Local Search

Google Plus Box Patent and Potential Issues

Bill Slawski over at SEO by the Sea wrote an interesting post about the Google patent application for their new “Plus Box” feature in the search results.

There are several valid concerns regarding what and how much content from another site should be shown by Google to still qualify as “fair use” and how much is too much and copyright infringement.

Phillipp Lenssen demonstrated nicely a case where copyright infringement would not be the case, because of circumstances that are virtually impossible to know by Google, but are clearly raising the question if the plus box could result into unfair completion of the content owner against Google and its various properties.

Philipp wrote as comment to Google showing his post with the video first in the results, but without plus box, but added the plus box for the same video at Google’s own property and another one.

“Now, Google doesn’t just add their own properties – they also add sites like MetaCafe for instance. However, they fail to turn my linked WMV video into a screenshot to show next to the snippet. In result, this means people may simply click the “Watch video” link right on the Google results page, thereby expanding the video to play immediately, skipping the originating video source. And this, in return, means they’ll be only exposed to the ads Google is displaying as opposed to the ads the blog is displaying.”

I had another concern, but it seems that Google did think about it, because I was not able to come up with a search result so far that shows an example to demonstrate it. I consider this a good sign although it might be there, but negligible.

This statement in Bill’s post was the trigger.

“The elided data may be extracted and associated with the target document in a repository created by a crawling engine that “crawls” content, copies the content in a repository, and then indexes the content”

This means that the information shown in the plus box, which were taken from the crawled website are cached information that might or might not the current content on the target website.  My concern is about invalid and/or outdated contact information.

The Google help page about address information in the plus box was not 100% clear about it.

“The address link shown below some sites in our search results (in an expandable area called a Plus Box) is meant to help searchers locate businesses and compare search results. We show the address link for results that are local in nature and for which we have an associated address. If we don’t have an address for your business, or we don’t think that an address is relevant to your site we won’t show it.”

It seems to be the case though that Google only shows addresses and phone number if

1)      The user query clearly indicates a local search

2)      The address is available in the Google Local Business Center

I tested a few cases and noticed that generic searches made Google decide to either stock information (if the company is public) or site links. The address appeared only, if a local search indicator, such as the name of a City, extended the search phrase.

The address itself does always seem to come from the local business center, which makes sense. The information there come from numerous sources, but it provides an interface for businesses to specify details about their business location manually, which has of course precedence over sources like yellow pages or addresses gathered from the website itself. Google flags unverified addresses and May does not show them in plus box results. That would be worth testing.

The concerns may seem not warranted for the address example, but it raised a general concern, which might becomes a problem down the road, if it is not being properly addressed by Google. What I am talking about is the probable problem of users getting used to avoid visiting a website from the SERPs.

They may be trained to trust the extended and often very specific information to be fresh and current. They might be in most cases, but may be not in enough cases where crawled content is being shown which might be several days old or older.

Most sites in regular search results are not crawled every 10 minutes or so like Google News sources. Most are glad if Google shows up once a week others are more unfortunate and is even less than that.

It would be interesting to know if the very specific plus box results have some kind of date stamp and are being suppressed from the SERPS if the content is older than a specified maximum.

All this boils down to the same concern, that Google makes the user stay longer on Google’s site and may be even prevent the user von visiting websites altogether, because the content provided by Google might be enough already for the user who then has no more reason to visit the site directly.

This shift in strategy might be the most troublesome thing that comes out of this, considering the previous statements done by Google co-founder Larry Page in an interview where he said,

“We want you to come to Google and quickly find what you want. Then we’re happy to send you to the other sites.”

and

“We want to get you out of Google and to the right place as fast as possible.”

Kudos to Philipp Lenssen again, who found the quote in the Playboy magazine.

Carsten Cumbrowski
Internet Marketing Resources at Cumbrowski.com, including resources to Local Search and Geo-Trageting.

 Google Plus Box Patent and Potential Issues
Carsten Cumbrowski has years of experience in Affiliate Marketing and knows both sides of the business as the Affiliate and Affiliate Manager. Carsten has over 10 years experience in Web Development and 20 years in programming and computers in general. He has a personal Internet Marketing Resources site at Cumbrowski.com.To learn more about Carsten, check out the "About Page" at his web site. For additional contact options see this page.