Google Maps experimenting with Local OneBox

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:

oneboxtest.jpg

There are several points of interest in the test.

•The space allocated at the top of the page is only about 1/3 more than currently allocated with the 3 listings.

•This is done by having less information and fewer links for each listing. They may also be using a smaller type face.

•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.

•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 Google’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 “right” 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.

Google Maps: RSS feeds of data into My Maps?

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:

merchantcircleind.jpg

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 Joe’s Chiropractic Center Idaho Falls Id you will find one of the pins from the feed mixed into the results.

drjoe.jpg

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.

Continue reading

Apple and the age of mobile computing

macair.jpgWith MacWorld today, Apple rolled out another leg of their mobile strategy with the new Macbook Air. You can read my summary of Job’s keynote at SEL. Mobile computing is taking on a number of new forms – phone, music player. Apple with their newly introduced computer are trying to sneak mobile in as a tiny fully functional computer. As the woman whose hands show in the photo says: “Its no thicker than my wedding ring, I should have asked my new husband for one of these instead.”

Google also had a big booth at MacWorld and was very busy promoting Google Earth and Maps for Mobile (as well as their Mac Apps and YouTube). Half of their booth was dedicated to geographic search tools and Google staffed the booths with knowledegable and high level staff. But alas they are hopefully going to get back to me on some details about Maps. Continue reading

Local Links of Interest

The Chicken has Landed – Sandra Niehaus, Closed Loop Marketing on the role of linkbait worms as feed for surrogate rubber chickens.

Microsoft Takes ‘Local’ Targeting into Stores – Greg Sterling, Sreenwerk

What Does Your PPC Ad Say About You – Matt McGee, smallbusinesssem.com does a followup piece on MerchantCircle’s marketing stratgies.

Rural Verticals: The Shift of Small Town Auction Advertising – Peter at The Local Onliner

Introducing the Semmys  – Matt McGee of SmallbusinesSEM has introduced a new industry award.

Nominees in Local Search category: 2008 SEMMY Awards

2008 SEMMY NomineeThe following are the nominees in the Local Search category for the 2008 SEMMY Awards. The judge(s) will narrow this group down to 5-6 finalists. Congratulations to all nominees! Thanks for the recognition!

Weather Channel Interactive Introduces New Weather Mapplet for Google Maps

Weather Channel Interactive Introduces New Weather Mapplet for Google – by The Weather Channel, GISUser.com
“The Weather Channel Interactive Introduces New Weather Mapplet for Google Maps. The Weather mapplet on Google Maps will be a part of the Featured Content section in the My Maps utility. The mapplet can be found by visiting maps.google.com. To find the weather layer on Google Earth, simply activate weather box under ‘layers’ in the sidebar.”

As Google strives for market share gains they have used a number of techniques to increase maps usage. They have extracted significant gains by keeping folks on their main search site and increasingly driving traffic to their maps product. There are only so many gains that can be achieved this way.

Increased functionality has and will increase market share and weather seems the perfect tool to provide that one stop mapping and increased Google Maps usage. I wonder though if by having this functionality in the My Maps area it will find enough usage to impact their market share.

weather.jpg

Google acknowledges Adword experiment with Local Address

A Google rep has responded to an eamil inquiry about the reported inclusion of the local address in Adword ads (reported here and here and here) and acknowledged a limited experiment.

The source within Google confirmed in an email that they are testing Ads that include the additional address line with a small set of advertisers and are not accepting additional testers. The feature has not yet been launched and there are no plans to expand the beta at this time.

If the experiment proves successful look for it to be implemented in Adwords in the future.
localad.jpg

Hitwise Data: Mapquest Giveth & Google Maps Taketh

Heather Hopkins’ analysis of MapQuest and Google Maps traffic trends in her post GoogleMaps Making Inroads Against Leader, Mapquest reveals more than is obvious at first glance about Google’s market share gain in the maps race. While Yahoo’s share decline has been steady over the year, Google’s jumps appear to have come at the immediate and direct expense of MapQuest.mapquestgivethgoogletaketh3.jpg

Greg’s post made me more aware that Google has made multiple moves to increase their map share. I have identified Google’s “actions for each of their first three spikes (I am sure that a more nuanced and detailed chart would likely show more):

1- Google removed links to other mapping products SearchEngine Land January 16, 2007

2- Google upgraded the onebox with more links to maps January 31, 2007

3- Google roled Maps out to many more countries. Sept. 14, 2007

Hitwise in the past has confirmed that there is a lag in their data is due to the nature of of their data collection and Google’s rollout schedule of the update. Thus the ramp up in market share starts slightly after the announcement. It appears that Mapquest makes a rebound after the initial loss but never back to their original numbers.Each of the first three events were due to different strategies on the part of Google. In case one they removed links that sent visitors off to other maps sites. In case two they added a significant number of inbound links to maps. In case three they expanded their markets served.

It is not clear what caused the impacts at points 4 and 5, perhaps someone can fill in the blanks.

Local Links of Interest

Local SEO 2008 Predicitons - Andrew Shortland, LOC@LSEOGuide. Andrew is doing the fumes of Delphi Oracle thing.

Google Maps Gaining On Market Leader Mapquest – Greg Sterling, SearchEngineLand provides some great analysis about Google neutrality and technology in the maps market share mayhem.

iPhone specific web sites — do they make sense? – Martin Kleppmann, Yes-No-Cancel
Bill Gates and Company Want to Watch You Watch TV, Buy Groceries, and Use Your Credit Cards and Cell Phone (and Take Notes) – Bill Slawsk, SEOByTheSeal

Google Maps gaining market share vs. MapQuest

Heather Hopkins at Hitwise has analyzed MapQuest and Google Maps traffic trends in her post GoogleMaps Making Inroads Against Leader, Mapquest that clearly demonstrates how Google controls their own traffic destiny.

Her main points:

• US visits to Maps websites is up 10% year on year and MapQuest is still the leader, receiving more than half of all US visits to Maps websites last week. However, Google Maps is gaining fast.

•Traffic to MapQuest has remained flat year on year and is down 20% in the past 6 months.

•Google Maps traffic is up 135% year on year and is up 7% in the past 6 months.

•The growth for Google Maps is from traffic from the Google search engine.

•This can’t really be attributed to an increase in consumers looking for Google Maps.

•Google sends more of its own traffic to Google Maps than to Mapquest, a change that occurred last March.

It was actually last February when Google expanded the Local OneBox, and they made clear their ability to drive search traffic to Maps. With Universal Search and their increased use of the Plus Box in the main search results and Adwords & their use of addresses in Adwords, they are also demonstrating their power to keep users from needing any additional mapping product as well. The static market share of MapQuest and the declining share of Yahoo demonstrates why it is Google’s game to loose.

An excellent analysis of these larger issues by Greg Sterling can be found at SearchEngineLand.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search