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A couple of years ago when local search engine optimization started becoming a hot topic, I winced when I heard other search marketers recommending that local businesses include their street address in all page titles.
As I’ve written previously, most local businesses should include their business name, category, and city name in their page titles, particularly on their homepage. Some businesses are fortunate enough to be located at a particularly famous street address. These business also enjoy the online equivalent of the popular location, since a relatively larger number of people are likely to type the address into search engines and local search engines in order to get maps and other information about the location. Google Maps has noticed this propensity and has helpfully provided reverse search results for addresses. Imagine if your business was located in the shopping center where Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is located in Los Angeles, or if your business was one of those which shares space in the Empire State Building in New York City. Google is helpfully listing around twenty of the businesses located at that address alongside the map. For instance, Peabody Place in Memphis, Tennessee, is both a tourist hotspot due to being attached to the famous Peabody Hotel, and it’s also a shopping center. Once again, this optimization tactic should really be reserved more for those businesses that are located at addresses which are somehow significant and therefore likelier to be independently searched upon. Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.
Chris Smith is President of Argent Media, and serves on advisory boards for Universal Business Listing and FindLaw. SMX Advanced, the only conference designed for experienced search marketers, returns to Seattle June 22-23. MarTech: The Marketing Tech Conference is for marketers responsible for selecting marketing technologies and developing marketing technologists. Google is combining Street View images, neural network analysis, and a reverse Turing Test via reCAPTCHA to analyze the exteriors of storefronts. Welcome to the 21st century, where you may need to perform “optimization” on the real-world exterior of your stores to help ensure the best rankings in Google!
I was struck by how the data was very likely also used in validating business addresses for purposes of eliminating spam as well. Google’s development of these capabilities is just one part of its data collection about the actual world around us that folds into the local search algorithms. There are some reasons why these sorts of developments are becoming more important to local businesses and local search marketers. In the earlier days of the internet, a business tended to assume that anything about them on the internet was placed there by them and thus controlled by them, much as their presence in the yellow pages directories may have been handled in days past. Of course, as the internet has matured, perhaps most businesses have come to realize that they do not solely control their online presence — numerous online directories, search engines, and other types of sites all compile data about entities and display it in various ways.
In the Web 2.0 world, many of us have learned and continue to learn how our online reputations and presence are something of a gestalt, formed of all the disparate pieces of information that are collected together and served up in multitudinous ways. Even considering how the information age has evolved to find, collate and deliver up data about businesses and organizations, I’m not sure there has ever been a time when the physical reality of the world itself has been more intermingled with the virtual world. More and more, things that happen in the physical world are having a direct effect upon your online presence, and so it’s becoming vital for local businesses to pay more attention to how these elements may affect their presence within local search. As I described in my article from 2008, Top Causes Of Errors In Online Mapping Systems, online mapping systems have often been challenged with translating street addresses into the geocodes and pinpointing the locations on maps (though this situation has been steadily improving for many years).
There were also instances when businesses’ addresses were clumped — such as at shopping centers and in tall office buildings. As you may know, Google and some other systems incorporated building outlines for a great many cities into locational determinations.
In addition, more and more types of street data pours into Google and other mapping systems, which map data sources from a variety of city, state and national government data sources. Even considering the sophisticated mix of location determinations, there can be a lot of instances when geolocations are incorrectly calculated. In many cases, these companies will upload the precise geolocations of their outlets themselves, or they may hand-tweak them, such as with Google’s map pinpoint correction tool in Google Places interface.
In cases when you have longer facades of buildings with many doors on them, you begin to have a great chance of algorithmically determining door-front locations of addresses if you could have a system that would read the numbers off of the doors and doorframes.
On the face of it, this sort of system seems simple: Google’s mapping vehicles capture the fronts of many buildings, including storefronts, many of which include address numbers affixed to the building fronts.
Once these many image files are associated with geolocations of the street spots where they were captured, it’s a matter of running an OCR system through the images to capture any words, and most especially numbers.
Extracting the numbers from the images is a complex task, but Google research papers indicate it has developed a deep neural network system that can be trained to identify numbers of up to five digits long. Google has apparently employed this system with a fairly high success rate and is automatically translating the numerals from images.
In practical application, this functionality is quite involved, and still prone to some percentage of errors or numbers that the neural net simply cannot identify. If an extracted value corresponds with the building number of the address of interest such as being substantially equal to the address of interest, the extracted value and the image portion are displayed to a human operator. I’ve had reason to believe that these individuals were previously viewing Street View images, anyway, in order to help validate the businesses. Indeed, if we look at the images that Google is sometimes delivering through its reCAPTCHA interfaces (a service Google offers for free to webmasters for the purpose of validating submission form content to reduce spam and harvesting of data by automated systems), then we see what are clearly building numbers being offered up in order to obtain the free labor to get back text validating their OCR system translations — use of the reCAPTCHA system is essentially a reverse Turing test. In addition, Google’s reCAPTCHA service page indicates that it is also using these images for the purpose of reading the text on street signs.


Now, Google already held a patent from further back that involved potentially identifying details from Street View images in order to help validate online business information in connection with building exterior information such as business name signs, hours of operation, street numbers and menus. The ongoing development of these ideas indicates that it’s an important and prioritized area of the local team’s development efforts. Business Name Change: Did you acquire a business and change the name, but not update the exterior sign? Hours of Operation Visibility: Are your hours of operation posted in large letters outside your business? The eternally-closed door sign in the British sitcom, Black Books, behind actor Dylan Moran. The real takeaway of all of this is that local store operators must always keep up their brick-and-mortar location’s real-world presence, in addition to feeding and watering their online presence. The title for the patent is Reverse engineering circumvention of spam detection algorithms. The result of such efforts might be for their local listings to disappear completely from Google Maps results.
Google has filed and been granted a number of patents in a category I’ve called Web Spam. One patent, filed a couple of years back, took sites that Google was suspicious of using spam to improve rankings and instead of increasing their ranks, decreased their rankings, or kept them the same, or let rankings fluctuate randomly. This kind of incorrect ranking was intended to get a spammer to reverse changes they may have made to a site, or roll some of them back.
If the changes were reversed by (possibly the same person), Google might decide that the changes were done by a spammer, especially if new changes were even more spammy (unnatural links, keyword stuffing, etc.). The post and patent inspired a few discussions and a few questions to the Google Spam fighting team. Google local business listings provide data identifying a business and its location both in the world and on the web. The customer may be defrauded by contacting or visiting an entity believed to be at a particular location only to learn that the business is actually operating from a completely different location. We’re next told that search engines try to identify such spammers, who sometimes experiment with search listing submissions to see if they can manipulate search results.
The amount of noise that is added is sufficient to affect spammer’s attempts to reverse engineer spam-identification algorithms, but small enough so that the search experience of end users is minimally affected because the ranking of legitimate listings is unaffected.
A spam score is assigned to a business listing when the listing is received at a search entity.
In the event that the spam score is greater than a first threshold, the listing is identified as fraudulent and the listing is not included in (or is removed from) the group of searchable business listings.
The addition of the noise to the spam scores prevents potential spammers from reverse engineering the spam detecting algorithm such that more listings that are submitted to the search entity may be identified as fraudulent and not included in the group of searchable listings.
I didn’t write this post to help people who might be spamming business search listings, but rather because I know how important search listings can be to legitimate businesses of all types that rely to a degree upon Google local listings for the success of their businesses. The patent does provide more details on the process behind how they use a spam score and how random amounts of noise might be added.
What kinds of signals might you think would be potential indications of spam listings to people at Google? There are times when I think Google might be purposefully a little misleading, and this patent had that specifically as an intent.
I have seen Starbucks across the street from each other in some cities, but it would be kind of strange to see 10 pizza places in a row. There are some types of businesses that seem to find addresses clustered around places like a Mailboxes etc., or a registered agent, and those kinds of things may be a sign that an address may not be the actual address that they conduct business at.
It’s great to hear that Google is coming up with new measures to fight spammers, but what if innocent people get caught in this new algorithm? But, a tow truck company opening and listing its address on the same block as 50 other tow truck companies is ridiculous and probably a sign of spam. Anyone who is intentionally doing something other than “creating great content” for higher SERPs is a spammer . I’d love to see spam-free search but I’d also like to find a way to let Google know when their data is wrong! They probably need more feet in the street, or to get their street car drivers to get out of the cars and try some doors, or get more satellites up in the air. From a business marketing perspective, such addresses are significant because they provide possibility of an advantage that these businesses can further exploit.
To appear beside the map, Google likely bases this upon the business address that they have in their Google Local database (if your business isn’t already listed there, you could register in the Google Local Business Center). For instance, there are a lot of businesses around the country that are located at large shopping centers, local landmarks, and tourist hotspots.
If your business is the only thing located at your street address, it’s a safe bet that too few people will be searching for your street address by itself to justify watering down your title to include it.
For those businesses which have a popular street address, this tactic can include a real bump up in online prominence which could also translate into more real world customers. As I described in 2008, there were instances when digital systems knew that an address was on a street, and on a particular side of it, but these systems had to interpolate in placing the addresses — spreading out all addresses equally along one side. This sort of data likely helped further in determining actual organization address locations.
The human operator confirms, by looking at the image portion, whether the image portion appears to be a building number that matches the extracted value.


First, it has been known for a while that Google has made use of a staff of humans to verify new business information by phoning these new businesses after they submit their listings to Google Places. So, the data is further enhancing local search by verifying the street names and street locations from the Street View images (example below). Most local businesses probably make an effort to ensure that the exterior of their shops make a good impression upon potential customers, and work to make sure that their signage is all accurate. Various organizations such as the Better Business Bureau may ding you anyway if you are found to be misleading consumers in some way, so accurate representations on the exterior of your business place ought to be kept updated at all times. This sort of thing could now contribute to having outdated listings continuing to exist and rank in local search results, even if you set up a new business listing in Google and flagged the legacy listing for deletion. This can happen with a great many strip shopping centers and businesses that are abutting each other in dense metro areas. If your sign was painted up in a kooky font that is virtually illegible, or if your building number was painted on in a funky way by your favorite nephew, re-think it, and perhaps replace it. If so, you may want to be sure they reflect the same info that you post online in directories and in local search engines. I once spent an hour driving around the streets of a small town in Texas, searching in vain for a special sale — all because the words were completely worn off of all of the street signs! Increasingly, attempting to fool Google Local may work against you, as my fellow columnist Greg Gifford stated a few weeks ago.
It has the kind of title that captures your attention, as a weapon in the war that Google wages against people who might try to spam the search engine. A false positive, or a site mistakenly positively identified as spamming a search engine, may mean more than just a site getting demoted in rankings. In the event that the spam score is greater than a second threshold that is less than the first threshold, the listing may be flagged for inspection. A new listing is suspected as fake because it resides on the same block as four other competitors.
The density of businesses in the same category gains significance when a business resides on the same block as 50 competitors, or even when a business such as a locksmith suddenly appears in new locations in every town in a block of 5 contiguous counties. New businesses popping up on every corner is suspicious irregardless of the business category’s density in those areas.
That could refer to the density of all of a *specific* business’s locations, or of the density of all of one *type* of business in a location. They been supposedly using Recaptcha to supposedly check upon street numbers for buildings in Streetview, to help better match up addresses and locations for businesses.
Like Daniel said, just because a new business opens up in a densely occupied area doesn’t mean its a spammer. Some chain restaurants, for example, look for locations of other chain restaurants to open up near.
Chances are that with that many tow companies in the space block, most of them are mail drops only, which is something that Google is trying to avoid completely. Google patent is used to describe how Google will randomly move the search engine ranking of a website when their are some rank-modifying spamming techniques in use.
It comes in the original box with one 20 round and two 15 round mags and all the accessories the gun came with.
However, users are committing street address searches in the regular keyword search side as well—and pages which have that street address reflected in the title are more likely to appear in the street address search results. If so, the processor stores a value that associates that building number with the street level image.
Or, did you attempt to add a new listing, only to have it go into a “pending” status that never resolves?
One of the illustrated embodiments shown with the earlier patent showed an hours of operation sign on a shop window — so, this might not be as farfetched as it sounds. You may see computer technicians on investigative TV shows performing all sorts of cool image-clarifications on digital images, but I really doubt Google has much if any of this sorts of enhancement on their images.
People do create bogus listings, attached to very real phone numbers to generate business leads. And a singular new business listing in a densely competitive area seems like a very natural occurrence.
If the street address was included in the title in this case, it would dilute the relevancy on the more advantageous keyword phrases.
Your business name is a key element and your exterior signage had better coordinate accurately with your business name in Google Local. Increase the user-friendliness of your exterior by trying to make it clear which businesses go with which signs. So, if your street signs in your area require psychic assistance to read, campaign to your local government to have them fixed and updated ASAP! Often many of such businesses don’t necessarily even need nearby offices to conduct the kind of business that they perform. Those of us in local search marketing have long harped upon auditing one’s citations online and correcting any that are out of sync, and this activity now extends to your offline, brick-and-mortar location information as well!



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