appear when moused-over contain encoding errors, rendering various special characters like ampersands and apostrophes into gobbledygook:

Google Maps tooltip title display error

(more…)

Google Scaling-Down Local Results? Possible Explanations Abound

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011
Google Place Search

Normal Google Place Search Results

People have reported seeing the “7-pack”, or local integrated listings under Universal/Place Search, in Google SERPs less in the past few days (reported on Search Engine Roundtable and WebmasterWorld). I’m seeing some similar cases where local queries are not invoking the business listings as I would’ve expected previously (such as for “Memphis locksmiths”).

So far, one of the prime theories in the discussion forums is that Google might’ve done that in advance of their antitrust hearings in Washington this week, in order to appear less aggressive by allowing more competitor directory pages to rank higher. I find that theory hard to believe, although it’s possible.

However, another theory is that this could be linked-to the recent rumors I earlier reported upon regarding Google planning to launch some “big changes” to Google Maps on October 1st. I opined that this could tie into their planned release of Google+ pages for businesses, and I think that’s still the case.

If Google were merely showing fewer local listings in the SERPs, I might suspect that (more…)

Google Plus Snippets Launch In Google Maps

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

I happened to see Greg Sterling briefly at SMX East today, and he alerted me that Google announced that they’ve launched “+snippets” for Maps, allowing users to share Google Maps pages with their friends in Google+:

Google Plus Snippets in Google Maps

Could this be what the “big changes planned for Google Maps” rumor I earlier reported was referring-to? (more…)

Drop In Major IYP Traffic

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

According to Google Trends, it appears there may have been a significant drop in traffic from Google referrals to major Internet Yellow Pages (IYPs) sites:

Drop in Local Directories' Traffic?

Yellowpages.com, Superpages.com, Yelp.com, Citysearch.com, and WhitePages.com all look like they’re dipping in sync.

Is it possible that IYPs have fallen under the treads of a Panda update?

It’s still perhaps early to tell, but it’s looking like they’re all experiencing something similar.

Rumored Google Maps Changes Could Involve Google+

Monday, September 12th, 2011

Google Plus + Google MapsOver the weekend, I received a credible rumor from one of the larger companies I work with. Purportedly, they were contacted by their Google Ads rep and urged to purchase more advertising now, inadvance of some “big changes” planned to happen on October 1.

It’s still early, and I haven’t been able to confirm this rumor as of yet, despite putting out feelers to a number of sources. However, it feels believable because Google Plus has promised rollout of business Plus pages at some point, and it would make very good sense in the case of local businesses to have their (more…)

Google’s New Content Delivery Network (CDN)

Friday, July 29th, 2011

Google Page Speed Service - Content Delivery Network CDNI posted a piece about Google’s new “Page Speed Service” over on SEM Clubhouse this morning, and in it I describe a bit of how it will speed up websites and thus help with both SEO and user-experience. Those are mostly good things.

But, I go on to compare it a little with old AOL service processes. Like the old AOL service, which used to compress and cache webpages across the internet (sometimes changing those pages for the worse), the Google service is also a little disturbing in the “Big Brother” sense.

Google, through search, already occupies so much of consumers’ time on the internet, and it’s often the first leg or starting-off-point for many consumers’ web interactions. If large numbers of websites also use the Page Speed Service, then Google could be hosting the entire end-to-end experience for the internet.

If they start using their dark fiber network as part of the routing of this new Content Delivery Network, one’s internet usage moves partially off of the shared public grid onto a completely private network. Your user experience would not necessarily be altered, but it’s disturbing from the standpoint of it beginning to build a defacto “walled-garden” experience upon the infrastructure of a single company which begins to resemble the mother of all monopolies.

When an internet experience (or mobile access experience) is completely within a silo, it risks having all sorts of odd rules imposed upon it. Such as a lack of network neutrality, the forcible intrusion of unwanted ads, snooping, and outright suppression of materials not deemed to be in the best interests of the owner corporation.

While Google has been known for being more philosophically against censorship and suppression, and has been a supporter (to some degree) of net neutrality, the potential for issues if they own the end-to-end web experience expand exponentially. The old adage applies, regardless of good intentions: “It’s not wise to put all your eggs in one basket.”

Google Maps Hates Small Businesses By Launching Local Folksonomy Descriptive Terms

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Google has just announced that they’ve launched “Descriptive Terms” to appear with business listings in map search results. According to them, these descriptive terms are some of the most common terms found in user reviews, blogs, web pages and other online references which describe the business. For instance, if you search for “Barbeque Restaurants”, you might see a business which lists such items as “banana pudding”, “pork chops”, “texas style”, “baked potato” and “chicken poppers”:

BBQ Restaurant Descriptive Terms

So, the cool part of this idea is that the feature will highlight user-generated terms which are frequently used in reference to the business. This is a type of an ontology formed by the vox populi, or common man. More properly, these Descriptive Terms begin forming what’s known as a “folksonomy“, which started coming into vogue with social media, particularly around the concept of tag clouds.

(It’s very slightly ironic that Google Maps has now deployed what are essentially small tag clouds with business listings, since I’ve heard some Google Engineers mildly disparage tag clouds as being potentially un-userfriendly and potentially bad on sites in some cases!)

But, the really UNCOOL part of the new Descriptive Terms is that Google appears to’ve launched these willy-nilly without properly safeguarding against sensitive/bad terms that they can end up highlighting.

With very minor testing, I can see numerous instances where the terms selected by the algorithm are inappropriate and unfairly damaging to the businesses. (more…)

Penises Invade Google Maps ♂

Friday, June 10th, 2011

So, we’ve seen UFOs in Google Maps, illegal activites, marriage proposals, earth art, and more. Since I’ve reported on all sorts of cool things to see in Google Maps (including corn field mazes, advertisements, and more), I’ve decided to also report on the latest — a juvenile prank that’s now gotten a lot more publicity than was perhaps originally imagined. Yes, I’m sad to say that penises have now invaded Google Maps!

Penises in Google Maps

It seems that some students at New Zealand’s Fairfield College decided it would be funny to lay down phallic patterns of weedkiller on the school’s lawns, according to Stuff.co.nz. By the time the landscaping maintenance personnel realized what had happened, the penis-shaped patterns were already showing up. The maintenance people tried obliterating the definition of the patterns with more weedkiller, apparently killing all the grass.

But, not before Google’s satellite/aerial cameras caught the scenes. (more…)

Google Site Blocking Feature – An Assault On SEO?

Friday, March 11th, 2011

During this week’s SMX West conference, Google announced a new feature whereby searchers may block domains from appearing in their search results:

Google Block Domains from Results - Rush Limbaugh

The part of Google’s announcement which grabbed more attention from search engine optimization experts is this statement from the end of the post:

“…while we’re not currently using the domains people block as a signal in ranking, we’ll look at the data and see whether it would be useful as we continue to evaluate and improve our search results in the future…”

I think it entirely likely that Google will (more…)

Google Instant Previews Ironically Leaves Out Google Maps, Flash & YouTube

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Google’s Instant Preview feature, which allows one to click on a little magnifying-glass icon in search results in order to see how webpages appear, doesn’t support Google Maps, YouTube, nor Flash interfaces.

For instance, here’s the Map page from Elvis Presley’s Graceland website:

Graceland's Map Page

Yet, in Google Instant Preview, the main graphic element of the map is missing entirely:

Graceland's Map Page in Instant Preview

Google rolled out Instant Previews with some fanfare a few months ago. According to their statements at the time, people making use of the previews were “more satisfied” with search results they ultimately clicked-upon, thus providing an excuse for its addition on the search results page (this is no minor thing — Google’s search engine result page or “SERP” is prime real estate, and they’re very conservative about anything introduced upon it).

The Instant Previews are a sort of generated screengrab image of webpages. Their systems likely leverage HTML interpretation software to compose how a webpage will look, perhaps based upon the Document Object Model, sized to the maximum width of the image size, along with some pagebreaks they’ve built in to abbreviate lengths of pages and highlight text from certain sections of it.

This isn’t actually anything new — search engines, directories, and internet yellow pages have incorporated preview images of webpages in their results for quite a number of years at this point going back to perhaps around the year 2000, but it was earlier done at a slightly smaller size. One of the best-known services to produce these preview thumbnail images is Girafa. Even more relevant to Google, perhaps, the underlying technology likely dates back to work by Jakob Nielsen and others at Sun Microsystems in 1999 (see Method, apparatus and program product for updating visual bookmarks). As you may recall, Nielsen is the usability expert whose philosophies were apparently very influential in the earlier days of Google when he was on their Technical Advisory Board. This may explain why Google has trotted out a fairly common feature that’s been around for at least a decade, and presented it as though it’s some completely new innovation.

Google engineers were quoted mentioning how Instant Previews was also intended to help speed up the internet, and Google’s been making strides in pushing their philosophy that the internet should speed up. (Recall that they formally introduced Page Speed as a ranking factor last year.) This unfortunately reminds me of how AOL used to cache webpages across the internet and compress everyone’s images so that their users would have faster browsing speeds — and, AOL also inflicted bad user experiences onto webmasters’ creations, since their image compression algorithm had a bug which caused certain types of JPEGs to have chunks of image screwed-up!

The main innovations involved with the Instant Previews seem to be the slightly larger size than what was often used in the past, the “call-outs” of text snippets which highlight portions of text matching the user’s search, and the jagged pagebreaks to visually abbreviate the length of pages.

So, considering that this is really something of a rehashed idea from nearly ten years ago, it’s surprising that Google appears to’ve rolled it out prematurely. Read on for some observations and solutions… (more…)