Episode 8: News & Updates

The way local guides can and should interact with Google Maps is constantly being updated. What has changed since the podcast started? What is new? Are there updates for the topics we already covered?


Episode 7: Local Guides Connect

Google provides an official platform for local guides, called Local Guides Connect. What exactly can you find there? What can local guides do there? And why should you definitely check it out?


Episode 6: Breaking the Rules

What happens if you break the rules set by Google? Should you care about that? This episode covers the main issues that can bring Local Guides into trouble – no matter if they are breaking the rules on purpose or by accident.



Jan Van Haver 0:06
Hello, and welcome to the LetsGuide Podcast, the ultimate podcast for Google Local Guides. This is episode number 6 and the topic of today is ‘Breaking the rules’. So what happens if you break the rules set by Google? And should you even care about that? This episode will not cover everything it all details, because that would take, like, 20 hours – not the targeted 20 minutes – but it will cover the main issues that we’ve seen to bring Local Guides into trouble, whether they are breaking the rules on purpose or by accident. What I always say before every episode is that I have no official connection to Google or the Local Guides program, and I’m emphasizing this even more for this specific episode: everything you hear in this podcast is just my personal interpretation, and it’s based on things that I have noticed, either in Google Maps itself, on social media accounts, or platforms related to it.

Vanessa P. 1:11
Let’s get started.

Jan Van Haver 1:15
The first question you could ask, of course, is: “Well, what are then those rules?” I’ll make sure to put a link in the shownotes to the official terms and conditions, as they are defined by Google on several pages of their websites. But in this episode, I’ll try to summarize them a bit and point out the most striking and important aspects.

Jan Van Haver 1:38
There are a number of general rules, for example about the age: you have to be at least 18 to take part in the Local Guides program. And that’s, of course, because it’s not – there are elements of gamification in the program with the points and levels and so on – but it’s not a game. You have to have some maturity to take part and to take it seriously. So hence, age minimum is 18. Obviously, things like “Do not include hate speech, abuse, obscene language. Do not do illegal things in the program.” That’s quite obvious. Of course also: “Do not upload pictures that are not yours or do not copy existing reviews from other local guides and paste those as your own”. Those would, of course be copyright violations.

Jan Van Haver 2:31
There are also a number of specific Local Guide inappropriate conduct rules mentioned there, and those refer mainly to submitting fake, falsified, misleading or inappropriate reviews, edits or removals. We’ll get into much more detail about that in a bit. Very important as well. And this is mentioned a couple of times on the Google websites: “Contributions to Google Maps must originate from a single Google account, to count towards benefits, and they cannot be transferred between owned accounts”. So that’s very, very important. You have to do everything from one single Google account. And then finally, as a more general rule that Google is providing, they’re also referring to the fact that you must not at any time represent yourself in any way as a Google employee or a representative of Google, or its products or services. That’s the way it’s written down there on the website. And remember that disclaimer, I always put at the beginning or the end of the show? That’s of course related to this specific term, as mentioned by Google.

Jan Van Haver 3:48
Okay, then let’s dive into some detail about this inappropriate behavior as seen by some Local Guides. This has to do mainly, of course, with the content Local Guides are uploading to Google Maps. And as you might have guessed: it’s mainly related to reviews and photos because those are some of the main activities performed by Local Guides. Let’s check out the reviews first. Literal quote from the Google guidelines: “his contributions must be based on real experiences and information”. Makes sense, of course. It also says “contributions should be high quality, which means they should adhere to the guidelines described in the Google Help pages”. And another quote from that page: “It’s in the details. Always include notable information about a place and your experience. Avoid vague generic and repetitive comments like reviews that just say, Okay, good or Yum. Describe the setting the design the vibe, highs or lows and relevant specifics. For restaurants or bars. This could mean for example, saying what you ordered and what you would recommend or avoid. For shops, it could be a description of the selection, a price range, the service and the type of clientele who might like it.”

Jan Van Haver 5:22
In this respect, of course, and specifically, with regards to those one-or-two-word reviews, you have to take into account that there is no real added value to writing a review, which just says “Excellent” if you already gave a 5-star rating. So, if there is no real added value in the review, it’s considered to be spam or at least spammy. So just saying “Okay”, or “Fine” or just giving a description of what they sell, like “Women’s clothes” or “Bakery”, that is considered to have as the only goal – the only purpose behind it – to get 10 extra points on your Local Guides account. And that’s really spammy behavior. So you should definitely not do that. I’ve come across some borderline cases like “Okay services”. Well, yes, it does bring some extra information, but definitely it does not count as a high quality review. That is clear, I think. My favorite quick tip for writing a good review is that you should try to include information that you could only get by being there. For example: “The music was a bit too loud to my taste”, or “This bar has really comfy chairs”. Just try to add a personal note.

Jan Van Haver 6:49
When it comes to photos, the main rule is that you should take photos that “clearly and accurately represent a location”. So the images should be relevant, in focus, with proper lights and stuff like this. “If you want to take a picture of a restaurant dish, it should best be shot from above. If you want to photograph the shop front, it should be in landscape mode” – stuff like this. You should also respect the privacy of others and ask for permission or avoid taking identifiable images of people at places like schools and hospitals. For cars, the license plates are often a bit of a problem. So, you know, the stuff that is being blurred out in Google Street View – well, those are the things that you should have, that you should avoid having in your pictures in an identifiable way. The guidelines that also say “Dark, blurry and redundant” – very important word here, redundant – “photos will be removed”. In summary: just post real things about real businesses and be trustworthy. So those are the rules.

Jan Van Haver 8:00
Next step is: let’s check in which ways those rules are broken most often. As mentioned before, uploading fake stuff, illegal contents, making deliberate errors. That’s, of course, things you come across. But the problem I came across the most while researching this episode is clearly: duplicates. For example, with reviews it’s important to point out that – on the Google Local Guides program help site it’s written in bold, so Google wants you to see this very clearly – “Local Guides who duplicate reviews across locations will be removed from the program.” The most astonishing example I came across was a level 8 Local Guide, who had 105 reviews and 105 times the exact same text. Please bear with me, I’ll read the text out loud to you – it will take, like, 40 seconds or so. But it’s really as far as you could get from high quality content. Here it is: “Nice, nice place. Nice place… I have visited this place for several times and I became very mesmerized. ……. I am very happy to visit this place….. Very nice and beautiful place it is….. Very attractive place it is ……………… [the keyboard got stuck perhaps] Very nice place ….”. Well, if that is a high quality review? Not in my view. Not in 100 years. Not in 100,000 years, of course – and the guy should have least also have used ‘flabbergasted’ a few times instead of ‘mesmerized’ as a variation. Just kidding, of course, it couldn’t get worse.

Jan Van Haver 10:06
Also with photos, duplicates is a very big issue. And remember: Google was saying redundant photos are not belonging in Google Maps. So duplicate photos, having twice or more times the same photo for one point of interest is a problem. It’s even a bigger problem if you duplicate photos across locations, so use the same photo, or video – it could also be a video – that is placed on more than one point of interest. And especially for videos this is sometimes justified by saying “Yeah, but you see multiple businesses in this video, so I uploaded it for all of those points of interest”. Not a good idea. You should only upload a photo once, or a video once, for one single point of interest.

Jan Van Haver 11:03
Other problems I’ve seen with photos and videos are just-one-second videos, or very similar pictures, where each picture is taken, like, one step further to the left or to the right from the previous one, or closer or further away from the point of interest. And similar pictures with or without a flash, with or without an artistic effects – by the way: don’t do this at all, that’s not what Google Maps is meant for: just upload plain photos, do not put any artistic effects on them. Also problematic are collections of photos that look really like ‘my visit to city x’ or to the beach or to the museum, or ‘my personal or family photo album’. So: no pictures of kids, no selfies. We covered that, in the episode 3 about selecting pictures: no personal stuff, just pictures of points of interest.

Jan Van Haver 12:07
And another nice one I came across, which is also of course not something you should do, are screenshots. This was a specific person that wanted to prove his expertise in SEO, Search Engine Optimization, so getting higher in the Google rankings in the search results: he just uploaded a number of screenshots – as if you couldn’t fake those with Photoshop. So all of those: do not do it. You could also have duplicate accounts, of course, we mentioned that already at the beginning: you should only have 1 Local Guides account and only use that account to upload your material. I came across one local guide who had about 200 pictures and each of them had one single like. Well, that is, I guess, one of the reasons why Google is insisting so much on having only one account. Because if you have two accounts, you can use one of them to write reviews and upload photos, and the other one to like all of those, because getting likes is also one of the criteria in reaching some of the badges (a topic for one of the upcoming episodes).

Jan Van Haver 13:25
An interesting question is, of course, also: does it make any difference if breaking the rules was on purpose or by accident? Well, let me make sure that you hear this loud and clear: NO, that does not make any difference. You’re supposed to know the rules, read them and check them from time to time – or you could just keep listening to the LetsGuide Podcast of course. But you are responsible for what gets uploaded to your local guides account. So if you have two or more Google accounts on your phone or on your computer, and you actually accidentally use two or more to upload stuff… that’s your responsibility. If pictures that were uploaded already, when you were doing some Local Guides contributions, later on get suggested by Google Photos to upload to that same location, and you say “okay, just do this”. Or you were trying to upload a picture and things went wrong, so you say “okay, I do another attempt”, and in the end, both attempts turned out to have been successful. That way, duplicates get in your contributions, and you are responsible for that. And these technical issues do happen. One Local Guide has reported to me that duplicates can end up in the contributions list for photos, I think it was… up to 14 times. So really be careful and make sure that you know what is happening in your local guides account.

Jan Van Haver 15:00
A logical next question is, of course: what happens if rules are being broken? Well, Google is quite clear about this. They mention it in several places: “Google may remove a local guide from the program at any time in its sole discretion”. There are two levels, however: your account can be suspended, or it can be removed. But none of those have a prior warning. And we’ll get back to the distinction between those two in a minute. There is no warning because it’s not the Local Guides team itself who is suspending accounts; it’s really bots who are doing this. It’s not clear at this point, if there are any triggers that would set this off, or any thresholds for having, for example, duplicate pictures, or a specific number of one or two word reviews. It’s unclear what’s happening and how many times this is happening because the Local Guide with those 105 hundred identical reviews I was referring to earlier, is not yet suspended. I researched this, I found this a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve checked again: the account is still there. And another Local Guide, however, who had only 40 pictures, and only two duplicates was suspended. But perhaps there were other reasons, of course. We can only see what happens with the photos and the reviews. Perhaps there were other problems with the account, no way of telling that, of course.

Jan Van Haver 16:30
Some say that submitting your application for ‘Local Guides Connect’ is a trigger – that the fact that you send in your application triggers a review of your account – and has created a number of suspensions. Possible; we are still waiting for confirmation – which will probably never come, of course. The Dutch Local Guide living in the Canary Islands Jeroen Mourik (you might know him from the weekly Facebook Live meet and greet sessions on Sunday – you should really try one of those, It’s very, very interesting; you can find all the info in the ‘Local Guides World’ group on Facebook), so Jeroen has an interesting theory: in the default reply that the Local Guides team sends when you reach out to them when your account was suspended – we’ll cover that in just a minute – they say they will look into it within three weeks. So they need to make sure that the amount of suspended profiles to be checked is manageable within that timeframe. Should they launch the bot on all accounts they might come up with a flood of suspended accounts which is simply not manageable within three weeks. So they run it every now and then – that’s Jeroen’s theory – on a subsets of the accounts.

Jan Van Haver 17:58
By the way, suspension can also be triggered if a review you wrote is reported as bad quality, or fake, or whatever, by a business owner. You have to realize: those business owners, the businesses, they bring advertising money to Google. So their concerns probably get a higher priority than the Local Guides concerns. I’m not sure if this will happen already when just one business owner is reporting one of your reviews. I really didn’t find a lot of these cases, but just a few. But you should be aware that it is possible, that this happens. And it’s definitely, all in all, a very good source of finding spammers that deliberately post fake, or let’s say, paid-for reviews.

Jan Van Haver 18:48
Now that you know what will happen, you will probably want to know how to react then, if this should happen. Well definitely not: create a new account to be able to go to Connect again, the official forum where a lot of Googlers are quite easily reachable. (If your account is suspended, you also have no access to the Connect platform). But please do not create a new account to do this. It’s specifically mentioned on the website by Google: “Do not create or use multiple accounts to evade our policies or bypass blocks or otherwise subvert restrictions placed on your account. For example, if you’ve been suspended for abuse, don’t create a replacement account”. Much more clear as that it can’t get, I think. If some, possibly all of the things that we have mentioned above, apply to your account, what you should do is: start making the corrections. Which means for duplicate photos… just remove them. Remove the duplicates from the point of interest and if you’ve added one picture or video to multiple points of interest, remove them from all of them, except for one of course, which is the most appropriate one. Also remove similar or redundant pictures. Remember that we talked about pictures taken with one step to the left or one step to the right of the previous one; pictures with children; selfies; stuff like this: delete all of them.

Jan Van Haver 20:27
If you have spammy reviews, well, there are two possibilities: either delete them, or elaborate. But if you elaborate, do it truthfully – it has to be of course about places that you have visited. Remember, the most important thing: be trustworthy. Yes, doing all this will cost you points, because if you remove a review or remove a picture, the points you received for those will go away. Yes, this might bring you down to a lower Local Guides level, but that’s what you need to face: if you’ve done something wrong – on purpose or not, doesn’t matter – you have to correct it and you have to bear the consequences. Once this is done, you can reach out to the Local Guides team on Twitter (just mention @localguides) or on their Facebook wall and wait. Usually what I see on Twitter, is that they reply within sometimes hours, sometimes days. If you post something in the weekend, don’t expect to hear from them until it’s Monday again because the team is not working over the weekend, of course. Then you receive this standard reply which says “okay, we’ll look into it’s in and get back to you or possibly not within three weeks”. There’s actually on Connects, now that we’re on that topic, there’s a good post on this entire topic which is called ‘Why was I removed from the local guides program’, a post written by the Google team itself, and I’ll make sure to include a link to that in the shownotes.

Jan Van Haver 22:14
“Can a suspension be reversed?” is then the question you might be wondering now. Well: yes, incorrect suspensions do get fixed after this three week period or so, provided of course the problems are fixed. Or it is clear that the alleged abuse, reported by a business owner, is in fact not true, and you were just behaving as a good Local Guide. If you’re removed, however, this is permanent.

Jan Van Haver 22:48
A final question I want to address on this topic is: why do some people do this? Well, it’s quite obvious: to reach a higher Local Guides level, in some cases. Think again of this guy with 105 “Nice, nice nice”-reviews. If you make the calculation, it’s 105 times 1 point for the star rating, and 10 points for the review. And another 10 points for making it more than 200 characters (“…” are also characters of course), which makes 105 x 21 = 2205 points. Sounds like “being level … guide in an hour”, which is of course not something that you should do. But it does remind me of the plan I have for an upcoming episode of the podcast which will be called ‘Level 5 in a day’. That’s definitely possible in a decent way. Especially with Connect Live coming up, There are a lot of local guides that want to reach level 5 quite quickly. So you might see some abuse coming from that.

Jan Van Haver 23:59
Another reasons might be that people want to promote their own business or damage a competitor, for SEO purposes for example, or to manipulate the average rating. Suppose you have a pizzeria and you create some extra Local Guides accounts, and give your own place of course a 5-star rating and all the other ones in the city a 1-star rating. Well, your average rating will go up, while the average rating for all the others will obviously go down. Final reason could be revenge. Revenge towards an employer, current or former.

Jan Van Haver 24:41
To finish off, I want to give some advice to avoid problems, because it’s of course better to prevent a suspension than having to deal with it when it’s happened. Check the rules from time to time. Keep an eye on Connect, the official forum, and on the Facebook groups. And keep Listening to the LetsGuide Podcast, of course. Check your contributed photos for accidental duplicates regularly. And then, as mentioned already a couple of times: be trustworthy. For every piece of information, for every review, for every photo you want to add, ask yourself: “Is this quality content? Is this something that could at least help some others?” And by the way, if applying for Connect Live is your main motivation at the moment for contributing to Google Maps, just take your time to clean up your account and focus on next year’s event.

Vanessa P. 25:41
What a great idea.

Jan Van Haver 25:45
In this special section of the podcast, called ‘What a great idea’ I want to point out one of the ideas that was submitted by a fellow Local Guide on ‘Idea Exchange’, a part of Local Guides Connect, the official forum. In this particular case, it’s an idea from a Local Guide called Dror_Shmuel – sorry for butchering your name, if that’s the case – which has (unbelievably) only received one vote up to now, which happens to be mine, of course, as I’m presenting it here. The idea is called ‘Rating score of the last three months’ and it’s quite easy actually. The proposal is that the points of interest should not have just one rating, and average rating where all the ratings given through the years are just, well – an average is taken of them – but that a second average should be made of all the ratings given in the last three months. That would, for example, make sure that a place which might have hundreds of reviews from years gone, which might be very nice, but it’s very bad at the moment. That would lead to a situation where such a place could have an average of 4.1, but the last three months 2.2. Then you know something’s wrong there. And perhaps you should not be visiting this place. As I said, only one vote so far. Please – I’ll include a link in the shownotes, of course – do me a favor: go to that idea on Idea Exchange and click on the Like-button.

Jan Van Haver 27:33
And that brings us to the end of this episode, which was recorded at the end of April 2019. And is of course representing the situation as it is today. Should you be listening at a later point in time, things might obviously have changed. Please do reach out to me if you have any questions or comments, good or bad. You can do this on Twitter, looking for LocalGuidesGuru, or you can send an email to letsguidepodcast@gmail.com. You can also find me on Local Guides Connect under my real JanVanHaver. And of course the shownotes for this episode will also be available on letsguidepodcast.com, the homepage of the podcast.

Jan Van Haver 28:26
I still want to draw your attention to the European meetup that will take place in June, in Ghent, which I am also organizing and that is really getting closer-by right now, but it’s not too late to sign up if you still want. But the preparation of that event is going to take up really quite a lot of my time and I do still have a day job in between as well. So I’m planning for the next episode, which will have will have as topic Local Guides Connect, the official platform, to be out not in two weeks, but only in four weeks time. I hope to find you in the audience again.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Episode 5: POI Names

The first thing you see about a point of interest (POI) on Google Maps is the name. What is the proper way to enter it? What are the best practices? What should you not do?




Jan Van Haver 0:05
Hello, and welcome to episode five of the LetsGuide Podcast, the ultimate podcast for Google Local Guides. Today we will be talking about point of interest names. So the names of the places on Google Maps. Obviously the first thing you see about the place on maps is the name. But what is the proper way to enter it? What are some of the best practices and what should you not do? Before we dive in, I want to point out that I have no official affiliation to Google or the Google Local Guides team whatsoever. I’m just a local guide like most of you. Therefore, my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. (Yes, that is a Baz Luhrmann quote – for those who recognize it – and you should indeed wear sunscreen). This episode is recorded at the beginning of April 2019, and therefore the situation described is the one as it is today.It might change at any point in time.

Vanessa P. 1:06
Let’s get started.

Jan Van Haver 1:10
If you’re adding a place to Google Maps, you obviously have to give it a name. That’s one of the mandatory fields. It makes perfect sense, of course, because if a place has no name, how can you refer to it, right? But what is the proper way to enter the name? Well, it sounds quite easy. Just check the instructions and go along with those. That is still a bit of a problem, because the instructions, in my view, are rather vague. If you look at the Google Maps helps Help page it just says: “use the official name of a place, the one used on the storefront or website. Don’t add any extra comments in the name fields.” Apparently there used to be more detailed instructions, but right now they’re not there. They’re gone. So that’s only hearsay. We’ll have to do it with with with what we have right now.

Jan Van Haver 2:00
Another important source of adding information to Google Maps is the Google My Business program – check episode 4 of the podcast if you’re not familiar with Google My Business. So, let’s check the guidelines that you can find on Google My Business. There it says: “The name should reflect the businesses real world name as used consistently on storefront website and stationery and additional details”, it continues, “like address, business hours and category go in the other sections”. Okay, so that’s already a bit more information, but still a lot of things are to be cleared. Fortunately, you can then click on the link to get more information. And there you mainly get a list of things that you should not include. That list opens with marketing taglines. So an example of what is not acceptable would be ‘TD Bank, America’s most convenient bank’; should be simply ‘TD Bank’. We’ll get back to this later in more detail.

Jan Van Haver 3:10
Second thing which should not be included is store codes. Those refer to chains, of course. An example would be ‘The UPS Store – 2872’; it should simply be ‘The UPS Store’. Also, trademark or registered signs and special characters are unwanted unless – and here’s a phrase that you will hear a number of times – they are part of the business’ real world representation. So, not acceptable is ‘Burger King’ with then the ‘registered’ sign behind it; should simply be ‘Burger King’. We’re still in the list of things that should not be included. And the next topic is: business hours information including the status whether it’s open or closed. So an example of what is not acceptable there will be ‘Regal Pizzeria open 24 hours’; should simply be ‘Regal Pizzeria’. Or the status information I was referring to: an example there is ‘Sears outlet closed’, where probably some local guide noticed that the store was closed and changed the name to ‘Sears outlet closed’. That’s not what should be done. In fact, the proper thing to do is mark the business as closed. We’ll cover that kind of things in one of the upcoming episodes, probably. Next up are phone numbers or website URLs, and once again: unless they reflect the business’ consistently used and recognized real world representation. So a place name like ‘Airport Direct 1-8855-78953’ would not be acceptable; should just be ‘Airport Direct’. On the other hand: if your place it called ‘1-800-got-junk’ and that’s the telephone number and also the name of the place, that is acceptable as a name, because it’s the real word representation of that point of interest.

Jan Van Haver 5:14
Some of the items on the list of things that should not be included in point of interest names are actually the source of quite a bit of discussion. And one of those is the fact that you should not include a service or product. “Service information”, we read on the Google My Business Help page “is best represented by categories”. Check again episode 2 of the LetsGuide Podcast if you want to find out more about categories. With respect to this, the example Google gives is ‘Verizon Wireless 4G LTE’. That’s not correct: this ‘4G LTE’ refers to a service or a product, so it should be left out. ‘Verizon Wireless’ is what it should be. Another example is ‘Midas Auto Service Experts’; just ‘Midas’ is correct.

Jan Van Haver 6:07
However, the Google My Business page also says there is an exception for departments. If the information is needed to identify a department within a business, then you can include this kind of additions. And an example they give themselves is ‘Best Buy Mobile’. To use this correctly, of course, it’s needed to have a definition of what a department is. And the definition is ‘kinda’ given, because once again it’s, let’s say, vague-ish. The literal quote is “publicly facing departments that operate as distinct entities”, another vague term, “should have their own entry”. Now, they also say that the name of each department must be different from that of the main business and that of other departments. That explains, of course, our example of ‘Best Buy Mobile’ which is different from the main ‘Best Buy’, and probably also different from some other departments Best Buy something something. “Typically”, another vague term, “such departments”, we read, “have a separate customer entrance and should each have distinct categories”. An example here would be a gas station that also has a convenience store next to it, or as part of it, and a car wash. The first two, the gas station itself, and the convenience store typically have the same entrance – or at least where you have to pay. The car wash could have its own entrance. But this ‘own entrance’-principle is sometimes also hard to define, with a lot of shop-in-shop concepts. What exactly counts as a separate entrance? Another way that might be helpful, or another indication that might be helpful to see if it’s another department or not, is that there might be different opening hours. And to go back to our example of the gas station: it is very well possible that the gas station itself is open 24/7, while the convenience store obviously has other opening hours, and the car wash might still have separate opening hours, different from the other two.

Jan Van Haver 8:28
Sometimes it’s really hard, in my view, to decide whether or not to include an extra word that refers to the product or to the category. Take for example, cafes. You could have something like ‘Cafe The Black Horse’ or ‘Cafe Rene’, with the word ‘cafe’ being on the storefront, so as part of the name, although sometimes in another font. I find it always very hard to decide what to do in these examples. So ‘cafe’ refers to the category – should you include it or not? In this ‘The Black Horse’: okay, that can be used without the word ‘cafe’. But should you just put ‘Rene’ on the map and have no further indication of the name? In that case, ‘Cafe Rene’ might not be wrong, if you ask me.

Jan Van Haver 9:27
And also a problematic situation with the ‘no product or category indication in the name’-concept: what if the category that a specific place has, is not listed in the list of categories on Google Maps, and it’s only a very general category that can be applied, and the shop or the place has a very general name? I’m thinking of a fictional place called ‘Jones, who is a manufacturer of toothbrushes. Very hard to find a proper way to give a name here and give a category. Because if you look it up in the list, there are categories that refer to household articles or hygiene articles, but only in combination with wholesale. So it’s really tough to make a classification and it’s really only leaving as category ‘manufacturer’. So, then you would end up on the with the place on the map just ‘Jones’, manufacturer. Doesn’t give a lot of information, if you ask me. What about just having ‘Jones Toothbrushes’ and that category ‘manufacturer’? That, in my view, has added value for the users of Google Maps.

Jan Van Haver 10:51
Another huge source of discussion is also the guideline that you should not include indications of where a point of interest is. There are two types of those, the first one being ‘containment information’ – that’s indicating that the business is located inside another business, which might be from the same owner or might not be from the same owner. The example given here is ‘Apple Store at Stanford shopping center’, or ‘Geek Squad inside Best Buy’. Should simply be ‘Apple Store’ and ‘Geek Squad’. The other type of indication where a point of interest is, is ‘location information’ such as the neighborhood, the city or the street name. Those should not be included unless – and you’ll know this phrase by heart by the end of the podcast I think – unless it is part of the business’ consistently used and recognized real world representation. So, the name must not include a street address or direction information. Specific examples given here are ‘Holiday Inn I-93 at exit 2’ or ‘Equinox near Soho’. But then – and that’s where it gets really interesting -, what is acceptable according to the instructions on the Google My Business Page is ‘Holiday Inn Salem’ or ‘Equinox Soho’. Really a lot of discussion has been going on on this topic in the local guides forums. And I think, or it seems that the guidelines on this on this specific topic have changed over time. They used to be quite strict, that nothing, no indication whatsoever of the locations should be included. But if you see these examples: it seems to be different now. Some local guides like to stick to the old doctrine, others find it easier to also include this kind of information. And by the way, it’s explicitly mentioned also on the help pages that chains should be consistent in their naming. So all of them with a place indication or all of them without place indication – we’ll probably have an episode about chains later on, in one of the upcoming weeks or months.

Jan Van Haver 13:15
The next point I want to focus on is capitalization, because fully capitalized words are also not accepted as the name of a point of interest, except of course, if it’s an acronym. So ‘KFC’ in all caps is perfectly acceptable, because it stands for Kentucky Fried Chicken. But ‘SUBWAY’ written in all caps is not acceptable. It should be capital S and lowercase for all the rest. This can actually be quite a good source of points you earn on in the Google Local Guides program for making edits, because quite a lot of points of interest have their name written in all caps already on the map. So you can correct that. My experience, however, is that if the name is quite long, and you want to change it from all caps to the way it should be written, you often get a ‘not applied’. The other way around, everything is written in lowercase, is also sometimes seen on the map. And that’s also something you can correct, of course, by just capitalizing the first letter, or the first letter of every word. You should check it on the storefront, check it on the website, and then see how it’s supposed to be written. This, however, can cause some conflict with the rule that the real world name should be used as written consistently on storefronts and website. Take for example, the French bank and insurance company AXA. They write their name on every website, on every sign, on every official document AXA in all caps, and it’s not an acronym. Please do let me know if you find it somewhere written, in one of the countries, where it’s not in all caps, but everything I found so far from AXA is always in all caps. Does this mean that we should start changing all of that to capital A and then lowercase ‘xa’? I doubt it, actually.

Jan Van Haver 15:31
The final item on the list of things not to be included in point of interest names are irrelevant legal terms. Think of things like ‘LLC’ or ‘Ltd.’ or ‘Inc.’ after the name of a place. Often those are on the map not because somebody consciously entered them as part of the name, but because the places were added to Google Maps as an initial import of some database that Google acquired, from a local authority for example. So whether or not they are included is very much dependent on the database quality and there are big differences per country. But once again, this can be a huge source of local guides points, if you live in a country where the initial database was stuffed with them, and you still find them often with smaller, unclaimed businesses. So what you can do is make a search on your local equivalent of ‘Ltd.’ or ‘Inc.’ and just enter that search term in Google Maps. You’ll probably find dozens of places that can be edited or corrected with regards to the name. By the way, an academic title such as ‘Dr.’ is not considered to be an irrelevant legal term, because those are specifically allowed. For example ‘Dr. Mary Jones’ is perfectly OK as the name of a place on Google Maps. There are some very specific instructions on the Google My Business guidelines page about how to represent, for example, doctors. And I’ll make sure to include a link to that in the shownotes for those who want to really dig that deep.

Jan Van Haver 17:20
An extra tip, by the way: if you find a place with an irrelevant legal term, also check the other information, especially the category. Often you can find a more specific or a more suitable category for those points of interest. Then again, the legal terms should not be removed all of the time. Because, for example, in a country like Germany, the most frequent legal terms there are ‘GmbH’ and ‘AG’, and those are often considered to be part of the name. So it’s not always easy to do the right thing.

Jan Van Haver 17:54
You should be very, very careful, because if you make edits that in the end are marked as ‘OK’, and those were not the right thing to do, this might be harmful to your trust score – a topic for one of the upcoming episodes, no doubt. Finally, the specific legal formats can also be something you can correct. And my example here is my own experience from Belgium, where I’ve come across quite a lot of points of interest with the name in a specific format, being: last name, space, slash, space, first name. Ths is, in my view, probably from some database import. And obviously, you can correct that to the real world name by checking the place itself, by checking the website, and then making the correction.

Jan Van Haver 18:52
At the beginning of the list, I said I would be coming back to the marketing claims that are sometimes seen in names of points of interest. And you might also have seen those yourself already. Things like ‘Simply the best’ or ‘20% off this month’. Sometimes these kinds of additions – and a lot of them are keywords – are there more or less by accident, but most of the time, it’s really on purpose, and mainly with the purpose of SEO (search engine optimization), getting higher in the search results. The name of a point of interest is of course, something that shows up immediately if you scroll around on the map. Sometimes the category is shown, sometimes a special icon is shown for a bar or a bank, but the name is always shown. So a lot of people try to give extra information in this name. Often, this is done by stuffing a lot of keywords in it, or these special promo claims, by agencies or spammers – and it’s really hard to distinguish between those two from time to time. That’s really one of the points where there are conflicts between the efforts from the Google My Business side and the efforts of the local guides. I myself, I have come across a place – it was, I think, an insurance agency – where I found such a marketing claim as part of the name. I removed it. The change was approved within seconds. But then I noticed 15 minutes later, that the name on the map had already changed again with a different marketing claim. So obviously, this is not an accident. This is on purpose, and it’s really, really annoying and frustrating for well meaning local guides to see the map being vandalized like this. If you want to find out more information, you can do this on Twitter by following the #stopcraponthemap.

Vanessa P. 21:05
What a great idea.

Jan Van Haver 21:09
In what a great idea, I want to draw your attention to one of the ideas submitted to the Idea Exchange, a part of the official forum for local guides, Local Guides Connect – I’ll link to that in the shownotes, of course. And usually an idea that has not had so many votes and could use some more – like this one, only five so far. The idea is from a Local Guides with the name 6LinksRule. And the idea is called ‘Sorting options on contribution edits’. I like this very much, because the idea is that, like you can sort your photos by most views or most reasons, you should also be able to sort your edits in Google Maps – which is really useful if you have hundreds of edits, like most of the high level local guides. You can sort them by status (are they approved, pending, not applied); you could sort them alphabetically on the point of interest name, or, for example, on the type of edit (are these edits to the opening hours, is to the map marker and so on). Really nice one.

Jan Van Haver 22:20
Before wrapping up, I still want to draw your attention to the European meetup, which will take place in June, the 7th through the 10th of June, in Ghent, Belgium. Participants from about 10 countries have signed up so far. So please do check out the post on Local Guides Connects, where I will of course also include a link in the shownotes. And perhaps you can also join. Up to now more than 25 people have signed up, so it’s really going to be a great event and a great opportunity to meet some local guys from really a lot of countries.

Jan Van Haver 23:00
That’s all I have for today. Do please get in touch with me if you have any remarks or questions about the podcast. You can reach me through email by sending an email to letsguidepodcast@gmail.com. Or you can just find me on Twitter, under the name of LocalGuidesGuru. On connects, you can find me as well under my usual, real name JanVanHaver. The show notes can be found on letsguidepodcast.com. And of course, please do give a rating or review to the podcast in your favorite podcasting app – it does make a real difference. I hope to find you back in the audience in about two weeks for the next episodes and the topic of that one will be: breaking the rules.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Episode 4: Unclaimed Businesses

On quite a few places on Google Maps you will see a button ‘Claim this business’. What is meant with this? How does it work? And why should all businesses do it?




Jan Van Haver 0:05
Hello, and welcome to the LetsGuide Podcast, the ultimate podcast for Google Local Guides. It’s been about two weeks since I released the last episode – high time that we dive into it again. So here is episode number four. Today we will be talking about unclaimed businesses. What is exactly meant with this ‘claiming’? How does it work? And why should all businesses do this as soon as possible? This episode is recorded at the end of March 2019, and is therefore describing the situation as it is today. If you listen to this episode, at a later point in time, things might obviously have changed.

Vanessa P. 0:49
Let’s get started.

Jan Van Haver 0:51
If you open the page, on Google Maps, with the details of a ‘point of interest’ (a place on the map), sometimes right under the ‘Suggest an edit’ – that’s probably something you are familiar with: this link where you can click to suggest an edit – well, right underneath you sometimes see ‘Claim this business’. Unfortunately, you see this in quite a lot of cases. And I personally see it as a core task of local guides to help local businesses understand the importance of this. Today’s episode contains a lot of info, therefore, that is really meant for business owners. But local guides should definitely be aware of that, to first understand what is behind some of the functions of Google maps that you might already have seen or used yourself. And also, as I said, to be able to help local businesses.

Jan Van Haver 1:45
So what does ‘Claim this business’ mean exactly? What happens when you click this button? Well, in fact, you then start a process where the first step is that it takes you to the URL business.google.com. Actually, anyone can do this – start the process, I mean. But only the business owner can complete it successfully, because it usually includes sending a card by post, so a physical card by post with a six or eight (I don’t remember exactly the number of digits) code on it to the address listed for that business. So only people with access to the physical mailbox can complete the process, which is of course a good thing. And what you’re doing in this process is actually signing up for Google My Business which I mentioned already a few times in previous episodes.

Jan Van Haver 2:42
What is this Google My Business then? Well, it gives businesses control of the information about their business, on Google Maps of course, and this is crucial for the way the business will show up in search results. And for most local businesses, of course, the search results and especially the local search results are crucial. If you are a restaurant you want to show up high when somebody types in restaurant or dinner reservation in an area near you. Google My Business also allows you to make all the ‘Point of Interest’ changes that local guides can make. But of course, because they are entered by a source that Google obviously trusts, the business owner, there’s no risk of them going pending, they will be applied of course. Plus, you can do some more things: you can add as business owner up to nine categories for different activities. As you might remember from episode 2, the episode about categories, local guides can only work on the main category. And the example I gave there was for a Chinese restaurant where the local guide has to choose between Chinese restaurant as category or Chinese takeaway restaurant, the business owner can just say okay, I’m a Chinese restaurant at as additional category I add Chinese takeaway restaurant.

Jan Van Haver 4:05
Another thing that the business owner can do in the Google My Business is enter special opening hours, for example on bank holidays. Local Guides could also do this partially because they are limited to the next seven calendar days. For business owners there’s no such limitation. And then another thing you might remember from episode 2: local business owner can also enter category related features like, for example, the check-in or check-out times, if you have a hotel or a bed & breakfast, or the menu for a restaurant. Another nice thing is that these Google My Business program also brings insights for the business owner, for example, which search terms were used to find your business, per week, per month, per quarter – you can see this in very nice lists. What kind of actions did your customers or potential customers do? Did they just visit the website? Did they request directions and stuff like that?

Jan Van Haver 5:14
The photo views: you can also see how many times your photos have been viewed. And also compare this to other businesses like you. Are your photos being viewed more or less than theirs? You can even check how many photos have been uploaded by customers of yours and compare this to businesses like you. So it’s really a bit of Google Analytics for your own business. By the way, before I forget, there’s one very important thing to mention to business owners and that is that Google My Business is completely free. The reason for this is of course that is also the control center for advertising on Google and the Google platform. And obviously, Google is providing all this information, all these services, to hopefully convince business owners to start advertising on Google.

Jan Van Haver 6:13
Another important aspect of the Google My Business program is the possibility to check ratings and reviews. You can see who left them, which Google Maps users, which local guides, and then also respond to them. And as local guides, you might already have experienced this: that you get a reply from the business owner to a review you wrote. Well, that’s due to this aspect of the Google My Business program. So that’s an important way of communicating and interacting between the businesses and the customers. But there’s other ways, for example Q&A, questions and answers. I’ll come back to that later in this episode. The businesses can also write posts to inform their customers, or potential customers about, for example, upcoming events.

Jan Van Haver 7:04
And this is very important for one of the relatively new features in Google Maps, which is the possibility for users of Google Maps to follow businesses. You might have noticed already on the point of interest page, there is now a button that says follow. Well, if you click that you start following the business. And this means that all the posts that are published by this business will pop up in the tab ‘For you’ on the Google Maps app.

Jan Van Haver 7:34
Another new feature that business owners specifically need to activate within the Google My Business interface is messaging. If this is done, when opening in Google Maps the point of interest page, there is a button that says ‘Contact’ next to the buttons where you can for example, find directions to the business or the button to call the business. Well if the messaging is activated for that business, there will also be a button ‘Contact’. As a Google Maps user, you can use this to just send a short message to the business owner. And those messages will then show up in the section called ‘Messages’ of the menu of your Google Maps app – where you find ‘Your places’, ‘Your timeline’, ‘Your contributions’, there’s now also ‘Messages’. And if a business has replied to a question you asked, it will pop up there, which is great, of course, for real-time direct interaction between businesses and customers. Unfortunately, this is not very well known yet. So I really hope that more and more businesses get to sign up for Google My Business and activate this messaging functionality.

Jan Van Haver 8:51
Google My Business also gives control over photos. You might have seen already for a lot of places on Google Maps that sometimes you can see separate tabs: the photos by the owner or by the customers. Well, that’s controlled here. Also in Google My Business, you can specify separate categories for the photos like ‘interior’, ‘exterior’, ‘food and drink’, ‘common rooms’ – for example a breakfast area in a hotel. Even photos of the team can be uploaded there. And there’s also one photo you can specify as being the cover photo, and one you can specify as the logo photo, which comes in very handy if you do not have a website yet, because the Google My Business program also lets you create a website with a few easy clicks, using of course all those pictures and the information you have uploaded there.

Jan Van Haver 9:50
Finally, just for the sake of being complete, I can add that the Google My Business program also has a section where you can do some maintenance, like decide which users can edit the info of your profile – which can of course also be an external agency. That’s up to you as business owner to create extra users. And if you have more than one business or more than one location, you can add locations and you can manage those locations. All of that you can do in the browser once you have claimed your business. But there’s also a mobile app simply called Google My Business. There, you can do most of this stuff as well. In the browser, it’s sometimes a bit more convenient. But the app is also needed. It’s very important for this messaging function I talked about earlier. The browser version only allows the business owner to activate it, but the app is needed to read incoming messages and reply to them. And there in the app, you can also set a kind of automatic greeting, for example: “How may we help you?” So, it’s standard text sent to anybody who is sending a message to you as a business.

Jan Van Haver 11:03
Something I want to mention briefly here is a peculiar behavior I see with chains. So chaines of stores – one central chain headquarters with, say, 50 or 100 stores. Often those are claimed, but they’re not taking advantage of the Google My Business Program at the shop level, especially when it comes to direct communication with the customers. It’s probably done by the marketing department at the headquarters, right? Or perhaps possibly even the legal departments. Not going to go into comment on that, but usually, that’s not very helpful to make things user-friendly. But they don’t understand the full potential of these communication with the customers, especially when it comes to the Q&A section, the questions and answers, I mentioned it before. So now we’re going to dig in a bit deeper into that.

Jan Van Haver 11:57
All users of Google Maps can ask questions about businesses. Those are then sent to the business owner and also to local guides who reviewed that place or added pictures there. Perhaps you have received already some pop ups yourself that there is a question that you might be able to answer as local guide. If you provide an answer as the business owner – if you have claimed your business – then this will also be clearly marked that the answer is coming from the business owner, so that’s also really a added value. However, in the current reality, most questions are answered by local guides like yourself. There are, however, a few big problems with these questions and answers. The first one is that Google Maps users often think it’s questions TO businesses, not ABOUT businesses. The result is then: questions being asked that are answerable only by the business owner. For example: “Is article X or Y currently available in your shop?” Obviously, if your business is not claimed, you won’t see it, you won’t be able to answer it. Which is, of course, quite negative as impact it might have on your business.

Jan Van Haver 13:15
The second problem, which is even more serious, in my view is that Google Maps users often do not realize that these questions and answers are public. Every user of Google Maps can read the questions that you enter there. And that’s really bad because a lot, well not a lot, some of these questions contain quite confidential information. Let me give some examples. I’ve seen a question where a lady was asking to a theater if there were still tickets available for next week’s weekend show because she wanted to surprise some friends of hers. Well, obviously, if some of those friends are also using Google Maps, the surprise might have been spoiled already. Okay, that’s quite harmless. But there are others. Like, for example, the one I saw from the person asking if he could open a bank account and just said, together with his name – if you ask a question, the name of the user is also there – “Yeah, I get approximately €1600 on my bank account every month”. So with that data, he wanted to open a bank account. I don’t think that person was aware it was public. And if he would be aware, he would not be publishing that kind of information, of course. Some of the questions I’ve seen, even contain health related information; that’s definitely something that should not be available on a public forum like the questions on Google Maps.

Jan Van Haver 14:47
A third problem is that the questions and answers, the Q&A section is only available on Android, which is probably one of the main reasons why a lot of chains that I mentioned before, or agencies, or even business owners do not even see the questions a lot of the times. And thereby also do not have a chance to reply to them, which probably leads, from business owner perspective, to customers (or potential customers) asking a question to what they think is you as business owner, and not getting any reply at all. You can imagine what kind of effect that has on the image your business might have for those people. But also, for regular users of Google Maps only Android gives the full experience because, and this is a literal quote: “When your question is answered, you’ll get a notification if you have an Android device”. That is especially important if you realize that the Q&A section is not available on the desktop browser version of Google Maps, but it is around if you do a regular search on Google. Just go to google. com and type in “Ben’s bakery”, then in the search results, in the top right corner, you will see a kind of maps preview where they have found Ben’s bakery. And there you have a link to ask a question. But again, as I mentioned, it’s only if you have an Android device that you will see the answer in the Android version. A bit weird, but that’s the way it is. I have no indication, no idea if and when this will be available on iOS or in the Google Maps desktop version. Anyway, on Android it’s already available since the summer of 2017.

Jan Van Haver 16:40
So what do I often do? What is my solution? If I get a pop up, saying there is a question from a Google Maps user where I cannot give the answer because it’s not about the business, but to the business, or because it has personal information, and so on, I’ve created a kind of standard text to explain this. And I go to the point of interest page, copy the telephone number, paste this in my standard text and then upload this version of the text with the telephone number and ask the user of Google Maps to preferably call the business, and then upload this as the answer to this question.

Jan Van Haver 17:26
So in fact, only this Q&A section is already more than a reason for business owners to claim their businesses, as I mentioned. What impression do customers or potential customers get if they ask a question on maps, and this does not get answered even after two or three weeks. But another crucial reason, as mentioned before, is getting control over your data because if you have claimed the business, you can make sure that everything is entered correctly, and that it cannot be changed by, for example, local guides who might accidentally make a mistake because they don’t know know the rules yet. But there are worse scenarios. You also have spammers who make errors on purpose. You have people hijacking places, or even competitors. Think about that. What about your competitor around the corner? He might change the phone number for your point of interest into his phone number, so that people looking up your place on Google Maps might find your place, call the telephone number and end up at his place! Not the best of scenarios, if you ask me.

Jan Van Haver 18:41
As I mentioned at the start of the episode: in my view, local guides should also actively help to spread the word about claiming the businesses to local businesses, which are often just a one or two person operation without a lot of time or money to spend on marketing. So please do help your local community and local businesses to spread the word about the claiming and the Google My Business Program.

Vanessa P. 19:09
What a great idea.

Jan Van Haver 19:13
In what a great idea, I want to focus on one specific idea from Idea Exchange, the section on Local Guides Connect, the official platform for local guides, where you can submit suggestions to improve Google Maps or Local Guides Connect itself. Other local guides can then like (click the like button) to vote for those ideas. Some of those ideas really have been implemented already. And I’m really thrilled to say that one of the ideas that I proposed, was not implemented yet, but it got moved to the status ‘In progress’. It’s the idea to add a category called beverage store. I’m really thrilled – that is happened in the last week.

Jan Van Haver 20:00
The idea I want to focus on today is also related to the Q&A section that we talked about so much today. The idea is called “Q&A on Google Maps sorted chronologically”. The idea was submitted by iorikun301, a local guide from Indonesia. The problem now with these questions, and the sorting of it, is that to find the answer to a question, you often have to go back to the page of the point of interest. In my case, for example – what I was talking about with my default text I have prepared -, I have to go back to find the telephone number. And then you return to the question section and… where is the question again? There are hundreds of questions sometimes for a single point of interest. So it’s extremely difficult to then find back the question that you wanted to provide the answer to. The reason, which was explained in the comments to this particular idea by one of the Google moderators, is that the questions are sorted on popularity. So the one with the most likes will be on top. They’re not sorted on time, so when it was submitted, or the relevance. The example given here is that for a cinema, there was a question to the cinema about a popular movie. But the question dates from, say, a year ago, and the question was referring to a popular movie playing one week later after the question was asked. Because of the popular movie title, this question got 20 likes. So also one year later, when this movie is no longer playing, it still is on top of the list of the questions for this point of interest, which makes no real sense, of course.

Jan Van Haver 21:49
So the proposed solution here is to add sorting options to the Q&A section – that you could sort for example by date, that the most recent one would then be on top. So far, this proposal, this idea only has four votes. So please click on the link that I will provide in the shownotes and upvote this idea as well.

Jan Van Haver 22:14
Before wrapping up today’s episodes, I still want to mention that I am just a local guy like most of you, and I have no official affiliation to Google or the Google Local Guides program. Anything I say in this program, in this show, therefore, is also only my personal interpretation. And then finally, I want to draw once more your attention to the 2nd European Meetup that will take place in Belgium in the beautiful city of Ghent from the 7th until the 10th of June 2019. Up to now, participants from nine different countries have already signed up so please do me a favor, check out the post on Connect that I will link to in the shownotes, of course. Perhaps you can sign up representing your country and thereby making it 10 different countries. Wouldn’t that be nice.

Jan Van Haver 23:08
And that’s all I have for this fourth episode of the LetsGuide Podcast. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did in creating it. And by all means, do reach out to me to let me know what you found about it. Or if you have any questions, you can, for example, mail them to letsguide podcast@gmail.com or you can reach out to me on Twitter. You can find me there under LocalGuidesGuru. Or on Connect of course, Local Guides Connected, the official forum for local guides, there under my real name Jan Van Haver – and by the way, I’ve written a post there quite recently on how I became a podcaster. You might find that interesting. As always, the shownotes can be found on the letsguidepodcast.com, and I hope you will find one or two minutes to give a rating or write a review for the LetsGuide Podcast in your favorite podcasting app. I hope to find you back here in the audience in about two weeks time for episode 5, which will be about point of interest names.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Episode 3: Selecting Pictures

Adding pictures to places on Google Maps is one of the main activities of Local Guides. But which ones should you upload? What should you pay attention to?




Jan Van Haver 0:06
Hello, and welcome to the third episode of the LetsGuide Podcast, the ultimate podcast for Google Local Guides. Today’s episode is all about pictures, one of the main activities of local guides. Which ones exactly should you upload? What should you pay attention to? And lots more. My name is Jan Van Haver; I’m a local guy from Belgium but also spending quite a bit of my time in Germany. And I have created this podcast to share some of the experience I’ve gained in my own journey as a local guide.

Vanessa P. 0:41
Let’s get started.

Jan Van Haver 0:45
So you’re standing in front of a point of interest – can be a shop, a church, a monument – smartphone in your hand, or a digital camera, of course. Which pictures do you take and which do you upload to Google Maps? Those are of course two different things. You can make thousands of pictures from all kinds of angles, and if you like to do that, you should definitely also do that. But that does not automatically mean that you should upload all of them to Google Maps, of course. If you have made multiple pictures of the same point of interest, make sure to carefully select them and only upload the best to the map.

Jan Van Haver 1:25
So, you could ask: “What is the best number of photos per point of interest?” As in so many situations in life, the answer is of course: “it depends”. What you should upload often depends on what is already there. If the storefront of a shop, or the church tower is already the subject of five pictures, what is the added value of adding a sixth one, even from a different angle? It also often depends on the type of point of interest: a charging point for electrical vehicles for example, will be covered quite fine with just one picture, versus a restaurant – there it really makes sense to add, for example, one of the outside, one of the inside, some of the dishes, the menu, the opening hours, some specials, … you can definitely justify uploading a few of those.

Jan Van Haver 2:21
Perhaps we should rephrase the question then to: “What is the maximum number of pictures per point of interest?” From previous episodes, you might remember (or you just know from your experience as local guide) that uploading a photo to Google Maps brings you five points. So uploading a lot of pictures might be a tempting way to reach a higher level quite quickly. And frankly, in some cases, you really see local guides giving in to that temptation by uploading dozens for one single point of interest, or by going through their holiday pictures from the last few years (when they were not yet a local guide) and start uploading loads of these to a few points of interest in the area where they spent their holidays. Let me pause for a second here for a very important warning: if what you just heard makes you think: “Hey, I could also do that and get some quick local guides points”. Do NOT do that. Local Guides have sometimes seen their accounts suspended as this kind of spammy behavior – uploading loads of pictures and loads of similar pictures in a very quick way – is a very likely reason to get accounts suspended. I will definitely make a separate episode about that topic. But please be aware of this.

Jan Van Haver 3:46
There seems to be no real maximum number imposed by Google. You can come to that conclusion if you check some famous buildings and landmarks. Let’s say, the Statue of Liberty in New York. That has more than 150,000 pictures already uploaded on Google Maps. It can be worse/better – you decide: the Eiffel Tower in Paris 600,000. And that’s not the most I’ve seen. If you check the Taj Mahal in India: close to 1 million pictures!

Jan Van Haver 4:19
So let’s revert the question then: what is the minimum number of pictures per point of interest? All the pictures showing the total storefront of a shop or the complete structure of a building or a monument? That’s quite clear: yes, of course. This can, by the way, also be a new one to replace an outdated picture after, for example, the restyling of a shop – whereby I’m answering the question about the added value of that sixth storefront picture: it can indeed have added value, if the five old ones were all showing the old look of the shop and there’s no picture yet of the new look. Well, then it’s absolutely justified to upload one more picture of that storefront. Another set of pictures can highlight special features. For example, with regards to accessibility: are there dedicated parking spaces? How about the entrance? And talking about the entrance: sometimes for large buildings, it can be useful to upload a specific picture of where the entrance is, or perhaps even the back entrance, if that’s hard to find. And it might be useful for some people who need to enter the building. Also a picture of the opening hours: Google even asks you to submit that if you’re editing opening hours. You can also upload a picture of the menu card, although that’s not my preferred option, as of course in restaurants the menu often changes in, well, which dishes are on it and which prizes they are charged at. So an outdated picture could spread incorrect information. And if the point of interest has the correct category restaurant, as you might remember from the previous episode on categories, then there’s a dedicated URL that the business owner can include to specifically link to the menu. So that’s in my view, definitely the better option.

Jan Van Haver 6:20
Pictures of the inside of a place are, of course, also worthy of being uploaded to Google Maps. But also here, it depends on the type and on the previous uploads, exactly how many you should upload. In fact, Google encourages local guides to take indoor pictures as, of course, they have no way themselves to get hold of those. The Google Maps cars driving around, can obviously only provide outdoor pictures with their Street View gear. And other sign that shows the focus on indoor pictures is that, when you upload pictures for points of interests, Google is often asking you to add a label for, for example, a product or a dish and giving you extra points for those labels. So if you add that all up, you easily get five or six, and sometimes even more, of course.

Jan Van Haver 7:18
Something which annoys me a bit is that in the ‘Uncover missing info’ module, which you can access through the your contributions page on the mobile app, Google keeps asking you for pictures, even if there are already a lot for that point of interest, and even if you yourself have already uploaded one. In my view, this module could be used in a much better way, to direct local guides to specific places that currently have no picture at all or are missing some important pictures. One thing you should also realize is that some uploads of pictures are accidental, because Google often keeps asking – some would say bugging – smartphone smartphone users to upload pictures they just took. Even people who are no local guides and have therefore have no idea what it is for and how it works exactly. The result is that pictures being uploaded to the wrong point of interest nearby, as Google often suggests a point of interest to add the picture you just took to. And in my own experience, that’s not always the right one that they are suggesting. So then wrong photos end up connected to the wrong point of interest. You can send feedback about that to Google; I’ll probably come back to that in a later episode.

Jan Van Haver 8:49
On the other hand, I’m also kind of happy that Google bugs smartphone users to do this because this was exactly what got me started as a local guide in the first place. If you want to read the full story, you can find it on the about page of the websites that I’ve created for the LetsGuide Podcast. And one more thing, before I forget: do not upload selfies to Google Maps. Let me repeat that: do not upload selfies to Google Maps. There are loads of social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram where this is perfectly acceptable and even recommendable to upload selfies, but do not do it on Google Maps. And of course, something which should be a no-brainer, but unfortunately not alwyas respected by local guides who are chasing some quick points: only upload your own creations, pictures that you have taken yourself.

Jan Van Haver 9:50
The next point I want to tackle is the quality of the pictures. Should all the pictures you upload be really perfect? Well of course, obviously there are minimum quality standards. The picture should be in focus: it should not be taken when you’re sitting in a car, let alone when you’re driving the car. It should be properly framed with decent light, and so on. There’s a very good blog post by our Russian colleague, local guide Sergey Sudakovskiy; I will link to it in the shownotes. The post is in Russian, but it’s really well written and in a way that it’s easily translatable by Google Translate. So I really advise you to have a look at it. But does that mean that all of them should be artistic masterpieces? Well, if you’re visiting an area which has a very low level of local guide activity, and you’re pretty sure that you won’t be there again in the foreseeable future, I would upload at least one picture of a point of interest even if for example, that day has a sulky gray sky and not nice sunny weather conditions. Especially, if the area has no Street View, and the point of interest has zero pictures so far – I really, really really hate that grey placeholder used when no pictures or Street View images are available.

Jan Van Haver 11:16
Another question you might ask is: “If the business owner has already uploaded pictures himself, should you as local guides still add more of them?” Obviously, it will be no surprise to you that the answer is: “it depends”. If what was uploaded by the business owner correctly represents the reality and covers all needs: fine, no need to upload anything else, I would say. If, however, what was already uploaded is, for example, only a logo or a stylized picture of a flagship store of a chain in general, it might be a good idea to also add some pictures that show the real situation.

Jan Van Haver 11:57
At this point, I’d like to discuss an important frequently mentioned aspect of pictures: the number of views. Those views are often mentioned in the emails Google sends you to inform you about your achievements as local guides, and they encourage you to share them on social media – remember those things for selfies? I myself have mixed feelings about those numbers of views. It’s of course, very, very nice to see that you have reached 100,000 views, 1 million views, perhaps even 10 million views and in some cases, hundreds of millions of views. But the term is misleading. ‘View’ makes you think of someone who clicked on the picture and noticed that you have made that picture and possibly thinks: “Oh, that’s really a nice photographer”. That might be happening in a limited number of the cases, but surely not for the millions of views that you can reach with even a relatively little number of pictures. Let me make it clear: I’m not doubting that those numbers are not the actual numbers that some other counter reaches. But the key issue here is to find out what exactly is being counted. It’s crucial to know that the pictures on Google Maps are also used in the overall Google search. So if you just type in any word in Google to search it, you can get a lot of results and also gets pictures as results, the ‘image results’. There, of course, you will also find the pictures that people have uploaded onto Google Maps. And there are literally billions of people using Google search every day. So in my view, a better term for the those counters would be ‘shows’ our ‘displays’, not the number of times your pictures were seen, but rather the number of times your pictures were shown without any guarantee that the user sitting in front of the screen actually saw it, let alone noticed who uploaded the picture. A specific example that fed my skepticism on the exact meaning of the term ‘views’ comes from an observation from my most viewed pictures. If you look at the ‘Photos’ tab on ‘Your contributions’ on the phone, for example, you can sort the pictures either on the date, or the number of views, so that way you can see which of your pictures has most views up to now. One of them in my case is from a restaurant which is closed more than a year already, and which is still on the map, but marked as ‘Permanently closed’, which means it’s not by default shown to users exploring that area of Google Maps, unless they specifically search for it. And the new point of interest – an Italian restaurant, the previous one was a Chinese restaurant – is already correctly entered on that location where the old Chinese restaurant used to be on Google Maps. For that particular picture, I monitored the number of views for a day, and noticed that in about 10 hours time, almost 250 views were added. And I refuse to believe that in that short timeframe 250 people were searching for that particular restaurant, which is out of business for more than a year already, and then clicked on that particular picture that I had uploaded. I am willing to believe, however, that in those 10 hours 250 people typed in the search term Chinese restaurant in Google and were shown that picture as one of many image results, probably in a format, not bigger than a post stamp. By the way, please be aware that your own views, so if you’re just scrolling through the pictures you uploaded in your ‘Photos’ tab, those views also count as views in the total count. A Google Moderator moderator confirmed this to me in one of the comments to a post on Connect.

Jan Van Haver 16:06
For those who want to maximize the number of views, or let’s say displays or shows, I highly recommend to check out a post written by an Australian local guides called Briggs posted recently on Local Guides Connect, the official forum for local guides. And of course, I’ll make a link to that in the shownotes.

Jan Van Haver 16:28
Finally, one thing that you should also know: sometimes it’s simply not possible to upload pictures because the place on the map is not defined as a ‘point of interest’. Streets for example, or a park or a bridge. We won’t go into the into details on that right now. Perhaps I’ll cover that in a separate episode. And with all that said, It’s time now for the special section we have in each episode of the podcast.

Vanessa P. 16:57
What a great idea

Jan Van Haver 17:01
In ‘What a great idea’, I always highlight one of the ideas submitted to Idea Exchange. And that’s a part of the Local Guides Connect forum, the official platform that Google provides for local guides. There you can submit a suggestions to improve Google Maps or Local Guides Connect itself. Other local guides can then click the like button to vote for these ideas. And some of these ideas have already been implemented. So if you have an idea yourself, do not hesitate and submit it as soon as possible.

Jan Van Haver 17:35
This episode’s idea is obviously also linked to photos. And it’s an idea from our good friend Nabil Azeez from Egypt’s The idea is called ‘Limiting photo upload per each place’. It’s one of the most popular ideas but it’s always a good idea to upvote it even more. Of course, the proposal is quite easy, and it’s very good if you ask me. And it’s also a good answer in the discussion we had before about the minimum or maximum amount of pictures. The proposal is: set a limit of five pictures per point of interest per local guide. Quite easy. So we’ll make sure to have a link in the shownotes and you can just click there and give your vote to Nabil’s idea.

Jan Van Haver 18:25
Before wrapping up, I want to emphasize once more that I have no official connection whatsoever to Google or the Google Local Guides program. I’m just a local guide like most of you. Everything I have been telling you in this episode, and in all of the other episodes are just my personal interpretation. The recording date of this episode is mid of March 2019. So everything you hear describes the situation as it is today and might have changed if you listen at a later date.

Jan Van Haver 18:59
Before wrapping up this episode, I still want to draw your attention to the European meetup taking place in Belgium in the beautiful city of Ghent this year, from the 7th to 10th of June. It’s a very big and nice meetup for local guides and a real great opportunity to meet other local guides in a relaxed and nice atmosphere. So far, participants from nine different countries have already signed up. So do check the post on Local Guides Connect and if you notice that the flag for your country is still missing, what are you waiting for? Sign up today and change that, because it makes me really happy to be able to add flags to that list.

Jan Van Haver 19:43
That’s all I have for today. Do please get in touch. If you have any questions or remarks you can reach me on Twitter under LocalGuidesGuru, you can just send an email to letsguidepodcast@gmail.com or you can send me a message on Local Guides Connect under my normal name JanVanHaver. I’m often also available for a discussion on Facebook in the Local Guide World group and sometimes also in the meet and greet sessions on Facebook Live on Sunday. All the show notes you can find on letsguidepodcast.com and if you have the opportunity and the time please do leave us a rating or review in your favorite podcast app. And when you’re there it’s good to know for you that the LetsGuide Podcast is not the only podcast for local guys. There’s also another one – it’s called Go Loco. You should definitely also check that out. The next episode will be about unclaimed businesses.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Episode 2: Categories

All places on Google Maps have a category. What exactly is this? Why are they so important? How to select the right one?




Jan Van Haver 0:06
Welcome to Episode 2 of the LetsGuide Podcast, the ultimate podcast for Google Local Guides. Today we will be talking about categories. Is a place of interest, so a point on the map, is that a baker, is it a school or perhaps a travel agency? (Yes, those do still exist). That’s what the category is used for. In today’s episode, we will look into why exactly those categories are so important and how to pick the right one. Before we dive into it, I want to point out once again that I have no official link to Google or the Google Local Guides program. I am just a local guide like most of you. Everything said in these episodes is just my personal interpretation. This episode is recorded at the end of February 2019, and is therefore describing the situation and It is today. If you’re listening to this episode at a later point in time, things might have changed, of course.

Vanessa P. 1:09
Let’s get started.

Jan Van Haver 1:12
So, categories. Really one of my favorite topics in the entire local guides context. Why are they so important? Well, let me give you 3 different reasons. The first one is that ‘category’ is one of the mandatory fields when adding a new place on Google Maps. You then have to give a name, of course, an address to allow Google to put the place on the right spots on the map, and as third mandatory field a category. It’s also a very important factor – and then we’re at the second reason – in making sure that the place shows up correctly in search results. You know that Google is very good at search. Well, of course, the information on Google Maps is also used to produce correct search results. Let’s say there’s a bakery, which has the more general category ‘shop’. It might simply not show up if you were looking with the search term ‘bakery’. The third and final reason is that the category is also important for producing the so-called ‘category specific features’. For certain categories of places special features are available. Let me give some examples that will make this clear. For hotels, for example, there are class ratings, the number of stars and list of the amenities offered by the hotel, so those fields are only available if you have selected hotel as category. For food and drink business businesses, you can add URLs, for example for online orders, for reservations, and also for the menu. Those fields also only show up if you have selected, for example, a restaurant or bar. It would not really make much sense to have a menu field if the point of interest is, say, a florist.

Jan Van Haver 3:10
On to the next question then. What exactly is meant with category? Well from local guides perspective, it describes the main activity of a place. Sometimes this is quite easy to determine because there’s really only one: e.g. a school or a bank. Sometimes it’s not so easy, as the point of interest might have multiple activities. Think of a hair salon that’s also partly a beauty parlor or perhaps they do nails, or a grocery store with a pickup point for dry cleaning. Come to think of it: it’s hardly ever extremely easy. The bank I mentioned as the easy example might also be selling insurance. And the school might also have sports infrastructure used by third parties, on evenings and weekends. So forget about the ‘easy’ – it’s not easy at all. Very important to know is that local guides can only work on the primary category. A place on a map, a point of interest can have up to 9 categories. But the local guides can only work on the primary one. The business owner, using the Google My Business program, can add more of them. As I said, up to nine. We’ll talk about Google My Business in future episodes. So for local guides, the category is the best way to describe what the business mainly does or what the place is meant for in one single term.

Jan Van Haver 4:42
This also means that if you have a kind of shop in shop situation, for example a pharmacy inside the supermarket, what needs to be done actually is to create two separate entries on the map. So the supermarket is one entry, the pharmacy is another entry. If you come across this kind of situation, it might bring you 15 points for creating a new point of interest, of course. Google explicitly mentions this and names a few other examples like a restaurant or a bar, inside a hotel; a gas station next to the grocery store; a Starbucks or another coffee shop inside a bookstore; and finally an ATM at a bank because in this last example, there might also be dramatically different opening hours, the ATM is usually 24/7, the bank is usually by far not 24/7. I find it always very funny that banks have these ‘evening openings’ and then they are open that day until 5:30 in the afternoon. Hmm, quite peculiar.

Jan Van Haver 5:53
When choosing the appropriate category, it is crucial to be as specific as possible. Let’s illustrate this with a Chinese restaurant by way of example. For such a place, you could select the category ‘restaurant’, you could go for ‘Chinese restaurant’ or you could go for ‘Chinese takeaway restaurant’. All three of those are available for selection on Google Maps. Restaurant, of course, is not a good option because Chinese restaurant is already more specific. But whether to choose for Chinese restaurant or Chinese takeaway restaurant really depends. If the place has a lot of tables and chairs where people usually sit to eat their Chinese food over there, well, then it’s a Chinese restaurant. If it’s just a counter where you can pick up food to eat it at home, then it’s a Chinese takeaway restaurant. There are some very general categories as well available, but those are needed very rarely only. One example could be an industrial supplier in some very niche market involved in some very specific process. Well, then ‘business to business service’, a very general category could be used. ‘Store’ is another very general one that is available but usually this can be replaced by a more specific one. You find these very generic ‘store’ ones on places that are unclaimed businesses. What this specifically means I’ll explain in a separate episode – quite soon, I think. For now, you can just go to my blog, where I’ve written a blog post on the topic, I’ll make sure to link to it in the shownotes. So ‘store’ is often used for unclaimed businesses or points of interest that were never edited after the original import into Google Maps years ago.

Jan Van Haver 7:49
If by now you start to wonder: “Well, how much categories exactly are there to choose from?”, I can tell you it’s about 4000 in English, and about 3000 in most other languages that I have looked into – there’s certainly going to be a separate episode on categories in other languages, so staying tuned to the LetsGuide podcast is of course what you need to do. With those numbers, 3000-4000s, it’s of course clear that more or less anything belonging to everyday life can get a fitting category on Google Maps. But mind you: do not always expect logic and consistency. There’s still a lot of work to be done by Google to improve the categories, if you ask me.

Jan Van Haver 8:38
In some domains, there’s a kind of structure with categories and subcategories, for example, as we already mentioned, with the restaurants: restaurant/Chinese restaurant. A similar thing can be found for sports clubs, for example, or for car dealers. A lot of improvements to the map can be made by picking a more special specific category in any of these domains, and for those who like to collect points in the Google Local Guides program: 5 points are earned for each of the edits for categories, of course. Some examples: ‘Italian restaurant’ instead of just ‘restaurant’, ‘basketball club’ instead of ‘sports club’ and ‘Volvo dealer’ instead of ‘car dealer.’ I can tell you there’s really, really, really a lot of these category edits that you can make. You just have to look around on the map to find them and start making the improvements.

Jan Van Haver 9:39
From time to time, new categories are added sometimes to fill gaps in the existing structure. For example, the car brands ‘Mini’ and ‘Skoda’ were added a couple of months ago. And for restaurants also a number of new categories are added like Japanese or Sardinian restaurants. New categories might also be added to cover new types of places that show up all over the globe due to changes or new phenomena in society. Some recent examples are ‘escape room center’ or ‘package locker’ – you know these places where DHL or UPS drop off orders from e-commerce in a kind of lockers where you open them with a code. Well, ‘package locker’ is available since a couple of months. Also ‘coffee stands’ and one I like very much, quite recently added: ‘maker space’.

Jan Van Haver 10:39
Now that we know all that we get to the most important question: how to find and pick the best possible category. Finding a fitting one is not always easy, as you might understand by now. And the very first hurdle – and this comes from my own experience – is that when you want to add a new place to the map and you get to the field ‘category’, there’s this list of 20 categories shown to you. And then you can make the mistake of thinking “This is all the options I have, I have to pick one of this list”. That’s exactly what I was facing. Very early on in my career as a local guide, I came across a hair salon which was not on the map yet. So I was very thrilled to be able to add a new point of interest until I got to the ‘category’ field and until I got to this list of 20, where hair salon is not amongst those 20. Very, very frustrating. Only later on, I realized that you can just start typing text in this field. So when I started entering HAIR, yes, there it was: ‘hair salon’ just for you to pick. So the list you see is just by way of example. These are some of the categories, but you need to start typing the text to find the possible categories from those 4000 that I mentioned before.

Jan Van Haver 12:08
A difficulty, however, if you start typing text is that you have to use the right word. For example: a store selling newspapers. It’s no use entering the word newspaper because that category is called ‘magazine store’, as of course, those stores typically also sell magazines. Sometimes different synonyms are used and those are not found. For places, or points of interest, where liquids – things you can drink – are sold, some of them have in the category the word drink, some other have in the category, the word beverages. So, you need to learn how to deal with that as you go along, like regular search. Typing in too much will not have the results you want, because If you type too much, you get zero results. If you only type one or two letters, you get a lot of results. So it’s really: try it out, test it, and time will help you if you are getting more experienced. Sometimes there are categories where even I have no clue what the difference is between with the two categories and my favorite example there is a ‘do-it-yourself store’ versus a ‘home improvement store’. By all means, if you can explain to me what difference is between those two, do send an email or a tweet, whatever. I’d like to know very much.

Jan Van Haver 13:39
Sometimes categories are simply missing as they might be eagerly needed in your particular country, but not in the rest of the world or in most other countries. In my home country, Belgium, for example, there are a lot of bread vending machines, you find them really everywhere but probably not in most other countries. So the category is not there in Google Maps. Other vending machines like ‘coffee vending machine’ and even ‘skincare products vending machine’ are available but not ‘bread vending machine’. Alas, what you should know – and this is a quote from the Google website: “You can’t create your own category. If the category you had in mind isn’t available, choose a more general category that still accurately describes the business”. So what it comes down to is, you have to choose from the 4000 which is actually a smooth transition into a very special section of the podcast, that I have in every episode.

Vanessa P. 14:42
What a great idea.

Jan Van Haver 14:45
In what a great idea, I highlight one of the ideas from Idea Exchange, the part of the Local Guides Connects official platform where local guides can submit suggestions to improve either Google Maps or Local Guides Connect itself. Other guides can then click on the like button to vote for it. Of course, for this ‘category’ episode, I want to point out an idea that’s also related to categories. And it’s the one called ‘Reconsider selection criteria for new places’. It’s actually one of the ideas I have submitted myself. It’s one of the most popular ideas with over 100 votes at the moment, but more votes are always welcome. Of course, the point I want to make there is that the current criteria to determine if something is mappable, so if it’s allowed to be a point of interest on the map, is too business-oriented. I plead to allow more or less everything on the map that can be a destination for users of Google Maps. Some examples are publicly accessible art forms like street art or health related Points of Interest like AEDs, defibrilators that can be a lifesaver in emergency situations. I’ll of course have a link in the show notes. And please do vote for the idea if you haven’t done this already.

Jan Van Haver 16:17
Before wrapping it up, I still want to point out that in June of this year, there will be the 2nd European Meetup in Ghent, Belgium. We’re still looking for people who will take part there. It’s called European but really, local guides from anywhere are more than welcome. And it’s good to know that some participants are already preparing some extras. These will be added to the announcement post on Local Guides Connect but I will of course put a link to in the shownotes. Keywords for those extras are 360 photography and accessibility.

Jan Van Haver 16:58
That’s all we have for this Episode but feel free of course to get in touch with me. If you have any remarks or questions, you can find me on Twitter as LocalGuidesGuru. Or you can just send a good old fashioned email to letsguidepodcast@gmail.com. You could also find me on Local Guides Connect under my real name Jan Van Haver. Or you might find me in the Local Guides World groupo on Facebook, especially on Sundays, there are always these Facebook Live events by our good friend Jeroen, the Dutchman living in the Canaries. I often hang out in those Facebook Lives on Sunday – you should really check them out. If you like the show: ratings and reviews are of course more than welcome on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you found the podcast. The shownotes can be found on letsguidepodcast.com, where I recently have also added a new page with a kind of lexicon, the most used abbreviations and terms to do with local guides. Go check it out and I hope you will return soon for Episode 3 of the LetGuide Podcast which will deal with selecting pictures.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai