I have been reading Google’s Location Prominence Patent of late in search of a better understanding of the web related factors that affect Local ranking in Maps. This presentation augments the one made at SMXLocal in July. If time allows I will do a series on the underlying patent and its implications. Here is my presentation from SMXEast:
There is a lot of background information and notes that accompany this presentation. The patent is a trove of incredible information and very interesting background. I hope to be able to write a more thorough review of the patent but in the mean time, please, please ask away and I respond as best as I am able.
Besides the above and the SMX East presentation there are two other posts worth reading on the factors affecting ranking:
– 10 Likely Elements of Google’s Local Search Algorithm
– David Mihm’s excellent survey of local search ranking factors.
In April of this year, Google started including Street View with the driving instructions. It was an upgrade that offered a “serious” use for the Street View images.
Since late August, Maps has been undergoing the “blue line” upgrade. It showed up first in the Maps view. And about two weeks ago showed up in the Text view, which is seen when you enter via the Local OneBoxes. It may have been mentioned elsewhere but I also just noticed a significant upgrade to the printed driving instructions as part of the blue line improvements.
Here are part of the driving instructions from Newark Airport to the hotel where I am staying for SMXEast:
The new changes allow the user to select a global view for directions (Text, Map or Street View) as well as those same options for each step of the driving instructions, allowing the user to pick the optimal view for each turn.
While September has been a tough month for Maps with the upgrade, the switch to TeleAtlas and the hijackings, it is these kinds of continual improvements that will ultimately allow them to catch and surpass Mapquest.
Heather Hopkins has recently completed an analysis of traffic to the major map sites, Mapquest, Google, Yahoo.com and Live. Google Maps is continuing to gain market share primarily at the expense of Mapsquest and to a lesser extent Yahoo. Mapquest’s recent strong upgrade seems to have slowed that trend but it remains to be seen whether that will translate to long term market share gains.
Compared to January 2008, Mapquest’s market share has declined 6% to 44.3% while Google Maps market share has increased from 22% to 32%. Yahoo has continued to see moderate share losses over the same period. If the long term trends continue Google could surpass Mapquest market share within the next 6 months. Mapsquest’s upgrade has come none too soon. It will be interesting to see if the new product will provide a defense against Google’s persistent market share gains.
This past 5 weeks Google Maps has had it share of problems that could also be affecting their market share. The blueline upgrade led to a number of problems with their Map routing capability. The move the TeleAtlas has created a fair bit of end user angst and the recent reports of hijackings have discouraged others. These can be overcome and in the past whenever Google sees their market share gains slow down they have pull another traffic builder out of their hats.
This chart views the players as a percentage of overall internet traffic. For reference Google.com receives 6% of all internet traffic whereas Maps recieves .26%. Thus Maps provides 4.3% of the visits of Google.com. A not insignificant and growing number.
Last week saw the introduction of the first Android phone, the G1 handset for T-Mobile. It’s a cool piece of hardware and software that should appeal to many. But is it really an iPhone competitor? And is that why we should care? No and no, but care we should.
Here are sampling of the headlines from major news organizations in the U.S. and UK:
•Google’s Android could smash iPhone’s locked gateway – guardian.co.uk
•Google vs. iPhone: Is Steve Jobs Reliving Past Mistakes? – time.com
•Google Introduces an iPhone Rival Open to Whims – NYTimes.com
•Google takes swipe at Apple’s iPhone – London timesonline.co.uk
Google isn’t competing with the iPhone in this endeavor. They are competing with every manufacture that doesn’t yet offer a full mobile internet experience and for customers that don’t have an iPhone and want that browsing experience on their cell. That means that companies that are not providing that like Microsoft and Nokia are the ones that Google is up against not Apple. As Greg Sterling points out, the smart phones are risk here are those running Windows Mobile, Palm and Symbian phones. Here is a great summary of smart phone market.
The G1 will have a positive affect on mobile browsing in general and on Local in particular. If not now with T-Mobile than going forward. It is a phone that makes search the center of the user experience and that can only bode well for Local and location based. Like the iPhone, websites will not need to be completely rebuilt and users can have a full internet experience with great local search.
From where I sit, phones like the G1 AND the iPhone will drive us towards the fully functional mobile future, not as competitors but as inflexion points in a dynamic market.
Google has formally announced Maps.Google.com/Vote that I covered in mid September.
In addition to offering voting information and polling places (coming October 15) via Maps they are making the maplet available as a widget for your website via a their Gadget creator:
As I mentioned in my earlier post, this type of mash up of deep local data with Maps offers an inkling of type of local data that will be presented on a national scale that we will be seeing over the next 12 to 18 months. It will be exciting times indeed for local.
Google, in upgrading Google Blog search, has created an intriguing potential competitor to Techmeme. The upgraded search provides broad blog coverage, picks up stories quickly and has the potential to project blog content more widely. ReadWriteWeb noted:
The new Google Blogsearch has the potential to reach tens of millions of people and drive insane amounts of traffic.
Whether that is true for local blogs is yet to be seen. There is however a feature that highlights blog by major search terms. This could have an a positive traffic impact for hyperlocal blogs as it emphasizes blogs related to primary geo search phrases:
Earlier today when I had read that Podesta Baldocchi Florist’s listing had returned to normal in the Local 10 Pack, I had assumed that Google had cleaned up the mess and removed the offending listings from Maps.
Not so fast pardner! It seems two weeks isn’t quite long enough to purge these fellows. A number of listings are still in the index from the hijacking entity. They still show as well on the Local 10 Pack on the search Flowers Brooklyn NY. Amazing the difficulty that Google has in purging the database of listings engaged in apparently criminal activity. If this activity doesn’t warrant a full and complete ban from Maps, I don’t know what does.
9/25/08 9:30 pm Google has removed the deceptive listing and returned Kalman Belli Florist to the 10 Pack. This was reported into Google Groups earlier today by the owner.
9/24/08 10:00 pm Google has yet to remove this hijacked listing and restore the original florist to their position in the Local 10-Pack.
9/21/08- Remnants of last week’s floral hijackings are still showing in the Local 10-Pack:
Here is a Groups correspondence from one of the affected merchants:
The only guarantee against having a business listing hijacked in Google Maps has been for a listing owner to control their listing in the Local Business Center. The only way to be ranked well in Maps is for that same business to control their listing in the Local Business Center. The many blogs covering local have said time and again, take control of the listing in the Local Business Center.
It is a message that makes sense given how Google has designed the system. It is a message from Google that is clear and which Google keeps repeating. Yet I fear that we and Google are preaching to the converted.
Even businesses that want to take control of their listing and are motivated to do so are often stymied. Prior to last week’s hijacking debacle I was corresponding with a locksmith who contended that his listing had been hijacked.
I was trying to document the locksmith’s situation so I made repeated efforts attempting to get him to confirm to me that he had claimed his record in the LBC. I was unable to do so. He just didn’t get what I was asking him, no matter how many ways and times I asked. In his mind he had claimed the record but he could not tell me exactly how or where. I came away convinced that he simply edited is record using Google’s end user edit capability and returned to it regularly to correct any nefarious edits.
This posting in Google Groups confirmed my suspicions that many, motivated business owners are completely incapable of making their way into the Local Business Center (even when they think they have):
In response to the many changes that Google has made of late in Maps, Google is once again surveying some Map users (Survey URL) with questions as to speed of the service, quality of data and customer service level satisfaction. If the survey is unavailable at the link above you can view this PDF of the survey.
When Google upgraded Maps with the blueline upgrade in late July, they temporarily lost the abililty to allow easy rerouting of their directions. That loss led to an avalanche of small business complaints from companies that were using Google for daily routing of their vehicles. The most recent change to using TeleAtlas has led to a new series of complaints from SMB’s using Google’s routing noting that whole locations (not just the functionality) have been lost.
Has anyone seen Union County NC? That’s the question a small business owner outside of Charlotte, NC is asking of Google after their recent change to using TeleAtlas mapping data.
In this posting to Google Groups, this small business person, using Google Map’s routing, is complaining that the data necessary for his daily routing task is either missing or unusable due to its age. I wonder how he would answer the survey?: