While the concept of local search is still growing, and its potential has yet to be fully realized, the smartphone industry has allowed local, map-based search queries to be much more robust. A good example of the potential of local search, especially in regards to consumers, comes from Google Goggles, which makes use of the augmented reality technology.
AR brings a depth to local search that goes way beyond looking at placeholders with various reviews attached to them. An example of the augmented reality technology in action:
With that simple demonstration, you can see the potential for local search, and why it would be so attractive to local business owners who may not have the marketing budget of their local McDonald's chain. That further explains why Google is now being tasked with eliminating the "Closed" spam that has been infecting the local search market.
The story came about from a New York Times report. In it, the growing affliction of local businesses finding their Google Maps entry as being closed. The article uses the owner of the Coffee Rules Lounge, located in Kansas, as an example of what Google calls "spammy closed listings."
Apparently, the owner discovered his business was listed as "permanently closed" on their Google Maps listing, even though the coffee shop was not actually out of business. The Times article expands on the concept:
On Google Places, a typical listing has the address of a business, a description provided by the owner and links to photos, reviews and Google Maps. It also has a section titled “Report a problem” and one of the problems to report is “this place is permanently closed.” If enough users click it, the business is labeled “reportedly closed” and later, pending a review by Google, “permanently closed.”
That's not a bad tool to have if you're trying to bury your competition and you want potential consumers to believe the competing businesses are no longer operational.
As a direct response to the Times' article, Google posted an entry on their Lat/Long Blog, titled, "Combatting Spammy Closed Listing Labels on Google Maps," and in it, they promised the situation was being addressed:
About two weeks ago, news in the blogosphere made us aware that abuse -- such as "place closed" spam labels -- was occurring. And since then, we've been working on improvements to the system to prevent any malicious or incorrect labeling. These improvements will be implemented in the coming days.
Of course, Google doesn't actually explain these improvements, much like the Times' article discussed Google's lack of information concerning their review process:
"Google was tight-lipped about its review methods and would not discuss them."
Does Google's lack of specifics trouble you or is the fact that Google is addressing this very powerful anti-competition attribute enough for you? Or would you like to see Google be more open about the processes they employ in both reviewing whether or not a business is actually closed and how they plan to counteract these "place closed" spam? Let us know what you think.