Google’s Click to Call coming soon to an ad near you?

In late April (I am still catching up on my reading), Bill Slawsky covered a recent patent application by Google: Exploring Click and Pay to Call (CPTC) Google Phone Ads. It was as interesting for what Google has already implemented as well as what they might implement. Clearly (as you can see from the image below), large parts of the technology have already been deployed in their Google Maps Click to Call feature

Like many of Google’s technologies, this one sits in a sort of limbo; cool, potentially high impact but unpromoted and hidden from most users. This is a technology to could drive significant small business use of Google Adwords particularly in the local sphere as the result would be something tangible that every small business owner understands: a telephone call. Perhaps the patent filing portends a wider roll for the technology.

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Comparison of patent filing with Google Maps image

Interface upgrade on Local OneBox

Upgraded OneBoxGoogle has recently upgraded the Local OneBox with additional pins that create a stronger visual point of entry to Maps.

In late January, Google’s upgrade of the Local Onebox led to a dramatic increase of traffic to to Google Maps. At the time I noted that:
They are still only showing three results. Why three? Why not 4 or 5 or even 6. The choice to stick with 3 denies many the opportunity for a listing.

This recent upgrade (I have no idea when it occurred as I have been busy catching up on business and my son’s basball upon our return from an extended vacation) doesn’t really solve this problem of the arbitrary placement of the top 3 listings but does create a strong impression that there are more listing worthy of note and should induce even more traffic to Google Maps. It is a subtle but welcome upgrade

Google pulling back from the Local OneBox?

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The Real Estate Local OneBox is Missing in Action!

Real estate is one of the largest areas in local search. Specifically the search, ‘city, st+ real estate’ consistently shows as having one of the highest frequencies for the ‘service/product + locations’ type searches.

Until very recently this type of search (‘real estate + city, st‘) on Google, returned a Local OneBox of real estate offices. It no longer does. The Local OneBox had reliably appeared on this search from last October until late last week.

Whether this is a permanent change or not, it raises some interesting questions about the logic of Google’s change. There are several possibilities why it has been removed:
1)This a test, testing 1,2,3….
2)There was not enough perceived relevance provided by the OneBox to stay in place
3)Revenue from real estate ppc ads dropped significantly and/or complaints from these advertisers went up.
or
4)Google has other plans for this incredibly valuable real estate

Do I think it is number 1, 2, 3 or 4?…..

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Mapping Market Share

Chris Coad at the Complete.com Blog has an interesting summary of Map Provider Market share.

His conclusions:

  • Though traffic is down more than 20% from it’s peak in June, MapQuest remains the king of online map services with over twice the traffic of it’s nearest competitor.
  • Google Map’s functionality has allowed it to nearly double in size since January 2006. Google’s service is quickly gaining ground on Yahoo’s similar offering, and also shirking seasonal trends.
  • Live Search* has been gaining significant traction: coming out of beta in September, it has since grown to twice the size of well established RandMcNally.

He also has very interesting data on the different ways that the services are used.

Now appearing at Search Engine Lands:Locals Only

I have recently started writing a monthly article for  the  Locals Only section at Search Engine Land. My first article addresses Google’s  role in the area of voice activated  directory assistance.

Directory assistance with voice recognition and category listings has the ability to permeate the mobile user market place in the near term and could impact local search as much as Google’s Local Onebox. This technology requires no change in user behavior or user hardware and it really works without the advent of more advanced products.
Greg Sterling has reported extensively in this area and has a recent report on an upgrade to Jingles  1-800-Free-411.

Rate of Change in Google Maps: glacial

The rate of change in Google Maps has been a topic of discussion. I noted issues with reviews not being updated in almost a year for certain businesses.

Matt McGee has a very good piece reviewing his experience. His conclusion: the slow rate of change of these prime listings is great news for the businesses that are fortunate enough to score one of those A, B, or C spots. And until the data gets processed more quickly, good luck to those businesses on the outside looking in.

Google Map’s medical center phone data: Code Red!

Fargo Hosptial Phone numbersLast month there were reports of errors in Google Maps listing for Duke Medical Center phone numbers. Not only were the numbers often times wrong but Google Maps was listing as many as 5 phone numbers for a single facility, few of which went to the central switchboard. To Google’s credit the Duke Medical Center situation was resolved rapidly on an individual basis.

When an additional report surfaced in Google Maps for Business Owners from NYU Medical Center, I decided to investigate the depth of the issue and see if was isolated to large teaching centers or was more widespread throughout the medical listings.

The report from NYU reported not just multiple and wrong phone numbers but wrong map locations as well. Google’s new feature in the Local Business Center, allowing the movement of Map markers, will facilitate some corrections about location but not the problems with phone numbers. Most medical centers have difficulty complying with Google’s protocol for record correction as they have multiple mail stops making delivery of the PIN card unlikely and multiple phone lines making a call for verification almost impossible.

My assessment?
The medical center phone data is in critical condition and in need of intensive care. .

Only 2 of the 13 markets did not have listings showing 4 or 5 phone numbers. 18% of all listings showed 3 or more phone numbers despite low verification rates through the Local Business Center. And if you live in Fargo, ND it appears by Google’s account that there are more medical phone numbers than there are doctors.

When I found 5 phone numbers listed for a hospital, I spot checked by calling some of the numbers to see where they went and if the answerer had received erroneous calls. In very limited tests, the numbers went to a department rather than the main desk facility listed and noted receiving a fairly large number of wrong number calls. I think it is safe to assume that any facility with 4 or 5 (and likely 3) numbers listed probably has numbers not for the main facility or that are in error.

The fact that none of the medical facilities with 3, 4 or 5 phone numbers listed had yet to claim the record in the Local Business Center shows: 1)that there is a possibility that they will get cleaned up and 2)that it is a ways off. Another (perhaps more real world) test of the quality of this data would be to see if the single number that Google picks for these records in the Local OneBox is the correct one.

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iBegin Source – a radical approach to local data

Ahmed Farooq of iBegin.com contacted me several weeks ago to alert me to a new product that his company is releasing today: iBegin Source, a free and low cost source for business data in the 50 states.

Traditionally business data from InfoUSA and the like is expensive and very restricted in its use. For example, InfoUSA quoted $101,038.34 for every business in NY State as opposed to the $1000 for the iBegin commercial data set for New York. While InfoUSA includes more and different fields in the data, for many uses the geocoding available with iBegin may be more valuable.

iBegin Source is making this local data available for each of the 50 states. From iBegin Source’s website:

Key benefits:

  • FREE download for non-commercial usage
  • Commercial license is only $1000 for a state or $40,000 for the entire USA. Other data brokers can cost more than $500,000
  • Automated purchase. No sales team to go through
  • Data is updated constantly. Includes daily, weekly, and monthly data updates
  • We have 10,820,453 total business listings. Already cleaned and de-duped
  • Commercial license includes geocoded addresses

The availability of free or cheap local data that is updated regularly has the potential to shake up not just the internet yellow page business and local search but direct marketing as well. To quote Ahmed: “We want to help promote enthusiast and hobbyist sites (just look at what happened with mapping applications when Google released the Maps API).”

Here is an interview that I did with Ahmed over the past few weeks that provides more insight into his service:

Q:Tell us about your company and how you got into local search

The parent company is Enthropia Inc., a webdev firm based in Toronto. We are self-funded, over four years old, and we build our own sites (no client development).

We got into local search because the current crop wasn’t good enough. From massive errors in data to slow searches, it was a headache to find anything near me. Canadian local search is especially horrible. We didn’t want to take a shotgun approach, covering all of Canada/US. We opted for a city-by-city approach (ala CitySearch).

Describe your new service to provide local data

Local business data is expensive. The data itself is full of duplicates and errors. I remember processing 34,000 records for a city and ending up with only 8000 unique records. Brad Fled had an interesting post on how bad local data is, and how the suppliers provide of no way for direct updates.

So iBegin Source does four things differently:
1. Perpetual license. Once you purchase our data, you can use it for however long you want.
2. Cheaper data. An entire state is only $1000. The major data brokers (that everyone uses) are roughly 300-400% more expensive than us. Some are high as even 1000% more! We want to help promote enthusiast and hobbyist sites (just look at what happened with mapping applications when Google released the Maps API)
3. Open system for updating. Anyone can submit an update, and we also have a trackback system for automated updates (akin to what Brad Feld was suggesting). All of it revertable just like Wikipedia. No more closed systems.
4. Geocoding comes included. Six decimal accuracy and major intersection included. Simplifies the entire process.

What do you think will be the impact of making this data available?

The entire idea is that helps launch new local-oriented sites. If I wanted to setup a local site right now, the cost of the data is a major barrier. With iBegin Source I can self-fund my project.

We also intend on becoming the centralized place for local data. On the iBegin city sites we have received thousands and thousands of updates, of which a fraction of one percent were incorrect. Why not just give users the power to do the changes themselves? Worst case situation: we do some reverts.

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Your mobile phone meets the ether

As a partner in a small firm that relies heavily on technologies that support and enhance telecommuting to maintain customer contact, I found three (totally unrelated) announcements of interest:

Microsoft acquires TellMe. I have been a big fan of 877-520-Find as a safe and productive tool for cell phone calling. It demonstrates effectively how voice (even though frustrating 10% of time) can move local search data easily into the mobile world. It avoids the DWT (driving while typing) offense that seems likely to kill people and is less frustrating than talking to directory assistance in a foreign country. The TellMe acquisition will put this type of service on the front burner as Google, Microsoft and others compete for the next generation of mobile search.

Gizmo SMS has rolled out a new service that allows you to send SMS text messages from your browser to mobile phones around the world, for free. I have always thought that texting was an effective business communication tool but just never could bring myself to pay for a web to phone service. It is simple, effective and even works from dial up via an old browser.

David Pogue of the NY Times writes (reg. req’d) of a new service that provides “One Number That Will Ring All Your Phones”. A new service by GrandCentral.com (free for 2 numbers, $15/month for 6 phones) will ring all of your phones simultaneously and keep all of your messages in a single web based voice mail box.

All of these services integrate existing mobile phone technology with the internet in a way that increases the value of both without requiring new hardware for either. They all could be used for delivery of ads and all offer a glimpse of the immediate future of integrating data with our cell phones.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search