Google Maps recently introduced a new feature on the Places Pages called Nearby Places You Might Like. It was rolled out early last Friday and while it generally adds value to the Places Page, there were a number criticisms of the results particularly as it relates to SMBs. The feature was announced on the Lat Long blog later that day noting that the results were still in testing and flux. The feature continued to receive “mixed reviews” particularly as it relates to showing direct competitors in the retail space.
Carter Maslan, VP of Product Development at Google Maps, reached out and offered to answer questions that I might have about the feature. Here are his comments.
MB: Could you give us your vision of the new “Nearby Places You Might Like” feature? Who will find the information valuable? Who is it targeting?
Carter Maslan (CM): The vision is to help you find and discover places you’d like to know about. The feature is designed for everyone searching for places, whether they be stores, transit stops or historic landmarks.
MB: I have seen Places Pages that have no nearby places, ones that have only competitors showing, ones that seem to have wildly unrelated places and ones that seem to have related but not directly competitive services. What are you striving for exactly?
CM: We’re striving to add a new and useful way to find places – a way that may have been difficult to express in a query – that taps insights from relationships among places.
MB: Are there different models that you are testing?
CM: Yes, we’re looking at “relatedness” among places broadly and are experimenting with both the identification and presentation of those places.
MB: Why would there be Places that have no Places Nearby showing?
CM: There may not be sufficient information to identify useful relationships among some places.
MB: Here are some examples that each in somewhat hard to understand results. Could you comment on them:
This Places Page shows only competitors in Places You Might Like: Barbara Oliver Jewelry – Buffalo NY
CM: In looking across places, we try to find the strongest associations that seem useful to people as they’re searching or browsing. Sometimes, but not always, those associations are among businesses in the same category; we’re not imposing any particular restriction in the ways that people associate places.
MB: This result shows Nearby Places that are apparently irrelevant (a beverage redemption center, skin care suggestions & a Chiopracter 10 miles or so away from the best pie’s in the world): Earl’s Drive In Restaurant
Or this apparently irrelevant plumber result showing Pet Grooming almost 10 miles away: Schaefer’s Plumbing
CM: I’m guessing there are two reasons that these results seem irrelevant: either 1) we need to improve our quality, or 2) we need to explain our quality. We’re working on both, but even as we perfect results we’ll sometimes include places with unconventional associations.
MB: This result is not showing any Nearby Places: Blumenthals.com
CM: Sorry to say that this is a case where we don’t have enough info to draw insights. As we mentioned in the blog post announcing this feature, we will continue to refine the way we return these results and there will be fewer unexpected results over time.
MB: How are you picking places nearby to show? How close physically do they need to be? It would seem that some examples are showing that are quite a distance away.
CM: We try to consider as much information as we can from across the Web; the distance calculations vary as we consider different signals of relatedness. The definition of “nearby” varies with the user’s intent and the selection of places.
MB: You have mentioned the analogy to “Similar Products that you might be interested in”. Could you expand on that?
CM: People know that they have options when choosing a place (or product), so showing options helps them confirm a decision or discover a place they’d want to consider. For a business owner, it’s important to remember that there are *inbound* links as well as outbound – so someone may also discover your business through this feature.
MB: The information for “Nearby Places You Might Like” shows very far down a very long page. Do readers make it that far down the page? Will it change position over time? What will determine that?
CM: Yes, they do make it that far down the page at times. But the lower position on the page is a safer place to launch early and iterate on the quality of this new feature. The page is a search result, so the presence and position of this feature will vary over time with quality/usefulness.
MB: Currently, when you select the link for one of Nearby Places, it “spawns” a new Window. It seems very un-google like. Is that a bug or a feature?
CM: That was a browser-specific bug that should now be fixed.
MB: The message from Google to SMB’s about their Places Pages has, with the exception of your inclusion of ads last year, been that it can be used as a landing page. This certainly seems to contradict that. Would you position the Places Pages for SMBs so that they can understand your intentions with the page?
CM: Our intent for Place Pages is to show the most useful search results for any given place. For local businesses that want to engage with the people searching for them, Place Pages are search result pages that help businesses ensure accuracy of core listing information and gain insights into the ways people find them.
MB: If it isn’t a Landing Page over which they have reasonable control, what would incent an SMB to claim and control their listing?
CM: The primary reasons to claim your listing are a) ensure the accuracy of the core listing data, b) get insights into how and when people are finding you even before they arrive at your site/doorstep, and c) engage with the people searching for you by posting updates, photos, videos, etc.
MB: It would seem that the Places Pages have two constituencies, the consumer and the SMB. We know that you always doing user-acceptance testing. Are you doing it with SMBs, as well as consumers?
CM: We want both consumers and businesses to find the results useful in engaging with each other. While the implication is that this feature puts the interests of consumer and business at odds, owners often realize quickly that the Web of connections among places and people is both inbound and outbound.
MB: The Places Pages are becoming more Yellow Page like. Will you be selling placement in the nearby links and if so, for how much?
CM: Places Pages are all about helping users find and discover the most relevant information for any place. We have no plans to monetize the nearby places feature at this time. I’d also like to mention that, as always, any ads on the Place Pages will be clearly labeled as such.
MB: I have in the past, and in this instance, accused you of being somewhat tone deaf to the needs of SMBs. Obviously you are soon to be targeting them for additional ad revenue. How would you respond to my criticism?
CM: We’re listening to the SMB desire for more customers and more business with those customers. In this case, there’s already a connected Web of people, places and information in the real world. Embracing that network with a strong, accurate online presence is a good thing for business owners, and this is a great new tool that offers access to insights that were previously unavailable.
MB: What else would you like to tell us about this new feature that I haven’t asked?
CM: At Google, we launch and iterate. We appreciate hearing feedback from you and from others and will take it into account as we continue to develop this and other features.