That’s right, Google is looking at your physical location and rumor has it that it will affect your local online presence.
A New Google Patent For Identifying Addresses
This may be one prime reason why Google developed the patent that was granted in July of this year entitled, “System and method of determining building numbers.”
In cases when you have longer facades of buildings with many doors on them, you begin to have a great chance of algorithmically determining door-front locations of addresses if you could have a system that would read the numbers off of the doors and doorframes.
On the face of it, this sort of system seems simple: Google’s mapping vehicles capture the fronts of many buildings, including storefronts, many of which include address numbers affixed to the building fronts.
Once these many image files are associated with geolocations of the street spots where they were captured, it’s a matter of running an OCR system through the images to capture any words, and most especially numbers.
Once you have this dataset, process it against the business/organization addresses in your database and see if the locations are close enough in proximity, or whether you need to adjust and update your business location.
Extracting the numbers from the images is a complex task, but Google research papers indicate it has developed a deep neural network system that can be trained to identify numbers of up to five digits long.
Google has apparently employed this system with a fairly high success rate and is automatically translating the numerals from images.
Below are examples of Google’s reCAPTCHA interface and building numbers translated through it, according to Google’s research paper, “Multi-digit Number Recognition from Street View Imagery using Deep Convolutional Neural Networks”:
How Does This Impact Local Search Marketers?
Knowing that this real-word data is getting folded into Local/Maps and is potentially able to have an effect upon your online presence and local rankings, what should you do?
Do Nothing: In most cases, local businesses need to do nothing. Most local businesses probably make an effort to ensure that the exterior of their shops make a good impression upon potential customers, and work to make sure that their signage is all accurate.
Inaccurate Signage: If your signage is inaccurate, you need to update it! Various organizations such as the Better Business Bureau may ding you anyway if you are found to be misleading consumers in some way, so accurate representations on the exterior of your business place ought to be kept updated at all times.
Business Name Change: Did you acquire a business and change the name, but not update the exterior sign? This sort of thing could now contribute to having outdated listings continuing to exist and rank in local search results, even if you set up a new business listing in Google and flagged the legacy listing for deletion. Or, did you attempt to add a new listing, only to have it go into a “pending” status that never resolves? Your business name is a key element and your exterior signage had better coordinate accurately with your business name in Google Local. Those of us in local search marketing have long harped upon auditing one’s citations online and correcting any that are out of sync, and this activity now extends to your offline, brick-and-mortar location information as well!
Building Signage: Is the signage outside of your building confusing? This can happen with a great many strip shopping centers and businesses that are abutting each other in dense metro areas. Does it appear another business is located where yours is? Increase the user-friendliness of your exterior by trying to make it clear which businesses go with which signs.
Signage Legibility: For that matter, is your signage easily legible? If your sign was painted up in a kooky font that is virtually illegible, or if your building number was painted on in a funky way by your favorite nephew, re-think it, and perhaps replace it.
Hours of Operation Visibility: Are your hours of operation posted in large letters outside your business? If so, you may want to be sure they reflect the same info that you post online in directories and in local search engines. One of the illustrated embodiments shown with the earlier patent showed an hours of operation sign on a shop window — so, this might not be as farfetched as it sounds.
Street Sign Visibility: Are the street signs in your area legible? I once spent an hour driving around the streets of a small town in Texas, searching in vain for a special sale — all because the words were completely worn off of all of the street signs! You may see computer technicians on investigative TV shows performing all sorts of cool image-clarifications on digital images, but I really doubt Google has much if any of this sorts of enhancement on their images. So, if your street signs in your area require psychic assistance to read, campaign to your local government to have them fixed and updated ASAP!
Mail Store Location: For those companies using a mail store as their business location (a risky proposition for local search marketing), you may need to see if the Street View representation of the location makes it clear that your business couldn’t possibly be in this location. Increasingly, attempting to fool Google Local may work against you.
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I see this as somewhat of a good change. It will incorporate real world results with your online presence providing a services to those looking for established businesses. It further will add to the users attempt to identify a businesses true identity using old fashioned visual cues.