After exploring Yahoo’s Mapspam, I started investigating Yahoo’s end user local reporting features more fully. I may have underestimated Yahoo’s features to deal with spam (and to abet it). The new Yahoo Local is making a strong attempt at encouraging user input and content about local businesses with reviews, soliciting and actually reading end user suggestions for improvements and even allowing users to add business level details to specific records.
This last feature, while buried deep within the local record, has much more “clout” than I originally imagined. While in New York City over the weekend, I took the time in Yahoo Local to “update this business” for the “New York Florist” that had fabricated their address and I indicated to Yahoo Local that they were closed.
Immediately a warning tag appeared on their record in the local listing although their ranking in the organic results was not immediately affected.
On different computers, I made two additional “closed” notations on each of the subsequent days. When I returned home on Tuesday, I logged into Yahoo Local as a Yahoo user and once again proceeded to the “update this business” option. This time I was advised that 3 previous users had indicated that the business was closed and was asked if I agreed. I indicated that I did and that the business was in fact not at the address listed.
By Thursday, the “New York Florist” record was completely removed from both the Yahoo Local results and the local content embedded in the main search results page for the search “Florist + NY, NY”. Langdon’s Florist, the real florist near that address, was now ranked #1. (see an image of last week search results) . I was awed by my new found god like “powers” and that the record was removed with such rapidity. I felt like I had found a solution for all of the real florists in the world in their “battle” against fake local businesses. Had I discovered the path to florist nirhvana or had I uncovered a pandora’s box?
My experience certainly raised a number of questions:
- Was 4 notations all it took to remove a business?
- Did Yahoo give more importance to members than non members?
- Was geo-location of the user input a consideration? (how would I know the NY business was closed if I was in LA?)
- Can I so notate any business in the country and thus tag them?
- Was there additional verification before the business was removed?
- Would typical viewers ever really take the time to tag businesses as closed?
- Would this become a tool for black hat endeavors?
The realization came to me that Yahoo had not just assigned the “god” role to me but to all users. Alas had my Yahoo Local world quickly morphed from the concept of a single benign despot (me) to one more resembling the mob madness in Lord of the Flies? Had we moved from the world of “user generated content” (UGC) to that of “user denigrated content” (UDC)?
After a few emails describing this discovery to Cathy of realflorist.flowerchat.com, she pointed out in detail something I had glanced over earlier in the day:
Don’t know if you noticed this post on the Yahoo Suggestion Board, but it hasn’t taken competitor(s) long to figure out how to abuse categories with multiple listings (5 for the same company on pg 1) and smack “this business is closed’ labels on their neighbors – see this discussion.
Look at the SERPs – “carpet cleaning atlanta ga – OY! (BTW, seems even “Merchant Verified’ listings respond the same way as the unverified ones.)
To me, it looks like just three companies trying to crowd out everyone else. They all appear to be “national’ sites or their affiliates but none list local addresses. There’s more dirt here than just carpets. (OK, I couldn’t resist.)
Sheesh. I just knew there was more than rotten flowers in those pages.
And I would have been such a good god, I know I would have. However it appears that instead I might be dodging local search bullets in this new world order of user denigrated content along with the rest of humanity. Nothing like the internet to accerlate a fall from grace.
Mike Blumenthal is a student of life, political economy and local search. He writes the blog Understanding Google Maps and Yahoo Local Search and is a partner in a small web design company in upstate NY.
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