Google Map’s Carter Maslan Answers Questions on the New Nearby Places You Might Like

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.

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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.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Map's Carter Maslan Answers Questions on the New Nearby Places You Might Like by

10 thoughts on “Google Map’s Carter Maslan Answers Questions on the New Nearby Places You Might Like”

  1. I saw a lot of dodges and not much actual information. The majority of his responses could be boiled down to

    “We want to help people find things, we realize it needs work, we don’t really pay attention to what SMBs want.”

    and the rest is just gas.

  2. Mike:

    Thanks for generating the interview and getting Google to communicate with the rest of the world about its newest G maps/places efforts.

    Several points grabbed my attention.

    1. The discussion about types of businesses that show up, when businesses don’t show up, etc. brings attention to this algo that identifies a specific business and type of industry and then creates relationships. In its own right that is an interesting development.

    2. Google acknowledges that the information is buried and while there is traffic to this section of the places page it is minimal. I suppose we are in for a long term experiment as Google works with this algo and information.

    I suspect its impact on businesses will be minimal. It reminds me of the early stages of the google coupon. It was developed, it had glitches, it had minimal visibility, Google seemed to ignore it, businesses with it didn’t have much experience with its being used, etc. Meanwhile it clearly has potent power for the businesses and Google as it gets highlighted.

    3. Finally the discussion on the Places Page and what it represents intrigued me. You referenced it as a spot that Google signaled as a landing page. Carter Maslin disputed that but claimed it as a place where businesses can claim accuracy.

    I think that is “Google Speak” for “we aren’t going to be forthright with you. ;)

    Seriously. Websites should generally be accurate. They are developed by the businesses.

    Google maps data is often not accurate. We all know that. It is run by algo’s. The algos grab data from data sources that might not be accurate. The algo’s merge data from two different sources at times. (there seems to have been a rash of complaints about that recently in the Maps forums). Plusboxes in google.com have shown false information. Finally, G maps and places pages become a venue for business spam. Google’s algo’s then can promote the spam.

    If CM really believes that the places pages are a venue for accurate information than Google needs to do its part to ensure that accuracy.

    I suggest more customer service bodies. ;) (the suggestion might seem repetitive) :D (It is) :D

  3. Shame you didn’t get more forthright answers, Mike, but kudos for trying.

    Carter – a business’s Place Page is not a search result. Never was, never will be. It’s an expansion of a search result. When someone sees “XYZ Motors” listed as one of the search results and then clicks “More Info”, they’re not looking for more search results. They’re looking for info. about THAT business. The first search results page already shows “nearby results” the user might like. They don’t need to see it again on the business’s place page.

    At minimum, you should turn this feature off for business’s that have claimed their listing.

  4. Yes, it is too bad that Carter was not more forthright in his answers.

    Google has been actively mismanaging their communications & positioning with SMBs. Most never forgive the sin of duplicity and whether intentional or not, Google has meandered down that path.

    If you haven’t seen Miriam’s article yet where she notes that Google [is] Acting Like Merchant Circle With Nearby Places Move you should take a look at it.

    There I noted that at the end of the day, despite talk about “serving the searcher” as their primary objective, Google is, like Merchant Circle, serving their stock holders.

    The rest is happy talk and I for one would welcome it, if they took a more straight forward approach.

  5. I’d have to agree with Matt that a business should have the option of either showing or not showing the nearby places feature. Since the user’s intent is to obtain information on that particular business (which is why they are on a place page in the first place), I actually think providing nearby places on place pages defeats the purpose of having your OWN business listing.

  6. @Dev

    Seems unlikely that Google will give the SMB more control over their Places page. It seems that the direction that they are taking is less control.

    As you can see with the Buzz announcement, the day of Places Pages and mobile will soon be upon us. In mobile, Google is striving for never having to have the user leave their site and this move is part of that.

    As Earlpearl pointed not many users will see the Places Page from the desktop as it is currently configured but, I do think it is being positioned for the future as a Mobile catchall…get their from search, get their from gmail, get their from Buzz…Mobile has much less space to sell thus there is a need to increase page views to get anywhere near equal inventory.

  7. I just wanna know how G can get the real local businesses competitors so correct on our Place Page but keep displaying fake ‘local’ companies for Valentine’s Day keywords in Universal Search. It’s like the spammer’s have their number down pat and the rest of us who play by their rules miss the party.

    As always, Mike – thanks for the interview and posing the important questions. :)

  8. Nearby places is really a cool concept and is going to be the next generation of search engine tools. Search engines will start to implement a users demographics and bring them search results related to those demographics. BIng.com has already started to do this and google has also begun using user demographics to simplify searching for keywords

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