Google Maps indexing and mapping geoRSS & KML files

The other day when I wrote about the RSS feed results showing up in Google Maps and some of those results showing up in the Maps results I learned a lot:

•Lior from Google Latt-Longblog pointed out that the results from user generated Maps have been showing up in the main Maps results since October.

• Gregor Rothfuss and Barry Hunter pointed out that I could, in MY MAPS save any geoRSS feed or KML into my maps. Lior & Jen-Noel pointed out that it could also come from a Maplet.

•Barry also pointed out that its even possible to load non Geo enabled feeds into GMaps, with a Geocoding converter, and he provided an interface to one here:
http://www.nearby.org.uk/rss-to-kml.php

That all being said, I still didn’t understand how the feeds were making their way into Maps. I was under the assumption the MY MAPS were “user generated” and to some extent they are. Here is it what the LatLong Blog said:

It’s no secret that our users are the true experts on local information. Sometimes a tip from a friend or a friendly local can make all the difference.

Over the last year, we’ve been working hard to organize this local wisdom; we’ve sifted through millions of My Maps, KML files and other information created by all of you in the geoweb.

Google is in fact indexing geoRSS feeds and KML files from across the web and mapping these into Google Maps next to My Maps created in Google Maps. Occasionally Google is throwing one of these results into the top level Map results that they have indexed from across the web. I may be a little slow on the uptake as it took a while for this fact to sink in: Google is actively searching out and mapping this data. The reason that you are seeing mostly results from MerchantCircle and Topix is that those sites are the first to be geocoding their rss files.

This raises its own interesting questions:

•How is Google using this geodata? Is it being used to reinforce their top level Map results in the Maps ranking algo?

•What ranking factors does Google use to include community mapping info in these top level results? How does one influence and optimize for that? How high can one of these “blue pin” community maps entries go?

•Should a local website have a KML file indicating its location so that Google Maps creates a “community map” of that business? Does a site need a sitemap entry for this KML file?

•Will this KML file become the de facto file to indicate the bricks and mortar location of the local website? And should we start including them on the sites now?

Clearly, Google is building out a Maps structure that will include any and all geotargeted data that it can find. It will come from users with Google’s tools, or from sites generating their own KLM or geoRSS files and Google sucking that info up and mapping it.

As Google improves their ability to parse, evaluate and rank this information it is working its way into the higher level results. How this will play out in the future is unclear. Certainly it bodes for richer and more complete map information available on a broad range of devices like the iPhone, the iPod Touch, the Android phones and any device that can run Google Mobile Maps..

It also appears that any marketer of local sites will at some point need to familiarize themselves with this technology and integrate it into the overall marketing of local sites.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Maps indexing and mapping geoRSS & KML files by

27 thoughts on “Google Maps indexing and mapping geoRSS & KML files”

  1. This is an example from Google Maps France :
    As a key test this search on Google Maps: “etoffes et sofas.”
    Click the View from 154 from “etoffes et sofas”.
    Then, click View maps of the community.
    Finally, click on the link Maison & Jardin – rss.ohmybuzz.com.
    You can start a search by typing this query: rss.ohmybuzz.com.
    The link to the RSS file will be this: http://rss.ohmybuzz.com/search/?l=fr_FR&c=3.

  2. Barry- those were very helpful links. Sorry for the spam block. Thanks for the links they are very informative! as you mentioned in your email google is using some sort of ranking algo…have you explored that much?

    mike

  3. Jean-

    Your English is significantly better than my French. Thanks for the feed.

    I am seeing more and more of these. As Barry pointed out if you list your geoRSS or KML file in the sitemap.xml file Google is ready to index it and include it on Maps.

    Did you do that? It seems that Google is prowling for any of these files with or without the sitemap.xml indicator being present.

    Mike

  4. Havent really investigated the ranking that closely, other than it seems to do a reasonable job ;) Those links seem to suggest it likes links that are credited with atom tags, but know content is indexed without them.

    I just remembered Google created a map (now out of date) showing the reach of its GeoIndex, with a intro here:
    http://www.gearthblog.com/blog/archives/2007/07/heat_map_of_kml_and.html

    so it been indexing geo content before people started putting it in their sitemap (realising googlebot would take notice of it), just picking it up from normal weblinks I guess.

  5. I don’t think it is necessary that the file is listed in a sitemap to be crawled by Google. Try this type of requests in Google:
    Ext:xml or ext:kml or ext:rss
    With or without a sitemap you are indexed!
    Google stops to display the contents of RSS in its engine, but displays them in Google Maps. The big problem is that this information is not ranked or structured…

  6. Thanks to both of you!

    It is clear that Google has been and will be gathering more and more geodata for map building. It is starting to get to the point where POSM (plain old search marketers) need to familiarize themselves with the technology and its implications for search.

    It also appears to me that it portends a large transition to Maps as their primary search interface on mobile hardware and many future devices.

    What blogs do you recommend for us non geogeeks to gain a better understanding of the technology?

    Mike

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  8. Jean-

    If I am the specialist in Maps, GeoRSS & KML then the 1)the world is in trouble and 2)everybody is likely to get lost. :)

    Thanks for the blog tip.

    Mike

  9. Indeed…. nice post. Once this is easy to understand and implement by the average user, Google will have to produce search results page exclusively for Google Map results – outside of the existing google/local search…. there will be a need for more comprehensive results.

  10. Hi Todd-

    I guess, at least in my case, that is happening now. When I apply the Mike Test (can I learn to do something in 15 minutes without specialized help) to MyMaps it passed and I have been creating small community maps….so that tipping point is near where the greater community will start creating huge volumes of geotagged data…I have also found that software to geotag photos has gotten better and much easier to use and is another geotechnology that passed my test. Thus to me it is now a matter of how long will it take for widespread adoption.

    I agree that Google will have to do develop ranking and viewing options that deliver this data in a meaningful way (that will be even more challenging on the limited screen real estate of the cell phone)…. which brings me back to the idea of how to best present my local map data so that Google perceives it as relevant.

    Mike

  11. Re blogs,
    of course the Google LatLong blog already mentioned, also the Google Maps API blog, often contains (but slightly more technical) post about Maps and KML in general (rather than just the API).

    There is also lots of good stuff on
    highearthorbit.com, geoRSS, Mikel Maron to name a few.

    Another challenge facing Google in building this GeoWeb thingy is that lots of Web2.0 sites, create lots of (potentially unique) geolocated content (wikimapia, tagzania, plazes, the GEC, flickr to name a few) , that could be aggregated, but is all deeply buried and quickly changing. Of course, getting sites to publish their content in KML is a good way – as long as it can be spider-ed efficiently. For smaller sites this works well, but for the larger sites wonder if there is a better way, personally think we have it working fairly well on geograph.org.uk but again lots of good content is being missed, due to the inherient ‘crawler’ discovery process.

  12. Hi Barry

    Thanks for the blog references. I will add them to Google Reader (where they will get lost) and pick one or two for daily reference (that won’t).

    I find on our website, that Google has been spidering our RSS feeds as frequently as we change them. I assume that they are doing something equally speedy on KML files. The reference you sent me above indicated that if you included your KML/geoRSS url in the sitemap.xml file they would be sure to find it…so part of the issue as you point out is getting sites to publish geocontent in a “good” (google good?) way. You say that doesn’t happen as well on larger sites, why is that?

    I have noticed that some sites like iBegin.com create a KML file for each business listing as opposed to a consolidated file for all the listing. That seems like it might present other benefits/problems?

    Mike

  13. Re spidering RSS, there is a ping mechanism somewhere behind the scenes somewhere (and handled automatically by most blogging software), which thought various properties Google do pick up on, so that accounts for that I think. There isnt such a mechanism for KML (yet ;))

    > You say that doesn’t happen as well on larger sites, why is that?
    I guess ‘well’ is relative. The main issue is scale, bigger sites of course have more content, so that is harder to keep track off, and can take longer to crawl. A small site can be crawled quickly, but a site rapidly updating, might not easily be kept track off.

    > … create a KML file for each business listing as opposed to a consolidated file for all the listing. That seems like it might present other benefits/problems?
    I agree, again speaking from experience (on geograph.org.uk), we publish multiple feeds (for recently uploaded content), grouped files (actually for Google Earth, but useful for the GoogleBot too!), and individual files (one per photo). All seem to have their place, and seem to compliment each other (although there is duplication). The feeds and grouped files, are good for get images indexed in bulk and quickly, but ultimately the individual files seems to end up being the best ranked (possibly as they seen as the authoritative).

    Time will tell which would be the best strategy, (I thought the grouped files – for efficiency (speed of crawling and bandwidth), the success of the individual files caught us unawares – and was only included in the sitemap to curb their success – they where getting ranked above the photo pages themselves! and how KML files and indexing is better understood this could be reevaluated?)

  14. It begin with it was in the main web search results, where the KML files where showing in preference to the website – that partly has been made better by the websearch being more aware of what KML file is (or rather that its not a webpage – much like feeds are now generally excluded from web results) – prioritising with a sitemap was a quick win there (unless it was a red-herring and Google tweaked it their end anyway!)

    Also individual files had great success in the geoindex, partly I guess as these have been in the main web-index for longer (they had been on the site for a long time, but the grouped files where only added around the same time), and being crawlable from normal webpages, gave them authority. On the other hand the grouped files are in their own content island, and where only really discoverable from interlinks between files, and the sitemap.xml entries.

    As time has progressed and the grouped files have had time to be indexed, they now do about as well as the single files, and at a quick glance its about a 50-50 split. So I guess it is tending toward ‘bulk’ files, we just had early success with single files, as we caught the uprising in the geoweb ;)

    – I really should put together a timeline, to summerise all this :)

  15. OK Barry just two more questions:

    What are “Wall Flush Brackets”?

    Does the mashup of “Hills: Database of British Hills” reflect understated British humour? or is it a case of self deprecation? :)

    Mike

  16. Flush Brackets – wont bore you with the details, suffice to say they are markers installed by out national mapping Agency Ordnance Survey, to record and help measure height above sea level. Its a pastime to go and visit these :) [I am more into the Trigpoints – the top one – myself]

    Hills – not totally sure what you mean, but the source for that layer called itself the ‘Database of British hills’, and doesnt have a nice accessible website. Also never got round to making a nice accessible version of that mashup, it could be so much more!

    :)

  17. Barry-

    I live in the foot hills of the Appalachian Mountains but the tourist & business marketers have named our area the “Enchanted Mountains”. Not sure the geographic requirement to be a mountain but the marketers didn’t care…..I found it curious that in all of England no one claimed to have a mountain but rather it was a country of “hills”…you need some good ol’ american self promotion. :)

    Thanks again for all of these tidbits. I just received a Wintec G-rays 2 GPS Data Logger (probably low rent stuff from your point of view but I had a $100 limit) to see if I can easily geotag my photos…..I purchased HoudahGeo from a fellow from the Netherlands & I am off to learn it over the next few days. I’ll let you know what I don’t understand! :)

    Mike

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