Google Experimental Map View: A look into the future of local search

The new Google Experimental Map View provides an intriguing look into the future of local search (as envisioned by Google). Between the the Google Maps API being used by a large number of vertical search engines like Trulia and their widespread indexing of geotagged information, Google has a significant trove of geo referenced data to bring to the local search party.

Their recent introduction of Map View in Google Experimental demonstrates how Google might make this vertical search category information available to a general search inquiry in the main search results. For example if a user were searching for “houses for sale, Olean NY” they could be presented with the view now seen via Google Experimental:houseforsale.jpg

It is of interest to note that these results come from trulia.com and similar sites. For a searcher with limited need in the housing market these results might just be enough to satisfy their needs. If she were driving around with an iPhone looking at homes it might totally satisfy them.

Google is the elephant in the room of search and of local mobile search. I have always felt that there was space for the vertical search engines in the room if ultimately only in the corners. These engines provide passion (yelp), details (trulia & zillow), and a unique business model (ibegin).

But as the Google Experimental Maps View demonstrates, the corners of the room just got a little smaller. Google is positioning Google Maps for Mobile as the mainstream search tool of the hand held future. As they integrate results in this way fewer search visitors are likely to click through to the vertical engine as their superficial queries have been answered. While there will still be a viable business model for these engines it may include a future with a lower percentage of total traffic. Mobile search will expand the market for local search but even so these verticals will need to be vigilant to maintain their customer base.

Google Coupon results in Main SERPS Part II

Yesterday I noted that Google Coupon results were showing up in the main search results page for coupon related search phrases. Miriam Ellis who writes a local oriented blog SEO Igloo asked whether using coupons for non-retail oriented deals was a useful strategy.

I have several local search clients that have added service oriented coupons in an effort to 1)test the coupon idea on the premise that they couldn’t hurt* and might generate direct traffic and 2)to see if they helped their rank in the local results. While we have not seen many coupon redemptions, it does appear to have a positive impact on the local standing.

However we had a pleasant surprise as in addition these coupon results also started showing up in the main search results pages for “general service + location” searches. Google Coupons are low cost and easy to implement. Given Google’s penchant for increasing “localness” in their search results, these coupons may just show up that much more often in the future.

For example on the search insurance Olean, NY the Google Coupon results linking to the client coupon are on the first page of the results:

couponserp.jpg

*The Hippocratic Oath of Search: Do no harm.

Google now integrating Coupon Results in Main Search Results

Google has recently refined their coupon promotion techniques. One such refinement is including Google coupon results in the main search results page. restaurantad.gif

In November, 2007 Google started using Adwords to promote coupons. For specific searches (pizza coupon) google would present Adwords that would take the user directly to view local coupons in Maps. Now on these specific searches Google is promoting Adwords to restauranteurs instead.

Of more interest and of more impact is the change in how Google is handling results on more general and higher volume coupon searches. On the coupon search phrase like “Coupon Buffalo, NY” Google is now integrating a link to their coupons very high in the ogranic results. In this example the coupon link appears above the Expanded Local OneBox.

couponsearch.gif

The take away: Anyone creating local search marketing campaigns needs to consider the value of coupons and whether they can achieve some additional exposure by using Google Coupons. Particularly now while the coupon inventory in Google is the opportunities to be found are greater. It is also possible that coupon ranking authority may be related to the age of the coupon.

Google Maps – No address required

It has always struck me that one of the bigger problems with the internet yellow pages is that often they are used to find out what people mostly already know or to confirm the last emotional inch of the purchase cycle. They look up the directions betweein two known locatiions to get the specifics of the directions or to confirm them. They look up a business or even a business category to find the phone number of a particular business that they had already decided to contact. They are not really looking for new information and thus are not very receptive to an ad.

Part of this behavior is that people are looking to expend as little energy as possible and partly it is a function of long term training both offline and on. The Yelllow Pages or Rand McNally functioned this way and to some extent despite integrating maps and business directories many IYP still do function this way. Most folks really have been conditioned to to use these resources in this limited way. While the search for “pizza olean ny” makes for good blog fodder it is unlikely that most people other than search marketers writing about local ever use Google that way. It may be that this behavior limits the upside advertising potential of local and services like Goog-411.

Google has taken a small step to “recondition” users to the many possibilities of they IYP search process with their upgrade to Maps: No Address Required announced in the Google Lat Long Blog:

Have you ever been traveling and needed to get directions from your hotel to another destination in town, like a restaurant you keep hearing about? You may have been a bit frustrated that Google Maps required you to look up the addresses of your starting and end points before ultimately getting your directions.

Well, we felt the same way. So we fixed it. Now you can type in any location where you want to go — whether it’s a specific street address, a business name like Fuzzy Buddy’s Dog Daycare, or even something more general like “florist” — and we’ll help you get directions. We’ll even automatically try to find the closest results for you.

Local Links of Interest

WiFi Triangulation on Mobile and the Desktop – Greg Sterling, LocalMobileSearch
Ted Morgan, CEO of Skyhook Wireless (provider of WiFi location on the iPhone)… said that the feature has already proven to be wildly popular with users and he’s seeing an impressive volume of usage already.


Mobile Local Search: A Perfect Storm
– Michael Boland, SearchEnginewatch

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) showcased the first few devices that run Google’s much anticipated Android operating system….These are the first physical signs of what will be a major inflection point in the history of mobile devices and mobile local search.
This perfect storm of factors has finally happened and will bring the mobile search world where it needs to be. There’s no going back. Rising usability standards and corresponding usage growth are the first steps that we’re seeing now.

The Coming Wave of Gadgets That Listen and Obey – NY Times

In 2006, [Phillips] and a colleague from ScanSoft, John Nguyen, started Vlingo because they thought that speech recognition technology, cellular networks and phones were all becoming powerful enough to allow voice navigation systems on cellphones. “We couldn’t have done this five years ago,” he says….James R. Glass, a principal research scientist at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at M.I.T., says speech technology “is going to end up everywhere speech can be useful.”

GPS Adds Dimension to Online Photos – ANICK JESDANUN, The Associated Press- Washington Post
That’s just one of the growing number of uses for geotagging, which is largely practiced by tech-savvy and professional photographers but is likely to expand.

Google Maps: Return of the Reviews Screenshots

Here are two screen shots that show the view on the search:Restaurant Bradford Pa in the main search results page before and after the return (most?) of the reviews from CitySearch etc.

Before Reviews were Added Back In (View full size ):

reviewbeforesmall.jpg

After Reviews Added Back In (View Full Size):

reviewssaftersmall.jpg

Several items of note:
• There was a reranking of the results that was at least influenced by the availability of the reviews
•In the after screen shot the top 5 all had reviews although not in drect relation to rank
•It appears that some reviews have been removed. Note Togi’s Family Restaurant had 2 before and no reviews after. Same for Farm Family restaurant.

Semmy Finalists in Local have been named

The judges have made their choices, and the finalists in the Local Search category for the 2008 SEMMY Awards are:

The Finalists

Congratulations to each finalist!

Here’s How to Vote

Now it’s your turn to choose a winner! Please read each article above and decide which one you feel is the best. When you click below, you’ll be able to vote in this category only. To vote in other categories, please visit the pages listing those finalists. Voting is open now, and will close at end-of-day on January 30, 2008.

VOTE NOW IN THIS CATEGORY (link will open in a new window)

The Local Search SEMMYs are judged by Brad Geddes and Barry Schwartz.

Citysearch & InsiderPages reviews are now back in Google

This morning I wrote a piece: Google Maps: The changing landscape for reviews that speculated on the removal of CitySearch, InsiderPages and Yelp reviews from Google Maps.

They were gone. I verified that on a specific and general basis as recently as January 6th. A reader has pointed out that they are now back. CitySearch, InsiderPages & Yelp reviews are all back.

His search tip of including the site: command in Maps is a very useful search technique. For example if you are looking to see if there are CitySearch reviews for Bradford PA Restaurants enter the following in the Maps search field:

restaurant site:citysearch.com bradford pa

The specific case of the missing Beefeater’s Restaurant reviews in Bradford that I had inquired of Maps Guide Jen have reappeared. I guess Google can just misplace a couple hundred thousand million records. Too bad, I was having fun with the speculation of what goes on in the black box. :)

Is iPhone Demand Fading or is ATT Failing?

At LocalMobileSearch, Greg Sterling raised the question: Is iPhone Demand Fading?

I am not sure but if my experience is any indication it is more likely ATT shooting themselves in the foot.

I went to an ATT store yesterday with a small business person who wanted to buy 3 iPhones. He was willing & ready to spend $1200 and increase his monthly fee by $80/month. He was very anxious to walk out of the store with his new iPhones. He percieved owning them as a safety issue for his attorney wife who travels a great deal on rural roads and wanted weather advisories.

Problem was that the place was so busy, they could not get to us for almost 30 minutes. While we waited we attempted to play with the phone but its internet connection wouldn’t function. While we were handling the phone, we inadvertently triggered their alarm. We were visited by a sales person at that point but he couldn’t stay.

When we finally did get to a sales person, they could not compare current plan costs with iPhone plan costs since the spouse had not put him on the “approved list” for such a conversation nor would they allow him  to switch plans.

So while I perceive that demand is strong (this fellow who wanted to buy 3 is a main stream consumer), it appeared to me that ATT (at least in this store) was not up to the task of taking his money.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search