Business Week wrote a piece recently (03/08/07): Where Search Stumbles criticizing most of the local search engines. Greg Sterling has repeatedly pointed out that accuracy is the potential achilles heal of Local and there have been plenty of complaints elsewhere and here about quality and about complexity. But as I tell my relatives: I love you anyways.
I by no means find the quality acceptable, although I have gone on record with the opinion that it is satisfactory and will improve. I recently, though, read a post called “Its the Schema, stupid!” by a search researcher for IBM that helped me understand the bigger issues. I am not a database expert and have limited understanding of search schema or the semantic web. However his point that what is exciting about local search is that the searcher is looking for something real, struck a chord. The searcher is trying to find a pizza parlor or a car dealer as opposed to a document in cyberspace that general search might return. And that only by using a structure (schema) that is based on the real world would you ever be able to find it.
This brought home for me both the elegance and complexity of what Google, Yahoo & Ask are attempting to do with local search.
In Google, an organic search returns ranked & relevant results from a selection of web pages. They can not be judged as right or wrong just more or less relevant to the searcher and only in the aggregate.
In Google Maps local search, on the other hand, Google is attempting to return ranked, relevant AND right results. The relevance can be measured from the local searchers point of view, the rank can be disputed by the local resident and the rightness (or accuracy) can be verified to see if Google properly captured the correct phone, street address, category, neighborhood, quality, recognition of a hopefully open local business. It is judged in the very specific.
Another report of large medical center problems with Google Maps:
== 1 of 1 ==
Date: Thurs, Mar 8 2007 9:22Â pm
From: “Michael” Â
I have the same exact problem. I am the web director for NYU Medical Center.
I have the correct address and phone number listed in over 20,000 pages on the footer.
Google maps does not have an elegant mechanism for validating changes. With large institutions, mail stops can be very difficult so the post card method does not work. Also, our call center is analog, so they can not validate there. How about a validation tag on our web site?
that would seem to be the most logical.
This has become a serious problem for us, as we have patients
literally showing up in the wrong locations when they are scheduled for surgery.
I have sent several emails to the maps group, to no avail.
Bart, if you find a solution i would love to hear it. I would love to know where the mapbot is getting its data from. An XML document on the root of my server listing the correct addresses and numbers would make the most sense to me.
Google has upgraded the Local Business Center with a range of new features. You can now:
*Add photos to your Google Maps listing (within the guidelines)
*Add custom attributes to your business listings
*Correct and adjust your Google map marker location, so if it is slightly off, you can move it to the right spot
*You can now see statistics on how many people viewed and clicked on your local business listings
The ability to correct your map marker has been a frequent request at the Google Maps for Business Owners group and will add one step to the process of improving data accuracy.
The custom attributes feature holds out the promise of solving one of the vexing problems facing businesses that serve larger areas than the locale in which they are located and possibly solving the categorization issues as well.
The other very interesting feature of the custom attributes is the attributes differ by industry group. The default values for a Physician are different than the default values of a restaurant. It appears that Google is in the race to build the “semantic web”.
Barry Schwartz at SearchEngineLand has a great summary of the other new features in the Local Business Center..
The Ask.com announcement, The New Shape of Local Search has been widely reported.
However, not many commentators have noted how cool and useful this feature really is. OK so you can draw on the map, big deal I said to myself.
Then I started drawing. When I noticed the email and permalink I thought, how long is the image stored? Can my doodles be shared?
It appears that the drawing data is captured in the link (and not stored anywhere) and when the link is shared the map doodles go right along with it to redraw the custom map for the next viewer.
Here is a sample map with my input: http://city.ask.com/city?msid=f29535c07bc94e24c4c10fd0b697730c&msuserid=eeef09e483dbd0f315991e723912e733
The fact that there is a permalink to this image and that it can be emailed means that each users custom map can exist forever for whatever purpose…a temporary rendezvous, a map for a website…and possibly many more.
Last week I reported on a Hitwise report that Traffic to Google Maps increased by 26% from Jan. to Feb. due to an increase from upstream Google traffic and I surmised that it was likely due to the OneBox change.
Today, LeeAnn Prescott from Hitwise confirmed that the traffic increase was likely due to the change and that the week lag in data that I had noted was an artifact of the data collection and Google rollout procedures. LeeAnn noted: If the Local One Box change happened in the middle of the week, there may be a lag. It also may have been rolled out in different markets separately.
I had noted previously that the Local OneBox change had provided between 10 and 12 new entry points into Maps from the prime territory above the fold on the main search results.
To give a sense of how large this increase is one needs to realize that just this increase is roughly equal to all of Microsoft’s Local traffic and greater than the combined traffic from Insiderpages, Judy’s Book, Ask & Yelp.
Given Google’s dominant share in search, even small changes on their main search results page creates incredible traffic for any of their secondary products. It demonstrates clearly how difficult it will be to unseat the leader in the local battle on-line.
I love reading the the Google Maps for Business Group postings. This one appeared under the heading, Phone Number Troubles. I’ll say.
Recently we have run into a small problem with a women that lives in
Sherman Oaks California (Which happens to live near one of our
locations) Every time someone Google searches to find our clinic
location (example: “our business” Sherman oaks) They get a map and
two phone numbers. One is our number which will directly connect the
searcher to our clinic. The other will get a very nice old woman’s house
that happens to live by our business. This is very frustrating for her
as you can imagine. We explained that our business does not control
what information is displayed. It’s very hard for her to comprehend
Perhaps she needs to start suplementing her income with Windows support.
Greg Sterling does the best strategic analysis that adds to understanding the big picture of Local Search. Two of his recent posts about Local Search that I found of particular interest:
â€¢Yelp Becoming a CRM platform
â€¢Local Numbers: Setting the Record Straighter
Bill Slawski of SeobytheSea also offers incredible insights on Local but from the technical viewpoint. His writings elucidate the technologies behind the scenes. His recently posted Google Local Search Glossary is a real gem.
LeeAnn Prescott at Hitwise reports: Traffic to Google Maps increased by 26% from January to February 2007. It appears that this increase was due to an increase in upstream traffic from Google, which occurred on February 7, according to this daily clickstream chart shown here. Did anyone notice a change in how Google drives traffic to Google Maps around this time?
This jump in traffic to Google Maps shown on the chart occurred one week after it was reported that Google upgraded the Local Onebox results on the main search results page.
Today’s Wall Street Journal had an article titled: Local Search Sites Draw Users’ Input in which they:
â€¢ extolled the value of Yelp’s reader reviews
â€¢ reported on the trend of user generated content in local sites like Local.Yahoo.com, Yelp, InsiderPages.com
â€¢ Offered up the Kelsey esitmate of $6.2 billion in local search advertising by 2010
â€¢ Note the changing plans (difficulties) of Judy’s Book and Citysearch and their need to shore up traffic.
â€¢ AhmedF points out on Greg Sterling’s site that the article has the YellowPages.com generating almost 7000 reviews a day (200,000 in February) since allowing reviews.
What is of interest to me in the article comes from the Wall Street Journal’s track record of trend spotting just before a trend reaches critical mass across the U.S. Whenever I am looking to impress my kids or nephews I will read about an artist, toy or movie in the WSJ and usually discover that my kids have yet to fully appreciate the trend (which usually does take on widespread appeal) and hope that they remember my cool call in 12 months. They never do.
The WSJ has hit on 3 in this article: Local search taking off, user generated content and the difficulties facing even some of the bigger players in the market, all of which will be gaining mainstream mindshare over the next year.
m-spatial, in its most recent quarterly Mobile Local Search Index, has found that mobile searches in England, have doubled in the last quarter of 2006 compared to the first quarter “with Fast Food, Pubs & Drinking and Cinema topping the search league tables”. The report also noted siginificant seasonal shifts.