All posts by Mike Blumenthal

The Good and the Bad of Google Maps

On 1/20/07, I wrote on the Google Blog:

Jen (Google Map Guide)

We work with a local restaurant that when viewed in Google Maps has but
one review from CitySearch dated September 2005.

There have been a number of subsequent customer reviews posted on this
restaurant at CitySearch, Yahoo and Yelp since May, 2006 and later but the
review information at Google has not been updated.

As a small business owner, they understand your use of reviews to
provide reader guidance. However, they are concerned that Google has
not conscientiously updated their information.

Please advise.

Mike

On 1/30/07 Google responded:

Hey Mike,

I completely understand your local restaurant’s concern about the most recent reviews not appearing with their business. At this time, I can’t tell you exactly when we’ll be getting those new reviews into Google Maps, but I can assure you that we are working to provide the most up-to-date data that we can. The best I can do at this time is ask your client to be patient, and let them know that more recent reviews should be appearing shortly.

Thanks,
Jen Continue reading

Google now Serving Ads on your cell phone

Bill Slawski has recently reported on a Google patent to deliver ads on your cell phone. After reading the patent, I happened to be playing with Google SMS yesterday and received my very own (obviously reduced) ad that read:

(Ad)Hotels.com
Great Hotel Rates!
Hotels.com
800-449-4167

Here is what Adwords has to say (my italics and bold for emphasis):

In some cases, the local business ads may also appear with relevant searches on Google Maps for mobile. Ads appearing with mobile search results may contain only two lines of text, so local business ads may show in a shortened form on mobile searches. Currently, advertisers aren’t charged for impressions or clicks accrued by local business ads on mobile searches.

The text versions of your local business ads may also appear on Google SMS queries. Due to the limited amount of space in the SMS format, your ad text may not be included in its entirety. However, your business name and contact information will be included.

OneBox patent summary from Bill Slawski

I have written a number of times about the OneBox:

-Eyetracking Heatmap: How Searchers View the Google One Box

-The Google “Onebox” on general search phrases

The OneBox, in its many forms is very important as the primary interface that Google provides to local search and thus deserves attention. Bil Slawski has just published a summary of Google’s OneBox patent at Search Engine Journal as well as listed other OneBox references. As Bill points out the OneBox is Google’s method of allowing vertical search to works its way into the main search engine results page.

Comscore reasearch on cell phone use by age group

Comscore has released the second part of their research about cell phone usage by age group. In the first part of their research they examined general cell phone usage patterns as well as types of cell phone internet access.

Their current conclusions:

Consumers in the 18-to-24 Age Segment: View Cell Phones as Multi-Functional Accessories; Crave Advanced Features and Personalization Options

Wireless Users in the 25-to-34 Age Segment: Most Likely to Access the Internet via Their Cell Phones

Their research does not detail specific internet usage by age group. In their previous research 44% of the users access the internet for email purposes while somewhat more than 24% used it for local search. It would be helpful to see top reasons for access by age group to see which age groups are more focused on local search vs other uses as well as the type and intensity of local search. It isn’t clear from the research summary but I would assume that the reason that the 25-34 age bracket is more likely to access the internet via cell is for job related e-mail.

Read on for more of their findings…

Continue reading

Google responds to geolocation issues

There is a more than a little irony in Google’s “official response” to the complaints about problems with the underlying geo-location data (italics are mine for emphasis):

== 9 of 10 ==
Date: Fri, Jan 19 2007 2:29 pm
From: “Maps Guide Jen”

I just wanted to let you know that your voices and concerns are being heard.
Currently because we source all of our map data from NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas,
we may not be able to make manual corrections to your business locations. We
don’t currently have a way for you to submit your specific map corrections
to Google Maps.

Some business owners have reported that adding a note to the “Description”
section of their business listing has helped their customers to find them.

You can edit your listing by following the instructions at

http://maps.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=15391&topic=1481

Cheers,
Jen

==

Bill Slawski talks about a recent Google patent to improve location information accuracy. Clearly Google is working on this difficult problem. Obviously, they have yet to solve it.

What were China’s 450 million mobile users ‘Searching’ for in 2006?

A summary of interesting tidbits provided by a press release from mInfo of China:

-WAP is currently actively used by only 30-40 million of the 450 million mobile users in the country, whereas SMS has over 90% adoption

-Searches were spread fairly evenly amongst the basic subject areas of Local Search (41%), Informational Search (31%) and Rich Content Search (28%).

-Local search involves finding directory information for locations such as bars, hotels and ATMs

-The five leading search categories in 2006 were: 1. Dining/Recreation 2. Jokes/Riddles 3. Ring tones/Pictures 4. News/Stock 5. Weather forecast

-The query model for mobile search is also quite different from web search. Mobile searchers tend to use longer query strings (5-6 words/query) vs. web searchers who average about two words per query. Mobile searchers tend to input phrases with qualifiers to improve specificity in an effort to increase relevance and get more precise answers.

-The average web search session usually involves 5 or more iterations of keywords with countless clicks on the resulting links. Contrarily, the average mInfo search session requires just 1-2 queries for users to find their desired answers.

-Search diversity is much higher on mobile vs. the Web. According to traffic data from a leading Chinese Internet search engine, the top 1000 keywords account for over 70% of all search traffic. However, for mobile search, the top 1000 queries account for only about 20% of the searches

-The 19-24 year old group seemed most interested in ring tones and pictures while the 25-29 year old group was more heavily weighted towards local search. The 30-34 year old group tended to spend more time on travel and news related searches.

Comscore’s numbers on mobile search

There is a fair bit of optimism that mobile (see Get Ready for a Surge in Mobile Search) is going to dominate local search in the very short term. The numbers are mouth watering to venture capital: 200 million cell phones in the US alone and research that 30% will use local search on their current or next cell phone. I am sure that it will happen…. someday

Research on actual current users tells a different story. Here is the data from Comscore’s recent research:

Wireless Users’ Internet Accessibility (via Phone) October 25, 2006 ­ November 1, 2006
sample size = 1,708

Source: comScore Networks Wireless Report Percent of Users
Don’t have Internet option/unsure 37%
Have Internet option/don’t subscribe 34%
Currently subscribe to the Internet 17%
Previously subscribed to Internet option 12%

Top Reasons for Accessing the Internetfrom a Wireless Phone

(Among those who subscribe to Wireless Internet Option)

Feature Percent of Users
E-mail 44%
Ring Tone Downloads 35%
Weather 34%
News 29%
Sports 25%
Local Search (i.e. YP) 24%
Game Downloads 21%
Travel Information 19%
Wallpaper Downloads 16%
Directory Assistance 15%
Financial Information 10%
Pay Bills 10%
Shopping 6%

Let’s do the math: 200 Million cell users of whom 17% have & use internet access and of those only 24% (lets be generous and assume some more unique users from the other categories and say 33%) do some sort of local search. Total audience:11 Million. Nothing to sniff but not yet a huge market

Continue reading

Greg Sterling’s Summary of Local Search Dollars

Greg Sterling has provided an excellent summary of local search volume and profitability by analyzing ComScore’s December data:

comScore basically defines “local search” as Internet yellow pages, the queries on the local products of search engines (e.g., Yahoo! Local) and searches on general engines with geographic modifiers (e.g., “Denver Attorneys”). comScore (7/06) estimated local search to be 13% of overall Internet search volumes….. it would mean that on an industry wide basis “local search” is today hypothetically worth just over $104 million per month or in excess of $1.2 billion per year….The local ad market (all media) is worth roughly $100 billion….So one would reasonably expect many billions in SMB and other locally targeted ad buying will flow online,

But Greg points out: But in search in order to capture more of these local dollars there need to be more local searches or those with “local intent” need to be better monetized….But, fundamentally, if you’re Google, Yahoo! or MSFT and want to get more local money into search, you have to build more inventory: local searches.

Ultimately despite all of the startups in local and all of the talk of delivery of ads on cell phones, the local search market won’t really take off until there are more searches by real people. Certainly the current crop of portable devices dosn’t make that easy and Yahoo and Google actively hide their local data on-line.

Perhaps the iPhone,or something like it, will allow this significant hurdle to be overcome by both making local searching easier and not requiring every website to reformat their output. Another strategy might be that if you can’t get people to come to the mountain you move the mountain to them…with a Google Kiosk in every mall. (Now that’s local search.)

For now, Local is a niche within a niche and it will remain so for a while. In some ways though, this is not such a bad thing (other than hundreds of startups going out of business), in that much of the data and the interfaces are not quite ready for prime time…when they are they will be adopted and used and the revenue opportunities will be evident.

Local Data Accuracy- a veritable beehive

Bill Slawski and I have discussed whether Google Maps & Yahoo Local data would get more accurate over time. Both companies have taken a somewhat different approach to fix inaccuracies: Google relying on large directories with sales organizations, the small business itself and their algorithms while Yahoo relies more on the general public and the small business to improve accuracy. It remains to be seen which, if either system, will ultimately lead to the highest accuracy and most useful data.

Google has created forums for feedback and correction of the data in their Google-Maps-For-Business-Owners Group. The good news is that correction is occurring. The bad news is that for the small business people it is not occurring fast enough. The group is a regular beehive of activity with a surprising amount of input from small business owners. But it is a beehive in which the keeper just stuck his hand into the hive and stirred things up by sticking the bees in the wrong place and the bees are mad!

Here are two posting from yesterday:

=============================================

TOPIC: Category Options
=============================================

Date: Wed, Jan 17 2007 12:18 pm
From: “Farmer Karl”

I have been quite satisfied with my Google Adwords campaigns these last
two years and hope Google Maps can eventually become as useful.

As it apears obvious with previous posts, the Google Maps Category
Options situation is not good and seems to show very little
improvement. Has anyone seen a new category suggestion that was
actually implement these last two months? It is understandable that
business owners would resent seeing competitors listed in categories
(which I assume were imported from places like “superpages.com”) that
they themselves can not use.

We’re in the entertainment farm business (pumpkin patch, corn maze, PYO
fruit) and can’t find any category that seems even remotely applicable.
I’d even settle for simply the category FARM which my customers
normally use for google searches.
=============================================

TOPIC: Incorrect location on Map
=============================================
Date: Wed, Jan 17 2007 12:25 pm
From: “edrents@XXXX”

Same here, not only is my business location wrong on the map, but my
street name on the map is misspelled, and the map shows intersecting
streets that don’t really intersect! This situation tends to make me
distrust all the Google maps.

Eddie
===============

The comments in the forum, mostly critical, fall into several categories:

1)My listing is wrong, please fix it
2)The category that my competitors are in, is not available to me
3)The map is wrong (one way or another)

As can be imagined small business owners can be quite passionate:

Yes, this seems to be a very serious issue in that my address leads to a map of my competitor’s operation ten miles down the road! I wonder at the coincidence of this! Any search for my location takes customers to my competition! In fact, this seems to a legally actionable situation that needs to be addressed immediately.

Continue reading

Google Maps now displaying business category

Google Maps with Category descriptionGoogle Maps has recently added a new piece of information with a business: their category. Whether this is a test or a permanent addition is unclear.

What is clear is that it is not done with consistency with a given search. The reasons for this are not obvious. For example on the search (inside of Google Maps) “web design Olean NY” some businesses have no category listed, some have the one category description and others have a different category (obviously provided by different 3rd party providers). Google has acknowledged that these categories are from other data providers.

I have noted in a previous post how this can play out in unusual ways and the likely source for the data. Another outcome of the use of categories from other sources is that it leads to small business frustration.

With this new change that shows the 3rd party category, there is more transparency as to why a listing is where it is but there is still no option to include your specific business in this category.

As sophisticated as Google’s local algorithm is one would think that they could come up with a single comprehensive list of categories that would be transparently available to every business in their local database.