Category Archives: Local Search

General information about Local Search techniques, technology and trends

Making Local Appointments on line

Last week I reported on the new service, Leavefeedback.org that elegantly closes the circle of consumers and small businesses. The New York Times reports on a new class of small business products that further brings local and smb’s together: Making Appointments for Doctor or Dinner that further embeds the internet in the lives of clients and businesses. The web based appointment generating services work on two different pricing models, a monthly subscription ($20 to $30)and a per appointment transaction fee ($3.50).

Greg Sterling is quoted in the article as saying: “This is something that’s been needed for a while, but no one has been able to do it successfully,” said Greg Sterling, of Sterling Marketplace Intelligence, an online consultancy. “With these new services, there are a lot of circumstances where it can work quite well for both the business and the consumer.”

The monthly subscription model of Hourtown would lend itself to higher volume appointment scheduling that would be more likely in larger, more tech savvy cities. If a business could schedule one appointment per day via this method it would put the scheduling cost at $1 per, a very appealing price point. At this price, if the volume were there, barbers and hairdressers with a lower average transaction amount could participate.

The per transaction model offered by BookingAngel would appeal to lower volume but higher average transaction amount clients like Doctors. This would work even in rural settings, assuming that the volume was high enough to offset the learning curve.

Given the current pricing models most rural businesses would be unlikely to benefit either due to high per transaction costs or very low scheduling volume. Going foward on-line appointments services could be used by a large number of local businesses in many markets and industry segments. Assuming that these services are easy enough to learn and provide significant value to the business in the form of more business or happier clients it will be interesting to see if and when these become widespread.

Does Local need to be held to a higher standard? Ahmed Farooq Responds

Given the recent reports (A New Scourge For Yahoo: Affiliate Mapspam) of mapspam at Yahoo that I perceived as possibly criminal, several folks responded that I had overreacted or mischaracterized the event. I started thinking about the legal, social and technical context for Local in our lives and whether if we didn’t hold it to much, much higher standards on all fronts (business, technical, social, legal) it would succeed.

I decided that I would like the opinions of others that I respect. They come from a range of technical and social backgrounds but all have something to contribute to Local Search conversation. The first responses to my question by Danny Sullivan and Chris Silver Smith can be found here.

Ahmed Farooq of iBegin has a unique perspective on the issues confronting Local as he has created a user facing local site for Toronto and currently provides basic business listing data to a number of clients through iBegin.

Here is the question:

As we move forward to what I call the age of the iPhroid with who knows what transactional and social capabilities, does Local need to be held to a higher standard to “truly” succeed and play a trusted role in our lives?

What is your opinion?
Ahmed: I’ve argued for a while that what gave the YP books context were the ads.
The ads gave you information on each business – are they open 24 hours? Are
they civil or criminal lawyers? Do they have seafood? And so forth and so
forth.

Having played both the consumer-side and the business-supplying side, the
reason we decided to stick with ‘core’ data is because I don’t see any way
to normalize enhanced data across the entire US. When customers of base data
(competitors and us included – I don’t claim we are perfect) are always
complaining that core data is not right, how does one even begin to think
about tackling enhanced?

The two [current] approaches both fail:

1. Silo. Buy data from one or two sources, invite communities to
participate, and sit back and watch the profits roll. Problem is that while
the community may be willing to update information, they are almost always
restricted to (1) Base data and (2) ‘Sexy’ businesses (restaurants, clubs,
etc). Updating information on a printing company? Doesn’t happen. It may
work on a micro-level, but it does not work on a macro level.

2. Aggregated. Obtain information from various sources like Google does.
While this means more up to date information, it also means a mess of bad
data mingled in there. All sites have good and bad data – mix them all up
and you end up with a lot of good and bad data!

I have no solutions. I may very well be hurting my business here (always
more profitable to sell the full US than a state), but I do not see any
full-US local search engines attaining proper relevancy and context.
Specialized local search engines per city or even perhaps per state – yes.

So to get to the core question – local needs to be held to a higher
standard, because going to a dead website is nowhere near the same horrible
experience as going to a business that has moved (phone # same, address
changed) or dead. But will there be ever one or two sites that do local well
across the US? I don’t think so.

One last point – I believe the ones best positioned to do something
country-wide are the dominant YP publishers – eg YPG in Canada, and so
forth. Their conundrum of course is that the ‘precise’ context we need only
comes via ads. If the advertiser doesn’t pay, they won’t utilize the extra
relevancy, and the end-user loses out. If they allow that extra context for
free, they lose out greatly in revenue.

Seems like I’m rambling a bit now, hopefully got some new gears moving in
your collective brains :)

Does Local need to be held to a higher standard? Danny Sullivan and Chris Silver Smith Respond

I have been thinking about Yahoo lately (big surprise that eh?) and have been mulling over in my head what is what in the world of Local.

Thinking that I needed some more voices to compliment what is rattling around in my brain I wanted to hear what others had to say. I sent the following off to a number of individuals, each having different expertise that they bring to the world of search that I respect, looking for their thoughts.

I asked them if they basically agree or disagree with the premise and if they would answer the following question:

Premise:

The internet is coming face to face with the communities we live in. Local is at the nexus of this juncture. With the iPhone we now listen to our music, answer our phones, read our email, look at our maps and browse the yellow pages. In the near future we will likely be using our iPhroid (or whatever the device will be called) to replace our wallet, the ATM machine and who knows what else. In the past we have been satisfied with search providing relevant results but we are now in a time when we expect the map and business listings to be not just relevant but correct as well.

Question:

As we move forward to what I call the age of the iPhroid with who knows what transactional and social capabilities, does Local need to be held to a higher standard to “truly” succeed and play a trusted role in our lives?

What is your opinion?

Danny Sullivan and Chris Silver Smith responded first so they will be first to go:

Danny: Well, fair to say Mike, I don’t think the standards are very high in local. There seems to be a large degree of trust over community contributions and edits, simply because I don’t think the companies want to expend the people power to clean things up. And I think they also feel most people still look more closely at web wide results, which they pay more attention to. But as local gets used a lot more, I think those standards will have to rise, especially if the players want to gain or keep market share.

Chris: I think it’s a great question. Data quality is one of the biggest issues in local search and IYP, and it seems to not be getting as much play as it really should.

We’re all so dazzled by the whiz-bang interfaces brought to us by Google Maps, iPhones, and other systems that we’re not asking the big questions about whether the data behind it all is reliable. A huge percentage of the time, it simply isn’t.

There have been many times when I’ve sent family and friends to a business, only to find it had closed. I’ve also used online maps many times only to find the pinpoints incorrect — the very worst instance was when I made the maps in printed instructions for my brother’s wedding rehearsal dinner — sending dozens of cars full of hungry friends and family to an incorrect location (streets often have both north and south or east and west numbering systems, and interactive maps sometimes pinpoint them wrong when online addresses don’t include the cardinal qualifier).

It’s all the more ironic if you know that I spent the earlier part of my career as a professional cartographer — I’m at an extreme end of expert users of maps and shouldn’t be messed up by charts and directions as frequently as I have been by online maps. Even knowing the high percentage error rates involved in the services doesn’t help me much — other than if I sense a reason to question a map’s accuracy I may call ahead to get verbal confirmation from a business or other info source.

Quite a number of years ago, John C. Dvorak did a little informal survey of yellow pages results from the major IYPs, and on the basis of it he beat up on Superpages quite a bit for incomplete or erroneous info. At the time, I thought it was pretty unfair because I thought he should’ve taken our data suppliers more to task or should’ve done a broader sampling than one or two searches, but his point was pretty salient and our company beefed up data quality improvement efforts. But, here we are five-plus years out and local search and IYPs would still likely fail his informal test. (Dvorak later stated that he was giving up using 411 and using Superpages instead, so I’d guess he eventually forgave us for sometimes having bad data.)

Inaccuracy in local search info is a really big, complex beast, and there’s no quick cure for it. But, it would likely help if the industry had a lot more transparency as to what they’re doing about it — this is an area where we should have them show their cards in the consumer interest. What if each provider was to set up an info page outlining how they deal with: removal of listings for closed businesses; capturing and updating business info that has changed; criteria for choosing which data source trumps another data source if the two have disagreeing info; computation of map pinpoints; and quality improvement of address locations on interactive maps.

From my perspective, it’s time for each of the major players to stop passing the buck on quality, and work on it more intensively than the cute graphic interfaces.

What if we started rating the various local directory providers by how complete/accurate their data is? It would probably start exposing the fact that the local search emperor has no clothes.

Local Links of Interest

Dash’s Car Navigator Gives Smart Directions, if Others Participate – Walt Mossburg, WSJ

I have not really been following the Dash but after having read Mossburg’s article in the WSJ it struck as quite significant that your car would act as a data “probe” to provide real time traffic information to a community of users. Very Cool.

Announcing LeaveFeedback.org, Free Service for Local Businesses – Michael Jensen, SoloSEO

This is very useful product that I will hopefully have more time to write about later. It vastly simplifies the process by which a small business gets reviews from his/her customer. It is the last 50 feet of local and creates a “virtuous cycle” with benefits for all.

Facebook Pages & Local Search Engine Optimization – Andrew Shotland, LocalSEOGuide

I am not a facebook maven but this technique appeared to be valuable.

Global Temperature Trends for Google Earth – Frank Taylor, Google Earth Blog

I never ceased to be amazed at the wondrous information that makes it way into a map these days. This is one of those cases and what you see in Google Earth today, you will see in Google Maps tomorrow (not literally but you knew that).

Google Maps for mobile gets native on UIQ – Sean Cooper, enGadgetMobile

I recognize that this is old news that I meant to post a while ago. When you combine this effort to claim prime real estate on your cell phone screen with the reports of a new interface for Google mobile I see Google maneuvering to become the habitual choice in the world of mobile with or without the carriers.

Mapping Marketshare: Maps Up, Mapquest Down & Yahoo Local is UP!

Google’s addition of the Local 10-Pack piqued my curiosity about its affect on Maps visitation. As I reported yesterday, according to Hitwise, visitation has gone up on the order of 21% since January 23rd.

This begged the question of, at whose expense was this market share gain by Google. In the past MapsQuest has suffered in direct proportion as Google has gained market share in the mapping world. Yesterday, Heather Hopkins, Hitwise provided a current chart comparing market share of Mapsquest, Google, Yahoo & MSN:

hitwiseyahoo1.jpg

•Google’s market share has increased 1.98% since the January 5th.

•Mapquest’s share has declined 2.03% in that same time period.

•Yahoo’s share has increased .05%, mostly since March 6th.

Clearly, the 10-Pack had its desired affect for Google of passing more users into Maps and away from Mapquest. That was to be expected and had been seen in most previous Google “upgrades”. The rate of change though, if it continues, is alarming and could portend a Google leadership position in the mapping market sooner rather than later.

More surprising to me was the upward bounce that Yahoo received from their March 6 Local announcement (see: Yahoo! Maps Updated With New Data and Functionality!) and the obvious effect that it has had on MapQuest’s market share.

Yahoo Local had been in a steady market share decline for the previous year. This upward swing indicates that it is still a 3 horse race and that MapQuest needs to be looking over their shoulder for both Google and Yahoo. Perhaps Yahoo can stem the general downward trend in their market share with their promised upgrades in 2008.

A 2% loss of market share in less than 2 months does not bode well for Mapquest maintaining its market leading position if its makert share erodes with every upgrade from both Google and Yahoo.

Here is the January 5th Market share chart from Hitwise chart for comparison:

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Local Links of Interest

Google’s LBC: Now With More Fiber- Mike Boland, Kelsey Group

A good summary of how the inclusion of video in the Google LBC can benefit local search marketing. Interestingly, he points out that Google was allowing (c)ompanies such as TurnHere and eLocalListing were already uploading this content for their SMB clients via direct partnership, but this essentially makes it possible for more firms to do it with less friction.

State-of-the Art: Trends in Mobile Search – Jeff Quip, AimClear Blog

An good summary of the session at SES New York 2008 search marketing conference. Outlines in broad details the history & future of the mobile search market and why it makes sense to be there now

Google search plug-in for Windows Mobile promises more of the same – Tim Conneally, BetaNews

Notes the availability of a plug-in for Windows Mobile devices, which provides a shortcut on the home screen to Google’s search. He also provides anectdotal reports of Google mobile search dominance and how this supports that dominance.

New comScore IYP Data – Greg Sterling, Screenwerk

The numbers indicate that Yellowpages.com network have a significant share of the IYP searches. But it is hard to tell since as Greg points out “(t)hese traffic data don’t capture local search on the main search engines, which is where much of the local query volume is.”

700MHz Non-Surprise: Verizon & AT&T Win Auction Blocks – Greg Sterling, LocalMobileSearch

Google’s wireless-auction loss called possible win – Eric Auchard, Reuters

Google Inc’s losing bid for coveted wireless airwaves may prove a victory for the Web search leader as it still stands to get access to mobile networks without spending tens of billions of dollars to build one, analysts said on Thursday.

Wall Street analysts said the Silicon Valley Internet search and advertising giant has succeeded in forcing open network requirements upon winning bidder Verizon Communications via Google’s apparent strategy of “bidding to lose.”

iPhone SDK: a tipping point for Local Search?

Apple’s announcement of their software development kit was big in the tech news arena but got scant coverage in the search world. From where I sit, it appears to be a seminal event that will define local search for the next decade and will lead to a dramatic upsurge in hyper local searches.

There was much speculation about the iPhone tools prior to their release and developers expressed fears about limited access and undocumented api’s. Apple seems to have exceeded developer expectations on that front and delivered a product that can access all of the capabilities of the iphone and iPod Touch while simultaneously offering low barriers to entry and ready distribution. The SDK, despite its early bugs, appears to have been widely embraced and there are significant rewards in the offing to the developers that create popular apps.

The release has moved the iPhone from being a very cool cell phone to being the archetype of the mobile internet device; always on, always present, no limits to what or when something can be retrieved. It will put gaming, calling, music AND search in the hands of users all the time in every location and will (or something very much like it), like the iPod before it, become annoyingly present in our lives.

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Google Plus Box – Where does the (wrong) data come from?

One of the more vexing problems in local search has been erroneous address & phone data showing for a bricks & mortar location in the main Google search results in the Plus Box. For a screen shot of the issue click here.

Small business owners have flocked to the Google Maps for Business Group in search of answers on the apparently untrue assumption that the data in the Plus Box comes from the Local Business Center record.

I recently theorized that the primary source for this erroneous information was the business website itself. That seems true as far as it goes. Apparently though there are other web “signals” that will trigger the Plus Box and if a business has relocated in the past several years it is likely that the information will be wrong, even if the website and the Local Business Center record has been correctly updated.

This recent request to the Google Maps for Business Group motivated me to look deeper into where this information might come from if not the business’s website. It appears that the source is either a high page rank directory site with a Maps API display or one of the many Yellow Page resources that Google uses as a secondary, confirming source for address information.

The upshot is that the (incorrect) Plus Box data appears to come from:
•Your Website
•Secondary business listing data suppliers to Google like the YellowPages
•High PageRank Directories that use a Google Maps API to geolocate the incorrect address

These sources would need to be changed for Google to “get it right”. There may be other sources but a creative search of Google should turn those up. I would suggest your prioritize your “cleansing” efforts by the list above. In this particular case, I found 62 web references to the wrong address. I do not think that all need to be changed.

Clearly Google could simplify this correction process in a number of ways. They could simply prioritize Local Business Center data when they have it. Barring that choice, they could provide details as to the sources of their data so that it could be purged more easily from the index.

The current system of begging in the Groups is obviously an inadequate response to a problem that from the SMB’s perspective is pressing. It is particularly so when customers end up at the wrong address due to the erroneous Plus Box. In these cases the business complaint should be addressed immediately and the business treated as a partner that helps Google generate accurate data.

Here is the original query from the Maps Group in its entirety and my research and response:
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Local Links of Interest

KML: HTML for the Geoweb – Christopher Schmidt, TechnicalRamblings
KML has become the “HTML” of the Geographic Web. With limited semantic meaning, a combination of mostly-human understandable XML tags for the majority of the usages, widespread use and abuse for purposes far beyond the original thoughts and intentions of the designers, and more, KML fits well into the geographic version of the niche filled by HTML in more generalized content publishing.

Beneficiaries of UGC in Map and Location Updating – MDob, Exploring

This is part of series on the implication, benefits, winners and loosers in having users updating Mapd and Business listing data.

Yahoo! onePlace Offers Front Door to Mobile Internet – Greg Sterling LocalMobileSearch

One of the many things holding the cell phone back from being a functional internet and search platform in the terrible user experience. This product might solve some of that for non iPhone users.

Do Ratings Matter Part Deux – Greg Sterling, Screenwerk

Yahoo’s response to Greg’s response to Matt’s posting:

  1. Ratings (stars) always matter and factor into the presentation of ranked local results in Shortcuts/Direct Display and Yahoo! Local.
  2. Most of the time the local results presented in search results and in Yahoo! Local will be identical (top three) but not 100% of the time.
  3. Reviews/review text don’t factor as a weighted variable in the algorithm for the presentation of local results via Shortcuts but may, on occasion, play a part in the ordering of results on Yahoo! Local.