January 25, 2008
Over the past year with the development of user generated content and the rise of reviews in particular with exactly how to approach this new form of customer input. The more internet aware have embraced the review process and have been using the process for reputation management, quality improvement through the feedback process and customer relation management. Certainly for those businesses that have quality as a focus and execute well, having customers so publicly proclaim their virtues can be a very positive thing.
But most small business lack the time to manage and review all of the possible review sites that might affect them. The fragmentation of the IYP market and the growing number of review sites has made the chore ever expanding. Typically the recommendation I would make was to choose a site that was locally popular, industry relevant and picked up by Google. This advise seemed even more appropriate when it became clear that Google was using review quantity as a factor in Google Maps ranking. Some small businesses went beyond just responding to reviews to setting up formal systems to actively encourage reviews that would ultimately show up in Google Maps,
However over the past 2 months the changing landscape of Google has made this practice more difficult to pursue. There are a number of interesting and seemingly related reports of changes in Google’s handling and listing of reviews.
Just the facts, mam:
â€¢ Add your reviews to businesses on Google Maps Google Lat Long Blog, June 19, 2007 at 10:59 AM
â€¢ Has Googleâ€™s relationship with CitySearch changed? and other Maps insights November 28, 2007
â€¢ Google Maps Not Counting Own Reviews SEO Igloo, January 1, 2008
â€¢ Maps Guide Jen provides an update on the missing CitySearch reviews January 9, 2008
â€¢ Insiderpages Reviews Gone From Google Maps SEO Igloo, Thursday 24 Jan 2008
â€¢ At MacWorld I asked a Google staffer what had happened to the CitySearch reviewsâ€¦they responded that they didnâ€™t know but stated that perhaps is was just a â€œrealigned business relationship like happened with Yelp and the removal of their reviewsâ€. Go figure, I hadnâ€™t noticed the loss of Yelp reviews.
Now that we have the “facts” as we know them out of the way lets look at them a little more closely and move into the much more enjoyable area of speculation!
January 23, 2008
The Local OneBox 10 Pack is new and has yet to be fully vetted. Its appearance off and on over the past week has made testing a bit of a struggle. One of my observations has been, that while Google may be going further afield to provide accurate results, in very rural searches they are not succeeding.
I live in a rural area of Western NY State. One would probably have to travel 70 miles in every direction to find 10 web hosting companies. The search results Web Hosting Olean NY now goes out 50 miles to find 10 results for the web hosting query. The problem? It doesn’t succeed. 50% of the returned results are not in the web hosting business at all but rather are universities.
The Olean Web Hosting search previously returned an authoritative onebox. This seems to imply that Google will be showing it less or that it requires more authority to achieve. That being said the search “Denver Flowers” still returns the Local OneBox for Lehrer’s Flowers. This was the result that was widely looked at just prior to Christmas as an indicator of the growing impact of Google Maps.
Of equal interest to me is that the search for Olean NY Web Hosting when performed inside of Google Maps still provides just 3 results and only uses a radius of 25 miles to find its results.
One assumes that as Google evaluates the click thru’s and other quality indicators the results will either get more accurate or since they have indicated that they are willing to show 3 or 1 perhaps it will just drop back. In the mean time it appears that at least in markets where there are very few competitors the results will be problematic.
Greg Sterling has received “official confirmation” from Google that the Local OneBox will now often contain 10 listings (although could include 3 or 1 when appropriate). From Search Engine Land:
Google said today that the reason itâ€™s showing more links is because usability testing revealed that many people didnâ€™t realize there was additional local content available beyond the three listings, despite the â€œmore results . . .â€ prompt. Accordingly, Google said that with the 10 links it is hoping to signal people that there is much more local content a click away.
The ranking of those ten results is based on a range of factors, including the query, proximity, availability of ratings/reviews and their quality and several other variables.
Google also said that it wouldnâ€™t always show 10 results; it might still show three sometimes or one if the query is very specific.
I read “people didnâ€™t realize there was additional local content available beyond the three listings” to mean that Google is striving for more Maps traffic in their competitive maps battle. It will be interesting to look at the Hitwise data to see if there is a similar increase to last year when the Local OneBox was upgraded.
January 22, 2008
It was just about one year ago that Google last upgraded the Local OneBox. At the time it led to a significant increase in Maps usage. It seems that an upgrade to the OneBox is or soon will be upon us. It was available all of last night and this morning and reports have come in from India and now the west coast. This change will have some impact on Google Maps traffic by increasing the inbound links to the maps area. A bigger change though is the impact it will have on bricks and mortar exposure and radically changing the nature and intensity of local search marketing tactics. You can read my thoughts on this change here , here and here
Here are some other reports from around the web on this change:
Google Local Business Results Expanded - Tim Cohn, Search Marketing Communications notes their appearance in Oklahoma
More Local Listings Live in Google? – Greg Sterling asks about the loss of the ratings
@Search Engines: How to Improve Your Local Search Interface – David Mihm, DavidMihm.com offers some interesting suggestions about improvements that Google might consider and issues that different users face.
Google Local Universal Search gets serious! Really serious. – Chris Thomas – Reseo Location: Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia
Update 1/22/08 9:40 PM EST It is once again appearingThe newly formatted Local OneBox expansion (first spotted by Paul Jahn last week and seen again on Sunday) from 3 entries to 10 now appears to be live. It started showing up last night and local searches are still returning the new OneBox as of this morning. Is it appearing internationally? Does it appear on every server across the U.S?Here is a screen comparison between the “neo-classic” 3 pack and the new Local OneBox 10 pack:To view this comparison at full size click here.The points of interest to me are:
â€¢The area of coverage provided by the map is greater. This implies to me that there will be greater (although not likely an exact) match between the OneBox and Maps results
â€¢It appears to have decreased the frequency of the Authoritative OneBox (more testing required)
â€¢It actually is only occupying 10% more vertical room than the previous Local OneBox by making the pins smaller and going to one line instead of the three lines in the â€œneo-classicâ€ Onebox. Occasionaly if there are long names or domains in the listing the text will drop below the Map image and take up slightly more space.
â€¢This is done by having less information and fewer links for each listing. Also the pin is smaller.
â€¢The new result also adds 14 additional links into Maps. Thus it seems that more traffic will be driven to Maps proper.
â€¢It is also of interest that the reviews are emphasized as opposed to directions in the current OneBox. If there are no reviews than the “more” link is present.
January 21, 2008
Update 1/21/08 9:00 pmThe Local Onebox 10 pack is now appearing across a broad range of searches once again. On searches that previously returned the authoritative Local OneBox it is now returning the 10-Pack or no local results at all.
Last week there were sitings of a new improved and expanded Local OneBox. They have reappeared temporarily in my local searches:
I speculated in my last post that it was taking up something less than 1/3 more room. It actually is only occupying 10% more vertical room than the previous Local OneBox by making the pins smaller and going to one line instead of the three lines in the “neo-classic” Onebox.
Of equal interest is that the area of coverage provided by the map is greater. The implies that it is more likely for the Local OneBox listing and the top 10 map listing to be the same. In the past, the difference that sometime occurred between the Local Onebox top 3 and the Google Maps top 3 was due to the different area of map coverage between the two (explained by Bill Slawski in his post on Location Prominence). This question of the difference, how it happened and why it was problematic was explored here and here. I did not have time to test this prior to the result no longer appearing. But one potential end user benefit would be matching results between the OneBox and Maps.
Here is a screen comparison between the “neo-classic” 3 pack and the new Local OneBox 10 pack:
To view this comparison at full size click here. Note also that in the exact same time frame (Sunday at 1:00) the search Buffalo NY Restaurant returned the neo-classic Local OneBox while the Bradford Pa Restaurant returned the LocalOnebox 10-Pack. Within the hour the Bradford search once again returned the LocalOneBox triplet result.
The other day when I wrote about the RSS feed results showing up in Google Maps and some of those results showing up in the Maps results I learned a lot:
â€¢Lior from Google Latt-Longblog pointed out that the results from user generated Maps have been showing up in the main Maps results since October.
â€¢ Gregor Rothfuss and Barry Hunter pointed out that I could, in MY MAPS save any geoRSS feed or KML into my maps. Lior & Jen-Noel pointed out that it could also come from a Maplet.
â€¢Barry also pointed out that its even possible to load non Geo enabled feeds into GMaps, with a Geocoding converter, and he provided an interface to one here:
That all being said, I still didn’t understand how the feeds were making their way into Maps. I was under the assumption the MY MAPS were “user generated” and to some extent they are. Here is it what the LatLong Blog said:
It’s no secret that our users are the true experts on local information. Sometimes a tip from a friend or a friendly local can make all the difference.
Over the last year, we’ve been working hard to organize this local wisdom; we’ve sifted through millions of My Maps, KML files and other information created by all of you in the geoweb.
Google is in fact indexing geoRSS feeds and KML files from across the web and mapping these into Google Maps next to My Maps created in Google Maps. Occasionally Google is throwing one of these results into the top level Map results that they have indexed from across the web. I may be a little slow on the uptake as it took a while for this fact to sink in: Google is actively searching out and mapping this data. The reason that you are seeing mostly results from MerchantCircle and Topix is that those sites are the first to be geocoding their rss files.
This raises its own interesting questions:
â€¢How is Google using this geodata? Is it being used to reinforce their top level Map results in the Maps ranking algo?
â€¢What ranking factors does Google use to include community mapping info in these top level results? How does one influence and optimize for that? How high can one of these “blue pin” community maps entries go?
â€¢Should a local website have a KML file indicating its location so that Google Maps creates a “community map” of that business? Does a site need a sitemap entry for this KML file?
â€¢Will this KML file become the de facto file to indicate the bricks and mortar location of the local website? And should we start including them on the sites now?
Clearly, Google is building out a Maps structure that will include any and all geotargeted data that it can find. It will come from users with Google’s tools, or from sites generating their own KLM or geoRSS files and Google sucking that info up and mapping it.
As Google improves their ability to parse, evaluate and rank this information it is working its way into the higher level results. How this will play out in the future is unclear. Certainly it bodes for richer and more complete map information available on a broad range of devices like the iPhone, the iPod Touch, the Android phones and any device that can run Google Mobile Maps..
It also appears that any marketer of local sites will at some point need to familiarize themselves with this technology and integrate it into the overall marketing of local sites.
After Greg Sterling surveyed SEL readers on their mobile internet usage patterns, I thought it would be interesting to survey a totally distinct user group. Greg agreed and we surveyed the 1123 registered readers of OleanInfo.com, of those 124 took the survey. OleanInfo.com is a local portal site catering to folks interested in Olean NY. Roughly 80% of OleanInfo’s readership lives within 40 miles of Olean, NY, a small town in western NY State.
The readership was chosen for contrast with the SEL readers. Presumably they are rural or of rural origins and less technically oriented. They proved to be, as a group, classic “late adopters”. 85.8% of the OleanInfo respondents were over 40 and 58% over 50 and as a group had very low mobile internet use. This stood in contrast to the SEL readership that was 84% under 40 of which almost half access the mobile internet once per week or more.
â€¢ 90% of respondents report using their cells to text message (thus they do sooner or later adopt)
â€¢ 0% penetration of the iPhone
â€¢ Very low (12%) penetration of traditional smartphones
â€¢ 87% had no mobile internet usage AT ALL
â€¢ 26% reported using Free DA and of those 32% used Goog-411 and 44% uses Free-411. (Remember that the Goog-411 billboard campaign took place in Olean)
A more complete write up of the data is available at SearchEngineLand: Comparing Mobile Search Surveys: Early Adopters Vs. Mainstream Users
January 18, 2008
I am sure that most you saw the screen shot of Local OneBox test that Paul Jahn posted at searchengineguide.com (and was discussed by Greg Sterling) which shows the OneBox with 10 listings instead of the current 3:
There are several points of interest in the test.
â€¢The space allocated at the top of the page is only about 1/3 more than currently allocated with the 3 listings.
â€¢This is done by having less information and fewer links for each listing. They may also be using a smaller type face.
â€¢The new result also adds 14 additional links into Maps. I had wondered recently, how much more traffic Google could send to Maps by adjusting links, obviously a lot more if they want to.
â€¢It is also of interest that the reviews are emphasized as opposed to directions in the current OneBox.
It has never made too much sense to me to only highlight 3 local listings in the OneBox. Why 3 instead of 5, 7 or 11? The question for Google is: do the top 10 local listings provide more relevancy than 3 local + the organic results. My inclination is to say yes as my perception is that Googleâ€™s local results have improved over the past year.
The question for the business owner is why 3? Why should some businesses be rewarded and not others? Why not mine? Will the number vary by geography or industry?
I am glad to see Google testing this as there is no good reason for just 3. Determining the â€œrightâ€ number is another question altogether. At some point their value to the business owner though is diluted by the quantity and the viewer may be distracted as well.
January 17, 2008
Updated 9:00 am 1/18
One of the on-going problems confronting any local search environment is the difficulty of keeping local data fresh. The many gyrations and the long path of local data before it actually shows up in Google Maps almost guarantees a persistent accuracy problem.
Imagine though local sites that are closer to the end user and with “fresher” data feeding that data in real time into a Google My Maps environment. The implications are significant as RSS feeds from local sites provide a way to provide a potential layer in Maps that is “guaranteed fresh”. (Credit goes to Greg Sterling for providing insight & clarity on this point.)
Well it appears that Google Maps is allowing a limited number of “trusted” partners to provide exactly such feeds directly into My Maps. Merchant Circle with reviews and coupons and Topix with news are providing RSS feeds of their data to Google Maps via My Maps.
Here is a screen shot of a Merchant Circle Coupon feed from Indianapolis that shows up in Google My Maps:
At the bottom of the feed this disclaimer appears:
Displaying content from feed.merchantcircle.com
The content overlaid onto this map is provided by a third party, and Google is not responsible for it.
To view this feed in Maps just click here: Local Activity for Indianapolis, IN. There appear to be similar feeds for every city that MerchantCircle covers. Just to clarify, these results from the feeds are showing up, mixed in with standard Community Map results. It is conceivable to me that at some point they will be further blended with standard Map results in the future. For example if you searched on Dr Joeâ€™s Chiropractic Center Idaho Falls Id you will find one of the pins from the feed mixed into the results.
Topix.com also seems to be providing feeds of news stories (see screen capture below) which offers up the interesting possibility of viewing news stories through a geo specific lens.