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Google Maps Local Business Search Results: F Grade

Google Maps Local Business Search Results
Honk If Google Maps Local Business Search Results Drive You Crazy!

Google Maps is a very popular resource for finding local businesses, but the results can often be disappointing.

Take, for example, a recent search I did for "Chicago PR Firm" in Google Maps.

Two of the four results (B and D in the graphic below) that show up in the Google Maps search results are not even Chicago firms. One, Goda Advertising, is in Mundelein and one, going by PR Chicago, is in Inverness.

Yikes! Inverness is 32 miles from the West Loop of Chicago. Mundelein is 39 miles away from central Chicago.

My guess is that only 5% of the companies looking for Chicago PR firms would be willing to drive that far to meet with their PR agency.

Take a look at the top four winners in my Google Maps search results for Chicago PR firm:

Google Maps Local Business Search Results for Chicago PR Firms

Aside from two of the firms not actually being in Chicago, it gets worse. The top result -- the #1 listing -- for "Chicago PR Firm" (A in the graphic) has what, at first blush, appears to be a fictitious, spammy name: Chicago PR.

Hmm, based on this simple search, what's the takeaway for webmasters and local business owners? It appears that it's a good strategy to put a spammy, keyword-optimized name into the business name field that you enter into local business directories.

Indeed, that strategy appears to have also worked well for the #4 search result (D in the diagram). Even though they are in Mundelein, they have staked their claim to doing business as "PR Chicago."

Regardless as to whether these are the companies real names or not (we'll check that out in a second), the takeaway here is that Google is not doing enough to discourage people from spamming Google Local search results. By ranking "PR Chicago" and "Chicago PR" in the top results for a search on "Chicago PR firms," we get the impression that the search results algorithm for Google Maps is easily gamed.

Anybody who knows anything about Chicago PR (the practice of public relations in Chicago) knows that Chicago PR (the firm) and PR Chicago (another firm) are not among the top players. But, based on these results, it appears that Google's local search algorithm is not prioritizing relevancy in a way that is meaningful and helpful to end users.

If others out there, in different industries, are getting similar local search results to what we got on this sample search, with top rankings populated with spammy business names, they may be very tempted to spam the search engines. That's not good.

Deconstructing the Top Result in Google Local For "Chicago PR Firm"

What else is interesting about this particular set of search results?

If we drill down to the Google Local detail page for Chicago PR, the top result, it looks pretty suspicious. Not a lot of information there.

The photo of the building gives the impression that this is just a downtrodden apartment building with a single retail storefront. While I'm not one to judge a book by its cover, the building doesn't suggest that this would be the home of a high-performing Chicago PR agency. Sure enough, if you type the address into Google Maps and go into Street View mode, you can see that they do have a sign that says "Chicago PR" in it, but the full name on the sign is "Chicago PR Lettering" and there's another big sign that lets you know that their main business is selling signs of some sort.

In other words, while they may legitimately be called Chicago PR, they are certainly not a Chicago PR firm. They are, in fact, a Letter Shop, as one discovers by doing ten seconds of online research.

Their web presence is in fact pretty minimal. In CitySearch, however, they are categorized as a Letter Shop, not as a PR firm. In SuperPages.com, they explicitly say "We specialize in Custom Auto Painting in Chicago, IL."

A human can very easily determine that the top result, #1 for Chicago PR Firm in Google Maps, is not in fact a PR firm at all.

Google's algorithms, unfortunately, are not so smart in this instance (Google gets things right 90% of the time I'd say).

OK, I'll admit that if I had searched for "Chicago PR" rather than "Chicago PR Firm," I'd be OK if my friends at Google gave me this Chicago lettering company as the #1 result. But if I say "Chicago PR Firm" or "Chicago PR Agency," it's pretty clear that the weighting should be on those last two words of those searches because "pr firm" and "pr agency" are definitional phrases for entities that work in the public relations field. Agree?

What About Result #2 for Our "Chicago PR Firm" Google Local Search?

Goda Advertising has the second spot, and I'm sure they are a very good Inverness, Illinois advertising agency. But, again, they are not a PR Firm and they are not located in Chicago. Their website touts advertising, advertising, advertising.

The bottomline on Google Maps Search Result #2? It's an ad firm, Google! Hardly a good search result to present to a person who wants to meet with and possibly engage one of the many Chicago PR firms out there.

Surely Result #3 Is a Chicago PR Firm, Right?

Nope. Result #3 takes you to chicagometropolis2020.org. It's the home page for Chicago Metropolis 2020, a membership organization that can only be joined by "leading Chicago area business and civic leaders". This is a very interesting result, but not at all meaningful or relevant if you are hoping to hire a Chicago PR agency.

Last But Not Least: Google Maps Search Result #4

Despite the spammy name, PR Chicago, the fourth result looks promising. The name suggests that they are what I am looking for, and they've got the domain PRChicago.com which sounds promising. Ruh oh, I'm on my way to an all flash site, which I despise. OK, despite the flash site, they are a legitimate Chicago PR firm. Kudos to them for getting the domain that obviously helps them to do well in the search results.

Google Gets an F Grade For This Particular Local Business Search

So, Google's score on the test was a 25% -- only one out of four of the top listings for "Chicago PR firm" was relevant.

When I attend web publisher conferences (such as my favorite, Pubcon) and through my talks with business owners, you get the sense that there are tens of thousands of small business owners who are not happy with what is showing up in Google Maps local business search results.

At first blush, you rush to think "Sour Grapes" but, if you dig a little, you find that maybe there really are some material algorithmic weaknesses that Google has not had time or inclination to address.

They've got bigger fish to fry, as they say. But, seriously Google, what could be more important than helping American small business owners in these trying times? Bump that engineering project up to the front burner, I say.

Speaking of sour grapes, I will acknowledge that our firm, a very prominent Chicago PR firm I might add, is nowhere to be seen in the Google Maps "Chicago PR firm" search results . We do fine in Google Organic but Google Maps despises us for some reason. We are working to figure it out and doing the appropriate white-hat blocking and tackling work, so hopefully we will show up at some point in the future. We're probably more than 50% responsible for not showing up because we didn't do things like put our address on every page of our site, build up local business profiles, etc. -- but we're changing that as I type.

We LOVE Google by the way. Long story short, Google Maps local business search results still need some work, Google, but please don't shoot the messenger.