Gallery of Inappropriate Bubble Ads


This search for “Child Protection Services, NY” provides an obvious example of Google’s inability to target a specific ad against a specific place with their new Info Bubble Ads.

There is some irony that the Archdiocese of New York* is sandwiched between Children’s Rights and the NY Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Child in the Map search results and I suppose the bottom ad for a Child Protection Lawyer is somehow oddly relevant in this context.

But the ad for the Gay Church service shown against the Archdiocese manages to clearly demonstrate Google’s (lack of ) ability to target these ads correctly. It adds fuel to the already inappropriate fire that is the Bubble Ad… I never knew that the Adwords algo had such a twisted  sense of humor.

In attempting to match a single ad to a single Place in Google Maps raises multiple issues…..

1)Certainly business (and churches & political organization for that matter) have a new arena where they need to worry about reputation management. They now have to think about “defending” themselves against ads from competitors or groups that disagree with their position….This drives ad growth and is likely to drive up bid prices for Google. While this occurs for all the wrong reasons I believe that they ones of which Google is likely aware. I had heard rumors in early September of Adword Account Reps instructing large Adword clients to take out ads in Google Maps in anticipation of this rollout.

2)The algo is incapable of correctly understanding which Places should have ads and which shouldn’t. This makes every Place in the virtual universe a target for an ad. Churches which are in theory a sanctuary from commercialism lose that… somber memorials become just another opportunity for a pitch.

3)Content that is abhorent or antithetical to the Place in real life can be associated with the Place virtually. The algo does not posses any ability to distinguish relevancy at a granular enough level to provide truly relevant ads that respect the intentions and aspirations of a given place. But worse, ads that are totally inappropriate by most human standards become acceptable.

4)At the end of the day, many of these ads are disrespectful of the user that made the effort to dive deeply into Google and find out more information about a given place.

There is the argument that the low visibility of the ad location somehow obviates the offense. My experience with Google Maps is that it is a testing ground for the big show. Single ads against single Places will migrate outward and upward if they are successful within Maps.

Like Facebook is pushing the limits of privacy in an effort to have none, Google is pushing the limits of ad display so that there are no societal limits on where or when ads can be displayed. Clearly breaking down societal mores that provide implicit boundaries to advertising is in Google’s best interest. I am not sure that it is the interest of either the general public nor the small business community.

*Note that I have no love lost on the Archdiocese of NY and they certainly have only themselves to blame for any problems that they have. That doesn’t deny my belief that they, and any church for that matter, should not have to worry about how Google uses their info bubble.

Google Places: Local Search Problems


The good folks from Artfibers, a prominent yarn store at 266 Sutter St. in San Francisco, CA, made this recent post in the forums:

I own one of the oldest and best yarn stores in San Francisco — Artfibers. Six months ago our name came up in a Google search “yarn San Francisco”. Now we do not. It seems that Google is determined to destroy our business. What can we do?

After several efforts by myself and another poster to help they proceeded to only get angrier at Google. I penned this response.

To seabright.nyle from Artfibers in San Francisco.

I understand that you are frustrated. I understand that Google Local results seem crazy and unpredictable to you and that you are angry. I understand that your time is limited but you feel compelled to explain all of this to Google. There is a reason for all of this:

Google is from Mars and most small business people are from Venus.

Let me explain.

Google solves big computational problems with algorithms. That is what they do, that is how they define themselves. On this particular computational problem of local search, they attempt to rank the 100 million or so world wide off-line businesses using on-line proxies. By that I mean that Google is looking to compare the importance of your business to another by looking across the Internet for signals that your real, substantial and significant Place in the real world has more prominence than another in your particular area of geography and specialty.

This is not small task that Google has undertaken. They use a statistical approach to improving the results and figure that if they can provide mostly accurate and relevant results and those are more accurate this week than last week than they are moving in the right direction. Computational and statistical approaches to the question of which businesses exist today and which are more important will never be 100% accurate. Your perception of reality and statistics rarely offer the same reflection of the real world.

You, on the other hand, think that your business deserves to be noticed, acknowledged and affirmed for the unique entity that it is. You feel that your business has earned this attention. Your business is often how you define yourself. When yours is one of the businesses that is affected by Google’s seemingly distant approach, you are justifiably angry.

But in this context your business is no more important to Google than a gnat on a the pettuti of an elephant is to that elephant. It might get noticed but it won’t change the general direction of travel. But it might also get swatted out of existence with the swish of a tail, regardless of ground truth.

You as a business owner can fight this tendency or you can take a more “go with the flow” approach.  I have been doing both for over 6 years. I can tell you from a narrow cost benefit approach, understanding the flow and going with it is usually the most profitable approach for small businesses.

You can try to get support in the forums, you can attempt to e-mail Google or call them and ask why your prominent off-line business is not more prominent online in their search engine. You can argue until you are blue in the face that they are “getting it wrong”.

The answer you will likely get IF you do manage to break through the veritable Iron Curtain of silence and connect with a human is the same answer that  Google provides in the Help Documents.

Google Maps search results are based primarily on relevance, distance, and prominence. These factors are combined to help us find the best match for your search.

Google Maps and Google Places are free services, so there’s no way to request or pay for a better ranking. In addition, we do our best to keep the details of the algorithm confidential in order to make the ranking system as fair as possible for everyone.

Their answer will make you will wonder if the people working there are any less computational and statistical than their algo. (I can assure you that they are.)

That leaves the “go with the flow” option. That means the “Google flow” or rather the flow as they have designed for they are big and you are little. You are the fly mentioned above.

This option means that you need to embark on an effort to learn how to make your business more relevant and more prominent in ways that Google (the machine, not the few humans behind the curtain) understands.

This effort will require either some time or some money. Perhaps more than you have readily available.

Either though is preferable to beating your head against that iron wall. Both directions will provide results. The latter though (the wall tactic) will provide just a headache.

Updates to local business listings

Our goal to create a digital representation of the real world doesn’t just mean a birds’ eye view through Google Earth, or a street-level view through Google Maps. It means providing a local view as well, and tools like Google Places help people across the globe learn about and connect with the places and businesses in their immediate areas.

We use a variety of authoritative sources to give users relevant local information about places that might interest them, including data from partners, users, and directly from business owners who verify their organic listings via Google Places for business. In addition, we always want to know about changes to a business that should be reflected on our local search products. That’s why we have the “Report a problem” tool on Google Maps, and also enable users to click on the “Edit this place” link at the top of the Place page to provide updates to a business listing.

And while some business owners may have previously verified their organic listing to ensure that their company information was correct at that particular moment in time, we recognize that amidst all the work that goes into running a successful enterprise, remembering to update their Google Places account may not always be top of mind. Oftentimes, a neighborhood local or a loyal customer is eager to help their favorite business update its online presence when it moves into a bigger space across the street, or extends its hours for the summer season.

That’s why today, we’re introducing a new process that helps streamline the way updates are made to potentially outdated or incorrect business listings. Previously, verified business listings would always reflect the information provided by its owner – even if we received data about an updated name, address, or hours of operation. But now, if a user provides new information about a business they know — or if our system identifies information from another source on the web that may be more recent than the data the business owner provided via Google Places — the organic listing will automatically be updated and the business owner will be sent an email notification about the change. Without requiring any effort on the part of the business owner, we’ll take measures to keep their listing up-to-date if our system determines that the edit is accurate. Of course, if the business owner disagrees or has even more recent information, they can always directly log in to their Google Places account and make further edits.

Online ads from business owners using our AdWords or AdWords Express programs will not be affected by these automatic updates. Ads will continue to display the business information the owner has provided in Google Places.

We hope these new features help users find the most accurate local information available, and make it even easier for business owners to manage their online presence. If you’re a business owner with additional questions about your specific listing, please consult the Google Places for business Help Center