Bill Slawski of SEO by The Sea and I have been having a discussion about whether the technologies and strategies that he outlined in his Google Local Patent Summary were enough to allow Google Maps to be accurate.
Bill sent me a long list of reasons why Google Local could not be accurate. Up until that moment, in my wide eyed fashion, I had just assumed that Google would prevail and their solution would lead the way forward for a service like Google Maps to finally replace the Yellow Pages (not one moment to soon from most small business owner’s perspective).
But Bill’s email really started me wondering whether I was just an optimist that was rooting for Google to succeed or whether the technology really would become the standard for accessing local information.
Some of the reasons that I thought that Google Local Data would get better that I gave to Bill:
In early September, Bill Slawski wrote a great review/summary/analysis of Google’s Local Search Patent Application. I reread it over the weekend* and felt the surge of epiphany flow over me as I recognized the theoretical underpinnings of Google Local search results.
As Bill noted, Google Local is a “structure generation engine” that collects information from a wide range of structured and unstructured data sources, “normalizes” this information and presents that which is trusted to the user in its local directory, the Google organic search results and “responses to others requests for information” (see 520-find and Google SMS).
This Google local engine retrieves structured and unstructured data information about your business from various online and off-line sources & assigns trust factors to this data:
Trusted Structured Data via feeds, comes (via, XML, readable media, web sites) from:
-Commercial Data Providers like InfoUSA, D & B, Better Business Bureau, Mobil Guides
-the phone book companies
-a data feed from a large business with many outlets like Dominoes Pizza
-Google’s own Local Business Center(which was not mentioned in this patent because I am sure that it has its own patent to deal with stuff like its cool automated phone verification system)
Somewhat Less Trusted Structured, Semi-Structured and Unstructured Data comes (via assorted crawlers) from:
-On-Line Directories with known structured data (ie Superpages)
-On-line Directories with unknown structures and unstructured data (ie Restaurant guides & reviews like CitySearch)
Less Trusted Unstructured data from the Web (via crawlers) from:
-Your business web site
-Other sites that mention your business with geographic information
The Google local “structure generation engine” then standardizes all the fields, parses all of the information received via the above methods and then standardizes the information in those fields (with various tests), and presents it in its structured form via Google Maps, Google Organic and other “responses to …requests for information”.
To me the implications to the business owner or search optimization professional are clear:
From Google Maps Help:
We’re testing a new feature, click to call, on Google Maps. Click to call gives you a fast and easy way to speak directly with businesses found on our maps. The following are a few frequently asked questions about this feature:Â
How does it work?
When you click the “call” link next to a business’s phone number, you’ll be invited to enter your phone number. Once you select “Connect For Free,” Google Maps calls the number you provided. When you pick up, you will hear ringing on the other end as Maps connects you to the business. When they answer, you simply talk normally as if you had directly dialed their number on your phone.
Who will get my phone number?
Whose caller ID do I see when connected?
The business’s phone number appears on your caller ID when Google calls you. This allows you to save the business’s number on your phone so you can quickly call the business again at a later time.
Am I charged to connect to the business?
No. Google pays for all calls, both local and long-distance. However, if you give us a mobile phone number, the normal airtime fees or other fees charged by your phone provider may apply. Continue reading
From the jotpsot.com press release:
We’re writing to let you know that Google has acquired JotSpot. We believe this is great news for our users. More importantly, we want to reassure you that you’ll continue to have uninterrupted access to your account. Both Google and JotSpot are committed to supporting our customers, and we understand that users have invested a lot in our products. In the near-term, we’re focused on migrating JotSpot to Google’s systems and datacenters. We’ll work hard to make that move as seamless as possible so that customers won’t be inconvenienced.
Why is Google acquiring JotSpot?
Google shares JotSpot’s vision for helping people collaborate, share and work together online. JotSpot’s team and technology are a strong fit with existing Google products like Google Docs & Spreadsheets and Google Groups.
Certainly this acquisition makes sense to round out Googles on line application suite and should really elevate Wiki technology into the main stream. This is one more tool that can help small businesses function on the internet. You can read the details here.
While the facts of ownership may be cloudy, there are several things that are clear:
1)The service works very well. I tested it with 7 calls this morning and only ran into problems on one business name (and no place names) out of the seven attempts and that was the try with the radio blaring. I have started using it instead of my contact directory which can be distracting when driving down the road.
2)It definitely uses the Google Maps local data set. I have optimized the business titles for several local businesses in the Google Local Business Center and those titles are listed in 520-FIND verbatim.
If you haven’t tried the service yet, you should. It demonstrates how local data is quickly being pushed out into the world.
Curiouser and curiouser as they say.
In a recent search in Google, the organic search results showed a link to the same search on Google Maps.
This is an interesting way for Google to promote users accessing Google Maps but I have not seen this behavior very broadly. In fact I have never seen if before today and I have yet to find it on other search phrases. Continue reading
About a month and half a go I spotted a trend that is interesting: The top three local listings on the Google Organic results page and the top three listings in Google Map are often not the same.
This has implications for both optimization strategies for Google Organic AND going forward for the directory assistance service that Google is testing. For the present, getting into the top three on the main results page or achieving a “onebox” result on that page is all that matters. There is little traffic coming from Google Maps and less yet from the yet unclaimed directory assistance.
It appears that the two pages calculate authority of listings using different algorithms. Continue reading
Google’s voice driven directory assistance has removed the 877-GOOG-411 number and now automatically forwards any calls to that number to: 877-520-FIND.
It is interesting that Google has not publicly acknowledged that the experiment is theirs and that the phone number has been changed to further distance themselves. Perhaps they didn’t want to seem like they weren’t focusing around the time of their quarterly analyst meetings. Although this clearly is a focused extension of their search capability. Pushing search out to the cell networks is clearly a way to dramatically increase their reach.
It is not difficult to see how this could be monetized and perhaps it already is being monetized.
1-Make this a generic service that the cell companies could use (remove Goog(le) from the number)
2-Share local ad revenue with the cell companies.
Currently there is not a lot of PPC advertising in the Google Maps section although the number is growing. But Google has partnered with Verizon to sell PPC, Verizon is spinning off their on-line SuperPages and it appears that local listings with local ads recieve a higher listing in the directory. So not only is Google beginning the monetiztion of directory assistance they are certainly planning more.
In early October I wrote a post about achieving a “an automatically expanded Plus Box” for a client on a valued search phrase (Vacation Rentals Ellicottville NY) BUT having the url Google had associated with the listing pointing to their competitor. After postulating conspiracies and incompetancies on the part of all but myself I determined that I had neglected to enter the client’s URL in the Local Business Center and Google, in its best guess, had made a not so harmless assumption.
I immediately attempted to fix the problem by:
-Correction the local listing in the Local Business Center
– Submitting to Google on their Dissatisfied? Help us improve link.
I didn’t report the aberation to the client preferring the wait and see chicken approach. From experience I knew that local updates might take 2 to 3 months which would have meant that the client would have missed the bulk of her rental season sending visitors to her competitor site. Fortunately, yesterday (and perhaps sooner) Google rectified my mistake and their best guess and associated the listing with the correct url. It took something less than 3 weeks. Continue reading
Greg Sterling highlighted some interesting comments. I was intrigued by the comment from an analyst: I know you were doing some testing with some retailers, putting their names in the bullets on the Maps and things. Can you talk about that at all?
It appears that one of the means of monetization is a strong relationship with national companies. This seems particularly true with the restaurants. The result is that you will frequently find chains at the top of the local list. I hope to investigate this phenomenon.
The full transcript is available hereÂ (again thanks to Greg).
Of interest from Larry Page: This quarter, we partnered with Intuit to make AdWords Starter Edition Maps and Base easily available to Intuit’s millions of QuickBooks users. We wanted to make it easier for them to advertise and find customers online, as well as make their information and products and services available on the Internet. We also launched coupons on Google Maps, and we hope it will be an appealing genre for our smaller and mid-sized advertisers. We teamed up with Valpak to provide coupons from current Valpak advertisers.
Over half of local businesses don’t have websites yet, based on the estimates we see and our local business center helps those businesses easily create a web presence so they can advertise online.