If you use Google Maps with any regularity, you are almost bound to encounter errors and problems. In the past, users with a problem were thrown upon the vague mercies of the Google Maps Help Forum where chances of receiving a response or achieving resolution were slim. As of last fall, things have really changed with Google's prominent promotion of their Report A Problem feature, and this article will show you how to use this feature to make direct contact with Google in hopes of, at least, alerting Google to the fact that you feel something is wrong with their data or results.

The problem I'm going to report is one that I know has been an issue with Maps' data for several years. A few years ago, my family moved house and we needed to buy some new lamps to properly illuminate our new abode. However, when I did my search for 'lamp store novato ca', here is what Google showed me in the 7 pack, at the top of their organic results:

Every result in the 7 pack is referencing an auto garage; not a lamp store in sight. So, I click on the More Results link and am taken into Google Maps, where I again see the same auto garages, plus a couple of actual lamp shops being outranked by the auto garages. I feel that Google is having a problem understanding my intent and that this problem is stemming from the category 'lamp inspection and repair', as shown in the screen shot, below:

Now, I'm looking to buy a lamp, not to have a car part 'repaired' or 'inspected' so I feel that Google is not returning good results based upon what I consider to be the obvious intent of my query, lamp store novato ca. I'm not searching for inspection or repair. I want a lamp! Unfortunately, it appears Google is categorizing lamp shops as 'lighting stores' and I have to say, I'd never even think of that as a search term. I feel their category is rather round-about and that lamp shop owners are certainly getting a bad deal, and I want to let Google know that they may have a problem with understanding user intent. I scroll to the bottom of the results in the left-hand column of Maps and click the Report a Problem link:

It's tough that Google's 4 choices for reporting a problem don't exactly describe my situation. You may have better luck choosing from among these 4 issues:

I have to do my best to pick something that is sort of like what I want to report, and because this is a problem concerning a whole town and not just a single result, I choose 'Something is wrong with the map.' This definitely isn't a great match, but it's the best I feel I can do with the options being given me.

Unfortunately, the resultant popup does not have a radio button for, "Hey, I don't think anyone in my part of California calls a lamp store a lighting store," so I choose the next best thing. I choose 'Other'. I drag the yellow marker to the town I'm reporting an issue with. I click the checkbox that requests that Google email me when the problem is resolved (you have to be logged into your Google account for this) and then I write a brief description of the issue I'm having with the results. This is what I write:

"The query 'lamp store novato ca' is bringing up nothing but auto mechanics in the 7 pack, and actual lamp stores, selling household lamps, are being outranked within Maps by auto mechanics. I believe the problem is coming from the 'lamp inspection' category and I don't believe people looking for a lamp store want auto mechanics; they want to buy a lamp for their house. I believe this is a problem of user intent. Can you explain to me why Google is returning auto lamp inspection results for the query 'lamp shop'? Thank you."

I submit my query and am rewarded with a mustard yellow confirmation of success:

Google has suggested that errors reported at a street level will be resolved within 30 days. My report deals with a much larger issue than this...an issue of categorization, so I'm really not sure if/when I might expect to hear from Google. But, at least I feel I had some way of letting Google know that I think we have a problem. You can use this feature for many different types of error reporting and while fixes aren't guaranteed, this function represented a pretty major change in Google's historically dismal approach to accessibility. Whether you are a business owner trying to improve your own listing or simply a citizen who needs to let Google know that Maps is showing your town in a lake, the Report a Problem link is your tool for striving towards resolution.

June 29, 2010

Miriam Ellis is the co-owner of Solas Web Design and CopyLocal, providing SEO-based website design, Local SEO and professional copywriting for small-to-medium North American businesses. She is the Local SEO Associate in the Q&A Forum at SEOmoz, a moderator at Cre8asite Forums and an annual participant in David Mihm's Local Search Ranking Factors report. When she and her husband are not working on the web, they're farming organically and working on increased sustainability or roaming about in nature having the time of their lives.


Google-maps showing Guantanamo Cuba has the 'territories' incorrectly labeled, they are in fact, reversed. Inside the rectangle, roughly 5x9 miles surrounding Guantanamo Bay (and the US Naval Base portions) is shown as "CUBA," while the ENTIRE OUTSIDE AREA is shown as UNITED STATES!! In other words, "WE" own about 99% of the whole island.
Umm, I don't think you can kid me about this... I've been to Gitmo.

[as of 10/4/2010, 4:00 cdt]

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