Sunrise, Florida, Reemerges From Google Maps’ Bermuda Triangle

The city of Sunrise, Florida, is back on the map. On Google Maps. It mysteriously vanished more than a month ago, making it impossible to find anything in Sunrise via a Google search. Some local businesses have reported significant declines in online sales. The city’s mayor, after contacting Google and failing to get a call back, sent a letter to CEO Eric Schmidt last week. National and local media picked up the story this week.

And then yesterday, more than a month after the problem was first reported, Sunrise — and all of its businesses, attractions, and places — finally regained its visibility on Google Maps.

Google has apologized to Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan “for the frustration and difficulty the mistake has caused.” Local business owners are no doubt relieved that the mistake has been fixed, but at least one wonders how long Sunrise would’ve remained gone without the media exposure and pressure from city officials. She’s promising to make sure Google Maps “stays fixed.”

What Happened To Sunrise?

Technically speaking, Sunrise was still “in” Google Maps — it’s just that you couldn’t find it by searching. For all intents and purposes, the city didn’t exist. If you tried any Sunrise-related query, the city and its local businesses were gone: sunrise fl restaurantsflorists sunrise florida … or this one, sunrise florida car dealers.

sunrise cardealers

Rather than show search results for Sunrise businesses, in each case Google was showing results in the Sarasota, Florida, area. Sarasota is on the western side of Florida, about 200 miles northwest of Sunrise. And it wasn’t just a business problem; important civic resources were unfindable. Even a search for sunrise florida hospitals pointed users to Sarasota.

Other cities have also vanished from Google Maps. Earlier this year, Google lost La Jolla, California. It’s also lost Rogers, Minnesota, Wickliffe, Ohio, Woodstock, Virginia, and Imperial Beach, California.

This was the third time Sunrise had gone missing; it happened previously in August and October of 2009. But this time, some Sunrise business owners and officials took matters into their own hands.

Sunrise Speaks Up

Sherry Tannozzini, owner of Flowers from the Rainflorist, was the first to speak up. She reported this latest problem to Google on August 17th and was told eight days later by a Google employee that it would take 1-2 months to fix. That prompted Sherry to write a blog post and to tell Sunrise city officials and media outlets what was going on with Google Maps.

The story was picked up this week by the Associated Press (video), the Sun Sentinel newspaper, the local CBS affiliate (with video), and the local NBC station. The story reportedly aired on NPR, and even the BBC was in touch with the Mayor’s office.

The NBC story reported that city officials were considering legal action against Google, but Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan first sent a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt demanding a quick fix to his city’s disappearance:

The fact that you have “lost” our City is negatively impacting our businesses. Losing a city such as ours also calls into question the efficacy of your company’s search engine. You need to fix this problem immediately and permanently.

Here’s a PDF of the mayor’s letter to Google.

Impact On Sunrise Businesses

Tannozzini told us earlier this week that her shop – which delivers flowers in the Sunrise and Ft. Lauderdale area — was feeling the pain of Sunrise’s disappearance from Google.

Phone sales are down. Web orders are down. General sales from existing customers remain about the same, but new customer sales via phone (who always say, “I’m on your website”) or those that come directly from our website are about 90% down.

Chamber of Commerce officials told local media that they received calls from a couple dozen businesses who were feeling the impact of not being visible on Google.

How Did Sunrise Go Missing?

Google, as you might expect, isn’t sharing specific details about how it lost Sunrise, Florida, or how it lost all those other cities in the past. In a statement to Search Engine Land before the situation was fixed, a Google spokesperson attributed the problem to “inaccuracies” from the various map sources it uses.

Google is committed to providing our users with the richest, most up-to-date maps possible. We’ve built our map from a combination of authoritative sources, ranging from the U.S. Census Bureau to commercial data providers, and have used satellite, aerial and Street View imagery to help complete the map. Overall, this provides a very comprehensive map of the U.S., but we recognize that there may be occasional inaccuracies that could arise from any of those sources. We encourage users to let us know when something is incorrect by using our “Report a Problem” button, found at the bottom right corner of the map.

It was just about a year ago that Google dropped TeleAtlas map data and started using those other sources for Google Maps. And yes, each of the cases of missing cities that are mentioned earlier in this article happened after Google changed its map data source.

Google didn’t specifically answer our requests to learn how a city can disappear from Google Maps and why it takes a month or two to fix. The company did, as mentioned above, apologize already to Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan for the city’s troubles. Ryan didn’t reply to our e-mails asking for reaction to Sunrise’s reemergence on Google Maps, but we’ll update this article if we hear from him.

Sherry Tannozzini, the Sunrise florist that first reported the problem, told us that she’s “elated” about the problem being fixed, but she’s also frustrated with what she says it took to get Google to take action.

“[It's] shocking that it took less than 12 hours after the AP wire story broke that it was resolved, especially since we have tried to reach someone [at Google] since mid-August who would listen and do something other than the ‘canned’ response. I am going to diligently follow this and see that it stays ‘fixed,’ now that I know how to get the attention of Google.”

A Google spokesperson says there’s no correlation between the media exposure and when the problem was resolved: “I can assure you that our product team was already aware of the technical error and working on a resolution prior to the AP and other media stories.”

(Thanks to Mike Blumenthal for research assistance.)

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Google: Maps & Local | Top News

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About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • http://www.tcampbell.net T Campbell

    “The towns that Google forgot.” Fascinating, but I can’t help but wonder about the legal recourses. Would there be any? Google Maps is serving its users, not the cities, at least primarily, but it claims to be a comprehensive resource. Is it slander to imply someone doesn’t exist?

  • Michael Gray

    “A Google spokesperson says there’s no correlation between the media exposure and when the problem was resolved”
    C’mon really that’s the line someone wants to go with … really … sure you don’t want to use “my little sister ripped it up” or “My dog ate it” or the new version “these aren’t my pants”

  • emellaich

    Here is another one to try. Find Louisville Kentucky. This one is a wee bit bigger than Sunrise.

    In this case, it is not hidden in the search engine, but try to find it on the map. Go to maps.google.com and zoom in on Kentucky. See that spot to the left of Lexington? Where interstates 64 and 65 cross? On google maps, it is called “New Albany”, Jeffersontown, and Shelbyville. Go ahead and zoom-in. You’ll see all kinds of little suburbs on the map. However, nowhere will you see Louisville.

  • D. B.

    I live in another town that is missing from Google search: Bel Air, Maryland. The town, which is a county seat, consists of the small incorporated town of Bel Air plus the adjacent Census-designated communities “Bel Air North” and “Bel Air South”. All three of these places can be seen on Google Maps if you know where to look, and put together they have a population of 75,877 as recorded in the Census ten years ago.

    However, if you use Google search to look for, say, “restaurants near bel air, md” you will get results from about 150 miles away, where there is a tiny unincorporated one-gas-station community near Cumberland, MD that the Census calls “Cresaptown-Bel Air”.

    Now, in this case it’s not solely Google’s fault, since there are actually two Bel Airs in Maryland. That’s legitimately confusing. But why can’t the search engine find them both?

    I sent a message to Google about this several months ago, and after a while I got a response indicating that the the issue had been elevated or escalated to the next level of whatever. But the problem persists. Maybe I should call the mayor . . .

  • D. B.

    Oh, by the way, Bing finds the larger Bel Air.

  • D. B.

    If any residents of the other Bel Air, Maryland are reading this, please understand I mean no disrespect! Your town probably has more than one gas station. The Internet tells me it also has an elementary school, a row of shops, a couple of pizza places, and so on. I’m not saying it’s not a real town! It’s just very small compared to our Bel Air.

  • http://www.ahalocal.com lorapb

    @D.B. – I work for an internet marketing company, and one of our clients has a camera store in Bel Air, MD. Until I just read your comment I had NO IDEA why I could never find that store when searching for “camera stores bel air md.” I always was given a Google Maps result for a camera store in Cumberland, MD. I have made so many changes to that Google Maps listing to get it to display, to no avail. So frustrating!! The only time I can get it up is when I type in the ZIP. Now at least I know why! :-) Thanks.

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